ENG108 201702 Undergraduate

Winter 2018
ENG 108
Applies To: 
World Literature

Steven Shankman

Steven Shankman profile picture
  • Title: Professor of English
  • Additional Title: UNESCO Chair in Transcultural Studies, Interreligious Dialogue, and Peace
  • Phone: 541-346-3997
  • Office: 110B Gerlinger Hall
  • Office Hours: Spring term: R 2-5
  • Website: Website
Department Section Description: 

English 108 is the second quarter of a year-long survey of World Literature, between antiquity and the modern period. In European literature, this period includes the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Rather than sample a smattering of various texts from this period, we will read a single great text, Cervantes’ Don Quixote.

Don Quixote, written by Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616), is the first truly modern novel in the Western tradition. Cervantes, who was a contemporary of Shakespeare, lived an eventful life. He was wounded in the famous naval battle fought at Lepanto (1571) in the Gulf of Patras in Western Greece, in which Christian forces defeated the (Muslim) Ottoman Empire. As a consequence, at the age of twenty-four Cervantes lost the use of his left hand. He was captured by pirates in 1575 and spent five years as a slave in northern Africa. After an unsuccessful career as a dramatist, in 1597 he was imprisoned for alleged malfeasance for his work as a tax collector. He was imprisoned again in 1605, where some believe he began writing his masterpiece, El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de La Mancha (The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha).

We will focus on two aspects of Cervantes’ novel: what it says about the nature of literature (including of “bookishness”); and of ethics.

Cervantes’ protagonist Don Quixote is so enthralled by the heroic exploits of the knights he reads about in his beloved tales of chivalry that he loses possession of his rational faculties and devotes himself to saving those around him from what he imagines are mortal dangers.

What does Cervantes’ novel say about ethics, about my responsible for the other in front of me? Don Quixote is an idealist, someone who is absolutely devoted to doing good in the world, but he is also apparently mad. Is Don Quixote a saint or is he a deluded fool who harms rather than helps others? Or is he both a saint and a fool? Is Cervantes suggesting that it is crazy to be good?

What is Cervantes telling us about the relation of ethics to the reading of literature? Is Cervantes saying that getting lost in a powerfully imaginative work of fiction is a form of madness that diverts us from our responsibilities to others? Or does Cervantes believe that reading, that books, can inspire us to be good?


A & L

Arts & Letters (A&L) courses create meaningful opportunities for students to engage actively in the modes of inquiry that define a discipline. Courses are broad in scope and demonstrably liberal in nature (that is, courses that promote open inquiry from a variety of perspectives). Though some courses may focus on specialized subjects or approaches, there will be a substantial course content locating that subject in the broader context of the major issues of the discipline. Qualifying courses will not focus on teaching basic skills but will require the application or engagement of those skills through analysis and interpretation.


Multicultural, International Cultures (IC) courses study world cultures in critical perspective.  They either treat an international culture in view of the issues raised in AC and IP courses (i.e., race and ethnicity, pluralism and mono-culturalism, prejudice and tolerance) or they analyze worldviews that differ substantially from those that prevail in the present-day United States.

Old Major: Lower-Division Elective

Lower-division Elective courses allow students to choose (or “elect”) courses or faculty specific to their own developing interests, enabling them thereby to shape their own educational experience.

Lower-Division Elective

Lower-division Elective courses allow students to choose (or “elect”) courses or faculty specific to their own developing interests, enabling them thereby to shape their own educational experience.  Major II students can also use one lower-division elective to fulfill the Writing Requirement with ENG 209 The Craft of the Sentence.

English Minor

English Minor courses offer students centuries of cultural experience and representation in poetry, prose, drama, film, TV, new media, and folk artifacts.  The English minor can focus and extend the values of a liberal arts education, while also providing extensive training in writing, speaking, and critical thinking.