Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Beginning Recommended Reading List

At one point during this semester, I discussed with one of my classes a set of readings that I consider vital to understand English-language literary (and broader artistic) culture*; in brief, I asserted at least part of my own canon.  Not long ago, one of the students in that class asked if I would kindly post the list so that it could be referenced.  Hence, the following (which may or may not line up with what I noted in class):

  • The Holy Bible (particularly the King James Version for English literature, though a good English version of the Catholic canon will also be of help)
  • Homer, The Iliad and The Odyssey
  • Virgil, The Æneid
  • Beowulf
  • Dante, Divine Comedy
  • Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
  • Machiavelli, The Prince
  • Malory, Le Morte d'Arthur
  • Castiglione, The Book of the Courtier
  • Spenser, The Faerie Queene
  • Elizabeth I, "Speech to the Troops at Tilbury" and "The Golden Speech"
  • Shakespeare (all of it, really, but notably Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, King Lear, Julius Cæsar, Romeo and Juliet {I hate the play but it gets referenced frequently}, Midsummer Night's Dream, Much Ado about Nothing, and the sonnets)
  • Marlowe, Doctor Faustus
  • Bacon (aside from having a cool name), Essays
  • More, Utopia
  • Sidney, A Defence of Poesy
  • Donne, "A Valediction Forbidding Mourning," "The Flea," Elegy 8, Meditation 17 from Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, and the Holy Sonnets
  • Jonson, Volpone
  • Milton, "Areopagitica" and Paradise Lost
  • Behn, Oroonoko
  • Butler, Hudibras
  • Hamilton, Mythology (not an original source but a good introduction)
The list is only partial, but it provides a solid start.  I may revisit it at some point in the future.

*I am aware that the list I provide is largely Anglo-normative.  I do not mean by this to disenfranchise other languages and literatures, but the list was compiled in response to a specific question by a student, and so it is relatively narrow in its scope.  Also, it reflects my own readings, which have, admittedly, been Anglo-normative and largely defined by the traditional patriarchal literary canon.

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