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ACE2482 Great Works of Literature in their Cultural Contexts (on campus only)

Started 7 Feb 2024

Sorry! The enrolment period is currently closed. Please check back soon.

Full course description

Course Overview:

This short course takes the student on an illustrated and entertaining tour of English literature from the Anglo Saxon world of Alfred the Great and its literary masterpiece Beowulf, to the modern world of James Joyce’s Ulysses, T S Eliot’s The Waste Land and Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. Each era has its characteristic art, music, architecture, history, etc. and this course will enable the student to consider key literary works against such an illustrated cultural and historical background. Thus, for example, when considering the Romantic period, the revolutionary poetry of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats and Shelley will be put into context by reference to the French Revolution, the paintings of Constable and Turner, and the music of Beethoven. Students will be given selections of various pieces of literature to read in advance for each lecture and this will help them to discuss and assess the literature of different ages. They will gain an overview of the different periods of English literature and their respective cultural characteristics. They will come to appreciate (and be entertained by) key texts by some of literature’s greatest writers, as well as encountering great artists from Breughel to Picasso, and composers from Hildegard of Bingen to Stravinsky, against the backdrop of the great saga of European history.

It is a special opportunity for those who are beginners to the history of English literature.

Feedback from past students of this course:

Challenging, informative and entertaining……the mingling of art, music and literature was

really great and informative.

Fantastic experience. Far exceeded my expectations.

Most enjoyable and stimulating course. Very engaging.

Course Practicalities:

This course will take place on Wednesday evenings 7-9pm for 8 weeks7th of February to 27th March 2024.

Location-Western Gateway Building, room G17, UCC

Closing date for applications Monday 29th of January 2024 


Course Content: 

Lecture 1 Lords of the Rings: The epic old English epic Beowulf reveals a world of elemental battles and a surprisingly sophisticated social world where kings were ring givers and where a heroic code defined a man’s worth. The treasures of Anglo Saxon art form a colourful background to the literature.

Lecture 2 ‘The Life so Short, the Craft so Long to Learn’: The Middle Ages is the era of great cathedral building and feudal order, of the ethereal music of Hildegard of Bingen and Bosch’s bizarre paintings of hell. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is one of the highlights of medieval literature, revealing the medieval world in all its colour and complexity as a procession of characters from all social ranks makes its way to Canterbury.

Lecture 3 Brave New World: The Elizabethan Renaissance took place against a background of geographical and scientific discovery with a flowering of vivid, new drama (Marlowe, Shakespeare, Webster, Jonson, etc.) and stunningly original poetry (Wyatt, Spencer, Donne, etc.) while the Tudors provide a dramatic political backdrop.

Lecture 4 Shakespeare: ‘All the world’s a stage’. Shakespeare’s plays – histories and comedies, romances and tragedies – reveal the full gamut of human nature, from the comical to the tragic, from the personal to the political, from brute nature to the ethereal. Elizabethan London forms a colourful background to Shakespeare’s adventures, a world of bear baiting and plague, of low life and courtly sophistication.

Lecture 5 Gulliver’s Travels and the Age of Satire: ‘He lashed the vice but spared the name’. Swift and his contemporaries wrote the most incisive satires on human nature during an age where writers had patrons and their preoccupations were largely public and political. Composers like Handel and Bach, and artists like Hogarth and Reynolds form part of a sublime cultural background.

Lecture 6 ‘Breaking the Silence of the Seas’: With the French Revolution came parallel revolutions in art, music and literature. Wordsworth and Coleridge, Keats, Shelley and Byron usher in a new romantic age of glittering and visionary poetry at a time when Beethoven changed the entire history of music.

Lecture 7 The Rise of the Novel: From Wuthering Heights to Tess of the d’Urbervilles. The novel became the leading literary genre in the Victorian era, as the works of Emily Bronte, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy and George Eliot bring the novel form to new heights against a background of imperialism and ongoing reform.

Lecture 8 ‘About 1910 human nature changed’: Picasso, Stravinsky, Einstein created revolutions in art, music and science at the start of the 20th century while T S Eliot, Virginia Woolf and James Joyce did likewise for literature, heralding a new vision of human nature and reality.



Course Lecturer:

Tony Hartnett holds a master’s degree in English literature on the fiction of Elizabeth Bowen and has taught English in many parts of the world including the UK, Ireland, the USA, Spain, Luxembourg, Belgium, Bahrain, China and Mexico. He has also taught Geography and History and has a special interest in teaching across the disciplines linking such subjects as art, music, literature, history and science.



Entry Requirements

Applicants must be at least 18 years old at course commencement.

Contact Details for Further Information


Please note our refund policy as follows
100% refund  if student cancels before course commencement
100% refund if student's course is cancelled due to insufficient numbers. 
If the student cancels after the first week of the course - full refund minus €50 processing fee 
If the student cancels after the second week of the course - no refund