You may not know this, but I arrived at the University of Warwick yesterday. Did I mention that? Thought not. I’ve been asked by a few people to share with you the contents of my reading list, so thought that here and now I would do a quick low-down of what I’ll be reading over the next year. Supply and demand right? It also gives me a chance to get down my first thoughts on the texts I’ve read so far.
First the basics. Taking English and Theatre Studies, in the first year I take two modules taught by the English department and two by Theatre. The English modules are “Medieval to Renaissance Literature” and “Literature in the Modern World”, and for Theatre it’s “Introduction to Theatre” and “British Theatre Since 1939″. Simples.
Medieval to Renaissance Literature
This one is fairly self-explanatory. Only four texts here; The Canturbury Tales, The Faerie Queene, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and one which contains a selection of 16th and 17th Century verse (bit of Marlowe, bit of Shakespeare, can’t go wrong).
Fortunately, we start off with the earlier texts and work up to the Renaissance over time, meaning that the more indecipherable work is finished first. We’re thrown it at the deep-end with Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried Chaucer with his wonderful rhythm and lilting sounds. Sir Gawain is basically the same but in a northern accent. At least Chaucer writes in a dialect I can understand. Nevertheless it’s a great story and thoroughly readable. On first reading it’s probably easy to miss a lot of allusions, but the humour and pace of the tale come through loud and clear.
Next we move on to Chaucer, specifically The Knight’s Tale, The Miller’s Tale, The Reeve’s Tale, The Wife of Bath’s Tale, The Nun’s Priest’s Tale, The Merchant’s Tale and The Franklin’s Tale. Not much in four weeks. I haven’t read any of these tales intimately yet but have an idea of the basic plot lines, and know that they all represent Chaucer at his best – witty, ironic and fantastically poetic.
The first four weeks of the spring term are spent poring over Wyatt, Sidney and the Sonnets of Shakespeare, followed by an in depth look at Spenser’s Faerie Queene. This could be interesting – The Faerie Queene is a pretty heavy read. Getting through that in a month is going to be a challenge. This party of the course finishes with a look at Marlowe’s Hero and Leander and Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis.
In summary this module starts off with work which is pretty much a foreign language and finished with texts which, although not in a different language, are just as hard to understand.
Literature in the Modern World
It was either this or “The Epic Tradition”. Perhaps I chickened out by going for Joyce and Kafka over Homer and Milton, but the variety of the former was far more enticing. This module considers the changing role of literature in the first sixty years of the twentieth century.
The first few weeks are based around poetry in the modern world, taking in Thomas, Eliot and Carlos Williams among others. The works of T.S. Eliot are of course nothing short of genius and are a genuine joy to read, which is perhaps why I approached Edward Thomas with some trepidation. He was a late starter in the poetry world, not setting pen to paper until the age of thirty-six in 1914. His earlier poems are somewhat akin to Wordsworth, expressing the beauty of the countryside, but as he progresses the tone becomes far darker and the subjects more challenging. A change of style is clear, meaning that through Thomas’ poems we see a journey.
Moving on we look at W. Somerset Maugham’s short stories. His Collected Short Stories are incredibly easy to dip in and out of, and many of his tales read as fables for the modern world. My only qualm is that a framing device is employed in a large proportion of the episodes. Often this adds to the ideas presented, but on occasion it does seem contrived and unnecessary. No doubt I’ll be eating my words in a month’s time, however.
The next two weeks are bliss, as we take in Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, one of my favourite books, and some of Kafka’s short stories. Portrait really spoke to me when I read it for the first time last year, being the same age at the time as Stephen, the protagonist. Kafka offers a contrast to Somerset Maugham, being written in his distinct style. Now I know why I visited the Kafka Museum in Prague last year.
The latter books haven’t really yet entered into my field of conscience, except Woolf’s To The Lighthouse and Orwell’s Essays. Later topics include writing about war and post-colonial texts.
Introduction to Theatre
This module does pretty much what it says on the tin. We look at the origins of modern theatre, performance styles, audiences and approaches to theatre. We also take an in-depth look at the work of the most prominent practitioners of the last 150 years.
British Theatre Since 1939
For me, this is perhaps the most interesting module of them all, as we look at the changing face of theatre over the past seventy years. The plays studied are fairly predictable, but that’s because they are so important, even today. The first text is Osborne’s Look Back in Anger (although the module is entitled British Theatre since 1939, the only taste of wartime and post-war plays is during the first week, through a lecture on historical context), followed Wesker’s Roots and Delaney’s A Taste of Honey. Most of you can probably guess the rest, but for the sake of others we then move onto Beckett, Pinter, Bond, Orton, Stoppard, Churchill, Ravenhill and Kane. The beauty of this module is that we study no more than one play a week, allowing us to really understand the text and have plenty of time to read up on the respective playwright.
So that’s my reading list. Pretty good, huh? Any thoughts on the texts? Are there any which you couldn’t bear to study? I’d love to hear what you think. The more interpretations the better.
Right I’m off to grab some onions and meet some more lovely people, so that’s it for now. Oh, and I’m having a fantastic time. Thanks for asking.