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English Literature Courses and Classes Overview

English literature degree programs typically include broad surveys of literature across genres, nationalities or eras, examining commonalities and differences among works and authors. Courses can be taken as part of programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

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Essential Information

Classes in English literature are part of associate's, bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree programs in the same subject. Programs are available to prepare students for advanced study at the graduate level, as well as for careers in fields like teaching, research or librarianship. In addition to completing coursework in literature, language, literary theory and writing, students often complete a thesis for programs at the bachelor's and master's levels and a dissertation at the doctoral level.

Common courses in English literature programs include those in literary theory, British literature, American literature, world literature, Shakespearean literature and medieval literature. Programs may also feature courses in poetry, short stories, children's literature, fiction and nonfiction. English literature programs at the graduate level often include additional requirements, such as comprehensive essay examinations, seminars and research methods coursework. Students often get to choose the focus of their master's or doctoral program.

List of English Literature Courses

English literature undergraduate and graduate programs include some of the courses described below.

Introduction to Literature

In this required class, students get an overview of literature in general, what it is and why it is important for study. Coursework includes reading texts and learning to place them in context. Development of interpretation and analytical skills appropriate to novels, short stories, drama, poetry and essays is also practiced.

British Literature

Students in English literature programs are usually required to take a course in British literature. This course covers influential British works and writers from Anglo-Saxon times to the present day. Students learn the broad characteristics of different literary styles and read, analyze and interpret works in historical and contemporary contexts. Authors studied may include Chaucer, Marlowe, Blake, Milton, Byron, Shelley, Keats, Browning, Wilde and Joyce.

American Literature

In this class, students typically look at structure and themes in the works of American writers from pre-colonial times to the present. Students read the works of major writers like Wheatley, Melville, Hawthorne, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner and Morrison. Literary analysis may be based on contexts like gender, geography, race and sexuality. This is typically a required course.

Medieval Literature

Students explore major works of literature, usually European, penned between the 8th century and the 14th century, in this elective class. Coursework focuses on common themes, genres and writing styles. Students study primary texts like Beowulf and writers like Chaucer and Dante.

William Shakespeare

A broad survey of the plays and poems of William Shakespeare may be offered as a required or an elective class, depending on the degree program. Students analyze Shakespeare's poetry, as well as his tragedies, comedies and histories. They look at influences on his work and his influence on other writers and on English literature as a whole.

World Literature

Works of major importance from writers of note from various countries and numerous eras, often in translation, make up the coursework of world literature classes. Students learn relevant literary theories and literary criticism. They also discuss themes and genres. World literature classes are often required.

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