Academic Class Spotlight: British Literature

by Mr. David Gallagher, English Teacher

In British Literature class so far this year, we have read two works, Beowulf and The Canterbury Tales.


Beowulf is cited as one of the most important works of Old English literature and is a great way to introduce students to epic poetry. Beowulf is estimated to have been written between 975 and 1025 CE. In class we discussed the definition of a hero or good leader versus that of a monster and related these qualities to contemporary heroes, leader. Even though the culture in Beowulf seems far removed from modern times, the poem explores universal themes that are still relevant today.

Next, we began our study of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales which perfectly captures a particular time period. When Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales, society was no longer divided into lords and peasants; professions were coming into existence and suddenly skilled craftsmen were making enough money to afford a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral to visit the shrine of Thomas Becket. As I write this, the class is currently reading “The General Prologue” when Chaucer introduces his twenty-nine pilgrims, describing their ranks in society and also making fun of them in the process. They enjoy reading the descriptions of the medieval professions and Chaucer’s opinions of them.

I enjoy teaching this piece of Medieval Literature because Chaucer understood that who is telling the story matters. In the same way, the stories we choose to tell and how we tell them tells something about us. As a side assignment to reading The Canterbury Tales, I set aside a day in class for my students to think of a place that many different types of people gather such as a supermarket or an airport and to think about, list, and describe the many different types of people who visit that place. Some of my students are very keen observers of human behavior.