English R1B

Reading and Composition: The Sword and the Screen: New Tricks with Old Texts

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
2 Spring 2019 Clark, Amy
MWF 9-10 211 Dwinelle


The difficulty with epics is that they're... well, epic. Beowulf goes hunting Grendel, and 3000 lines of poetry later he's still fighting; Arthur pulls Excalibur out of the stone, starts sending knights on quests, and keeps sending knights on quests until you start to wonder if they're ever coming back! (Hint: They're not.) The size of these stories is overwhelming; they are bracing and innovative and exciting, but sometimes it can be hard to see the forest for the trees.

So: what if we started counting things? What if, instead of using highlighters to keep track of who said what and what went where, we used Python instead? This class will combine the adventures of two epic heroes, Beowulf and King Arthur, with some basic Python text analysis. To this end, each week will be divided into three parts: Reading Discussion (Mondays), Writing Skills (Wednesday), and DH Studio (Friday). We'll still be deeply invested in the literary scholar's toolkit; close-reading and critical writing will be crucial components of the course. We will look for patterns of metaphor, imagery, sound, and wordplay in each text. But we will use Python to expand the number of ways in which we can seek out those patterns for our analysis: we will close-read word frequencies, and track adjective use for different characters, look for collocations and debate what they mean. Ultimately, it may not be an easy journey -- but it will be an epic one!

Required Texts:

Beowulf, trans. Seamus Heaney (ISBN 978-0393320978)
L'Morte D'Arthur, Thomas Mallory (Norton Critical Edition, ISBN 978-0393974645)

Additional materials will be provided by the instructor. Please note that we will be using Project Gutenberg versions of both texts for our work in Python; however, you will still need to purchase the editions listed above.

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