"Deor" & Why do we read Literature?

"nor could she ever foresee without fear how things would turn out. That went by, so can this."   Deor

"The thing about Shakespeare is that we know nothing about him, and he knows everything about us"  Rob Watson

"I'm a crying because, what Macbeth says that about life - it's what I've always believed - and I thought I was the only one..."  a student

This is the opening lesson for the year for the course.  I am always struck by how often students reference what we do that day - not only later in the school year, but years and years later when they come to visit.  Because this is also the first lesson to be published on this website, I'm hoping to make it a template for how the others will look.  The lessons essentially asks three questions: 1) Why do we read Literature?  2) Why do we read Shakespeare in particular?  3) Can British Literature, and texts from over a hundred years ago really tell us anything about ourselves - can we relate to them (in this era of student anxiety and stree - this question becomes particularly important)?

Lesson Overview 

  The lesson begins by me asking the students to write down (see handout #1) "Why we read Literature".  I may or may not define exactly what I mean by "Literature" with a capital "L".  Shakespeare, Toni Morrison, Sandra Cisneros, etc as Literature.  And/or I may tell them "Harry Potter, I believe is Literature; Twilight is not".  This usually gets a laugh - but more importantly it brings understanding to the question.  I caution them to tell me what they honestly believe, NOT what they think that I want to hear.  If they believe that they only read Literature because they are forced to - then that is what they should say.  I then give them time to write while I begin my first ever attendance for the class - I will stop and ask them how to pronounce their name, what they like to be called (nicknames) and if they have a preferred pronoun.

My Lesson Notes 2021
My Lesson Notes 1998


Most Recent Handouts & Quizzes

Handout #1  DOC  PDF  Deor poem in Modern English, space to write "Why Do We Read Literature?", snippet of Intimations of Immortality (Wordsworth), Homework (Mary Poppins, short essay), next readings.

Handout #2 DOC  PDF (Assignment for a short essay on students' educational experience [positive or negative] to be written BEFORE they do the next day's reading: "John and Barbara's Story" from Mary Poppins.

Older Versions of Handouts (a folder's worth - these will mostly be in the old doc format of Word)

Audio Visual Content

Deor - Old English - a reading in Old English
Deor (a modern take) - a  song by Alistair Slaughter (a short sample)  A  Hip Hop version of "Deor" - and until I get explicit permission from that student, I cannot publish the entire song - though I must say it is amazing.


Remote Enhancements 

Deor & Why Do We Read Literature  - A PowerPoint Presentation -
This is a  presentation designed to help  the focus of the class during our video meet - it takes us from point to point - often with the text that is referenced and keeps the class organized and moving forward.


Class Recordings (for registered members)



What's Next

Mary Poppins & Our Education:   The seminal work on what is truth - it allows students to use everything from their first three lessons and synthesize it into a new understanding.


  Every other English Class they've ever had.

Thoughts on the Lesson 

It is the opening lesson - and perhaps except for the final lesson - the most important lesson of the year (my students always teased me that I said this about every lesson.  But of course in this case it is true.  Why do read Literature?  If there is not a good answer - what is the point of the year together?