English Language and Literature

Even though Yale College has no formal requirement in English, nearly all freshmen choose to take one or more courses in the English department. Whatever majors they will later choose, freshmen 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 freshman 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) are offered in two categories.

  1. ENGL 114, Writing Seminars, and ENGL 115, Literature Seminars, are designed for the majority of freshmen to help them develop their skills as writers of college-level prose and as insightful readers.
  2. ENGL 120–ENGL 130 are designed for freshmen who already feel confident doing intensive, college-level course work in literature and writing and, in the spring for freshmen who took ENGL 114 or ENGL 115 in the fall.

The English department requires you to “place yourself” in one of these two categories when you register for an English course.

Introductory English courses also differ in the kinds of readings that are assigned and about which students write.

  1. Readings in ENGL 114, ENGL 120, and ENGL 121 are expository and nonfiction prose.
  2. Readings in ENGL 115 and ENGL 123–ENGL 130 are literary texts.

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

English 114 and English 115

These courses offer instruction in academic writing (ENGL 114) and writing about special topics in literature (ENGL 115). Both courses push students to develop and expand their critical writing and argumentation skills. 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 the study of literature. Students in both courses emerge as strong writers prepared for the demands of further study 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 war, 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 130

This category includes a course on the modern essay (ENGL 120), a course on ways of writing in specific fields of endeavor (ENGL 121), an introduction to creative writing (ENGL 123), and five courses on literature (ENGL 125, ENGL 126, ENGL 127, ENGL 129, and ENGL 130). All courses offer substantial writing instruction and serve as excellent introductions to college-level writing. Students considering the English major are strongly encouraged to consider a literature seminar.

  • 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 freshmen. Enrollment in the spring term is open to freshmen 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. It includes both lectures and workshop seminars.
  • ENGL 125, Major English Poets from Chaucer to Donne, introduces foundational works of English literature through an intensive examination of four poets: Geoffrey Chaucer, Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, and John Donne. The density and complexity of poetic language make this literature an ideal starting place for the training of sophisticated readers and effective writers. Students explore issues that arise throughout the whole of anglophone literature, such as the promise and perils of fiction, the relationships between men and women, the nature of heroism, the riches of tradition, and the yearning to make something new. Through critical analysis, active discussion, and especially written argument (no less practice in essay writing than in any other introductory course), students balance a broad view of literary tradition with close attention to language and form. ENGL 125 is a prerequisite for the English major but is open to all students regardless of intended major.
  • ENGL 126, Major English Poets from Milton to T. S. Eliot, continues the introduction begun in ENGL 125 to the abiding formal and thematic concerns of anglophone poetic traditions. Through the reading of monumental works by John Milton, Alexander Pope, William Wordsworth, and T. S. Eliot (or another twentieth-century poet), students explore texts that helped shape the traditions of English and American verse as well as anglophone drama and novels. This course emphasizes continued development of students’ critical and analytic writing and argumentation skills. ENGL 126 is a prerequisite for the English major but is open to all students regardless of intended major.
  • ENGL 127, Readings in American Literature, offers intensive study of major works in diverse American traditions, concentrating on works that call for careful reading. 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. In recent years, the course has devoted three weeks to Moby-Dick, by Herman Mellville. Other readings change annually and are drawn from the works of authors such as Poe, Hawthorne, Bryant, Whitman, Dickinson, Thoreau, Emerson, Douglass, Stowe, Twain, Wharton, Cather, Hart Crane, Stevens, Stein, Langston Hughes, Ellison, Baldwin, Claude McKay, Flannery O’Connor, Allen Ginsberg, Elizabeth Bishop, Frank O’Hara, Marilynne Robinson, Cormac McCarthy, Toni Morrison, Claudia Rankine, and Edward P. Jones. Frequent writing assignments focus on critical analysis, the development of voice and argument, and the use of archival and secondary sources. 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 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.

ENGL 125, ENGL 126, ENGL 129, and ENGL 130 form yearlong sequences, although each term may also be taken independently. 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 have taken ENGL 127 in the fall may continue literary study with ENGL 125–ENGL 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. Your 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.

You should also consider 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 non-literary focus (114, 121) or a creative writing approach (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 Freshman Orientation.

Registering for Courses

If you wish to take a fall-term English course, you must register 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 Web site. 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 Web site, you 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 Web site during the first week of December for instructions and a link to the online preregistration site.