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SC2025 Vibes and Scribes: An Illustrated Guide to English Literature from the World of Alfred the Great’s Wessex to James Joyce’s Dublin

Ended 24 Mar 2021

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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 to the modern world of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf’s poetic and daringly experimental novels. It is a special opportunity for those who are beginners to the history of English literature.

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 works of Wordsworth and Coleridge 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 for each lecture and this will enable them to discuss and assess the literature of different ages.

The course will consist of eight lectures. The student will gain an overview of the different periods of English literature and their respective cultural backgrounds. He/she will come to appreciate (and be entertained by) key texts by some of literature’s greatest writers.

Course Schedule 


Classes will be delivered online on Wednesdays 7-9pm for eight weeks from 27 January to 24 March.


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 generated an age of geographical and scientific discovery together with a flowering of vivid, new drama (Marlowe, Shakespeare, Webster, Jonson, etc.) and stunningly original poetry (Wyatt, Spencer, Donne, etc.). The life and times of the Tudors form the backdrop to such an exciting era.

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 dramatic 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.

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.

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 of imperialism and reform, as the works of Emily Bronte, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy and George Eliot bring the novel form to new heights.

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

Anthony Hartnett holds a master’s degree in English literature 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.


Short courses are not assessed. Students will receive a UCC Certificate of Attendance upon completion.

Closing Date for Application

Monday 18 January

Contact Details for Further Information

Regina Sexton, Phone: 021-4904700, Email: