English Language and Literature

Even though Yale College has no formal requirement in English, nearly all first-year students choose to take one or more courses in the English department. Whatever majors they later choose, students need to learn to read analytically and write clearly at the college level. The English department offers Yale undergraduates a wide variety of introductory courses that enhance students’ skill and confidence as readers and writers. These courses are taught in seminar-sized groups and are open to students of all interests and backgrounds. All first-year courses except ENGL 123, Introduction to Creative Writing, may be applied toward the Yale College distributional requirement in writing. It should be noted that medical schools encourage, and in many cases require, their applicants to have taken one term or more of English.

Introductory English courses (ENGL 114–ENGL 130) offer a variety of ways for students to develop their skills as insightful readers and writers. ENGL 114 and ENGL 115 are writingseminars designed for the majority of  first-years to introduce them to college-level critical analysis and modes of academic argumentation. ENGL 120–123 offer writing workshops in a range of creative and nonacademic genres. ENGL 125-130 offer wide-ranging introductions to literature and are designed for first-years who think they might go on to do advanced work in the humanities at Yale, whether as majors or nonmajors. The foundational courses ENGL 125-128 are especially recommended for students considering a major in English.

Departmental representatives will be available to answer any questions you may have about your selection of an English course at English Department Placement during First-Year Orientation.

English 114 and English 115

ENGL 114 and ENGL 115 offer instruction in academic writing, pushing students to develop and expand their skills of critical analysis and argumentation.  ENGL 114 offers students the opportunity to practice writing essays about various topics across academic disciplines. ENGL 115 hones students’ skills as writers in the context of literary study. Students in both courses emerge as strong writers prepared for the demands of further course work throughout the university.

  • ENGL 114 prepares students to write the kind of well-reasoned analyses and arguments required in college courses. The course stresses the importance of reading, research, and revision as the bases of effective writing, and it gives students the opportunity to enter into academic debates on significant contemporary issues. Each section uses readings from modern nonfiction prose to focus on a different interdisciplinary topic, such as the city, childhood, globalization, inequality, food culture, sports, and war.
  • ENGL 115 develops students’ critical insight and analytical acuity through investigation of important works of literature. Individual seminars focus on topics such as justice, childhood, sex and gender, the supernatural, and the natural world. Special attention is given to the development of college-level writing skills and to the analysis of fiction, poetry, drama, and nonfiction prose.

English 120–English 123

ENGL 120-123 offer instruction in various creative and nonacademic genres of writing, including the modern essay (ENGL 120), ways of writing in specific fields of endeavor (ENGL 121), and various genres of creative writing, including fiction, poetry, and drama (ENGL 123).

  • ENGL 120, Reading and Writing the Modern Essay, uses close study of selected works of nonfiction to prepare students to become critical readers and to apply professional strategies to their own writing. Readings are drawn from the works of authors such as Joan Didion, Malcolm Gladwell, Maxine Hong Kingston, N. Scott Momaday, George Orwell, Brent Staples, Jonathan Swift, Henry David Thoreau, Tom Wolfe, and Alice Walker. Written assignments, involving frequent revision, represent such forms of the essay as autobiography, portraiture, nature writing, cultural critique, and formal argument.
  • ENGL 121, Styles of Academic and Professional Prose, concentrates on different kinds of academic or professional writing and explores their distinctive features. Through written and oral assignments, students both analyze and compose writings in the field. Each section is devoted to one specific kind of writing. Students learn to identify and use evidence, argument, clarity, proper style, and original thought as these are defined in the genre. Sections may focus on such topics as science writing, food writing, legal writing, writing in the social sciences, and writing about the arts. Enrollment in the fall term is not open to first-years. Enrollment in the spring term is open to first-years who have completed ENGL 114, 115, 120, or another writing-intensive course at Yale.
  • ENGL 123, Introduction to Creative Writing, focuses on the craft of creative writing in the genres of poetry, fiction, and drama. 

English 125–English 130

ENGL 125-130 offer wide-ranging introductions to literature and are designed for first-years who think they might go on to do advanced work in the humanities at Yale, whether as majors or nonmajors. All courses offer substantial writing instruction and serve as excellent introductions to college-level writing. The foundational courses ENGL 125-128 are especially recommended for students considering a major in English. 

  • ENGL 125, Readings in English Poetry I, provides an introduction to the English literary tradition through close reading of select poems from the seventh through the seventeenth centuries. Emphasis on developing skills of literary interpretation and critical writing; diverse linguistic and social histories; and the many varieties of identity and authority in early literary cultures. Readings may include BeowulfThe Canterbury Tales, Middle English lyrics, The Faerie Queene, Paradise Lost, and poems by Isabella Whitney, Philip Sidney, William Shakespeare, Amelia Lanyer, John Donne, and George Herbert, among others. The density and complexity of poetic language make this literature an ideal starting place for the training of sophisticated readers and effective writers. Through critical analysis, active discussion, and especially written argument, students balance a broad view of literary tradition with close attention to language and form. ENGL 125 is a foundational course for the English major but is open to all students regardless of intended major.

  • ENGL 126, Readings in English Poetry II, continues  the introduction begun in ENGL 125 to the abiding formal and thematic concerns of anglophone poetic traditions, through close reading of select poems from the eighteenth century through the present. Emphasis on developing skills of literary interpretation and critical writing; diverse genres and social histories; and modernity’s multiple canons and traditions. Authors may include Alexander Pope, William Wordsworth, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browning, W. B. Yeats, T. S. Eliot, Langston Hughes, Gertrude Stein, Gwendolyn Brooks, Elizabeth Bishop, and Derek Walcott, among others. This course emphasizes continued development of students’ critical and analytic writing and argumentation skills. ENGL 126 is a foundational course for the English major but is open to all students regardless of intended major.

  • ENGL 127Readings in American Literature, offers an introduction to the American literary tradition in a variety of poetic and narrative forms and in diverse historical contexts. Emphasis on developing skills of literary interpretation and critical writing; diverse linguistic and social histories; and the place of race, class, gender, and sexuality in American literary culture. Authors may include Phillis Wheatley, Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Frederick Douglass, Gertrude Stein, Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison, Flannery O’Connor, Alan Ginsberg, Chang-Rae Lee, and Toni Morrison, among others. Ranging across historical periods and literary genres, the course allows for the sustained study of single works while acquainting students with a variety of poetic and narrative forms and with the historical contexts of American writing. Each semester the course studies at least one living writer who visits campus to meet with students. Recent visitors in this role include Teju Cole, Louise Glück, and Hilton Als. ENGL 127 is a foundational course for the English major but is open to all students regardless of intended major.
  • ENGL 128,  Readings in Comparative World English Literatures, offers an introduction to the literary traditions of the Anglophone world in a variety of poetic and narrative forms and historical contexts. Emphasis on developing skills of literary interpretation and critical writing; diverse linguistic, cultural and racial histories; and on the politics of empire and liberation struggles. Authors may include Daniel Defoe, Mary Prince, J. M. Synge, James Joyce, C. L. R. James, Claude McKay, Jean Rhys, Yvonne Vera, Chinua Achebe, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, Wole S̩óyinká, J. M. Coetzee, Brian Friel, Amitav Ghosh, Salman Rushdie, Alice Munro, Derek Walcott, and Patrick White, among others. Frequent writing assignments focus on critical analysis, the development of voice and argument, and the use of archival and secondary sources. ENGL 128 is a foundational course for the English major but is open to all students regardless of intended major.

  • ENGL 129, Tragedy in the European Literary Tradition, provides an intensive introduction to one of the most powerful forms in Western literature. Students explore tragic drama from its origins in ancient Greece and Rome through the European Renaissance to the present day. This course addresses themes of justice, religion, free will, family, gender, race, and dramaturgy, beginning with Homer’s Iliad, and continuing in plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Seneca, Shakespeare, Racine, Ibsen, Chekhov, Brecht, Beckett, Soyinka, and others. Strong emphasis on the development of student writing accompanies study of the texts.
  • ENGL 130, Epic in the European Literary Tradition, investigates the path of the epic tradition from its foundations in ancient Greece and Rome to its manifestation in the modern novel. Students explore in depth topics such as exile and homecoming; the heroic in times of war and peace; the role of the individual within society; memory and history; and the politics of gender, race, and religion. Works include Homer’s Odyssey, Virgil’s Aeneid, Dante’s Inferno, Cervantes’s Don Quixote, James Joyce’s Ulysses, and at least one additional novel selected by the instructor. Strong emphasis on the development of student writing accompanies study of the texts.

Students who have taken ENGL 120 in the fall may continue with ENGL 121 or with any English literature course numbered 125–130 in the spring. Students who complete ENGL 114 or ENGL 115 in the fall term with a grade of A or A– should consider moving into ENGL 120–ENGL 130 in the spring term.

Placement in Introductory Courses

There are different ways to determine which English course is right for you. Grades on standardized tests and in high school humanities courses (especially English courses) can offer some guidance. But a better measure can be found in your level of confidence in those courses, and especially in your own sense of confidence as a reader and writer. Students who feel they need to develop skills of college-level reading and writing generally enroll in ENGL 114 or ENGL 115. Students who are more self-assured readers and writers, and who enjoy writing and want to hone their skills, often enroll in ENGL 120–ENGL 130.

Also important is consideration of the kinds of reading and writing that are done across the range of introductory courses. In particular, it is useful to distinguish between courses that are literature courses (115, 125, 126, 127, 129, 130) and those with a focus on non-literary materials (114, 121) or creative writing (120, 123). While all of the introductory courses offer significant instruction and practice in writing, the literature offerings spend substantial class time analyzing a diverse set of great works of literature. As stated above, students considering the English major, or any major in the humanities, might find these courses especially helpful as points of departure.

Students are invited to consult with the director of undergraduate studies (DUS) or with a departmental officer at English Department Placement during First-Year Orientation.

Registering for Courses

Registration for many fall-term English courses is for a specific section of that course. Details about the registration process will be available in the Calendar for the Opening Days and on the departmental website. Syllabi indicating the different topics to be covered in sections of ENGL 114, ENGL 115, and ENGL 121 will be posted on the departmental site approximately two weeks before the beginning of classes. Students uncertain about which course to take should attend English Department Placement during Freshman Orientation.

If, after consulting the departmental websiteyou have questions about English courses, call 203 432-2226 or send an e-mail message to erica.sayers@yale.edu.

A Note about Class Attendance

  1. To retain their place in a section, students must attend the first and all subsequent class meetings for the section until the end of the second week of classes. If a student misses a class meeting during this period without informing the instructor beforehand, his or her place will immediately be filled from the waiting list.
  2. Students may attempt to change their section by attending the desired section. If there are no available seats, the student may be placed on the waiting list for that section.

Students who have not enrolled in an English course in the fall but wish to take one in the spring should visit the departmental website during the first week of December for instructions and a link to the online preregistration site.