English Literature & Composition or
AP English Literature & Composition


Language Arts 11 and 12 – Literature from the Western Canon I and II: Great Thinkers and Writers in the Western Tradition                  

This two-year course sequence surveys major literary works from the Western Canon, beginning with literature from Greco-Roman antiquity through the medieval period in the first year, and literature from the Renaissance through early modernity in the second year. We will examine the major questions that have informed the Western literary tradition: man’s understanding of his own experience in the world, and how that understanding is influenced by and in turn influences his relationship to God. In the pre-Christian tradition, we consider the ways in which the individual confronts the conditions of his own knowledge, morality, and place in society. At every stage, the historical context of the literature—the relevant historical, social and philosophical concerns– will be integral to our understanding of the questions and concerns represented by the various authors. This course will largely follow a chronological sequence, but in both the first and the second years, we will read one or two novels and one or two of Shakespeare’s plays with attention to thematic content, and we will likewise examine poetry from various periods that is thematically relevant, where it may not be chronologically contiguous.   There will be careful attention paid to the historical conventions of poetry and its forms, and the analysis and understanding thereof. Writing for the course focuses on both the traditional skills of literary analysis, but also thoughtful synthesis and reflection, and students can expect both analytical and creative writing assignments.

In its content and aims, the course is designed to function in dialogue with the thinkers and writers studied in the Western Civilization and Intellectual History course. As such it is paired with that two-year course in such a way that readings from both courses will be referred to in the conversation of each course.

Readings in the first year include literature from the following authors (or works): Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Boethius, Petrarch, Dante, Beowulf, Chaucer, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Malory, More, and Spenser.

Readings in the second year include literature from the following authors (or works): Marlowe, Shakespeare, 16th -17th century poets including Sidney, Donne, and Jonson, Swift, Milton, Johnson, 18th-19th century poets including Blake, Dickinson, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Keats, Byron and Shelley, Tennyson, Whitman, and Eliot.

Plays read by Shakespeare may include: Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, Richard IIIThe Merchant of Venice, Much Ado about NothingLove’s Labours Lostor The Comedy of Errors.

Our study of the novel may include work by the following authors: Austen, Eliot, Dickens, Hardy, Dumas, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy.

AP® English Literature and Composition (requires enrollment in Literature from the Western Canon)

This class, which meets once a week, is designed to work with the reading and writing that students complete in the Humanities 11/12 course, and requires enrollment in Literature from the Western Canon.  By itself, it provides more in-depth practice for the analytical study of literature across genres: students build close reading/analytical skills, practice written literary analysis, study literary terms and rhetorical figures to build their understanding of how authors communicate ideas in literature, and learn to apply their analytical skills to a variety of texts across historical periods.   This course is intended to prepare students to successfully complete the AP exam in English Literature and Composition.  Students will be reading and analyzing literature studied in Grades 11 and 12 but may also refer to readings from the 9th and 10th grade literature selections. After the AP exam, time permitting, we can work more extensively on personal statement writing, critical to the college admissions process.