From Chaucerian Beasts to Postcolonial Canines

Ref: C2224407

We will study depictions of animals in literature from different periods, taking in authors as diverse as Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, and J.M. Coetzee, among others. Although the main focus will be on literature produced in the United Kingdom, the course will include a number of examples of literature written in English from other countries. There will be a wide range of references to literary works as well as scientific and philosophical writings. These works reveal a range of attitudes towards animals, and various ways of using animals in fiction. We will explore how these attitudes change according to context, and we will examine how authors use references to animals to achieve their various fictional ends. We will not be reading entire texts, only pertinent extracts, and participants will not be expected to have read all the texts. No familiarity with reading Chaucer or Shakespeare is necessary.

Course aim

In this course we will look at the representation of animals in literature through the ages, by examining extracts from writers ranging from Geoffrey Chaucer to J.M. Coetzee.

Do I need any particular skills or experience?

  • This course is for anyone interested in literature, animals, and the history of ideas. You will need to be comfortable reading and communicating in English, and open to discussing new ideas. You do not need specific study skills or prior knowledge.

By the end of the course I should be able to:

  • Identify and discuss some depictions of animals from different periods.
  • Describe the contexts that determine various attitudes towards animals, as displayed in certain examples of English literature.
  • Analyse sample extracts of writing on animals.
  • Formulate and argue considered opinions, and listen to and take into account alternative viewpoints.
  • Apply the interpretive skills developed in the course to other literary subjects and works.

How will I be taught?

  • The WEA tutor will use a range of different teaching and learning methods and encourage you and the group to be actively involved in your learning
  • You may be asked to undertake additional work in your own time to support your learning

What kind of feedback can I expect?

  • A range of informal activities will be used by the tutor to see what you are learning which may include quizzes, question and answer, small projects and discussion
  • You will be encouraged to share your work with the group and discuss your learning
  • You will be encouraged to consider other students work and give your opinions and suggestions
  • There will be a number of tasks, such as written work or presentations, which will be given feedback in a constructive environment.

What else do I need to know?

  • You will need to bring a notebook and something to write with. If you have internet access at home (or at a library, etc.) this would be useful, but not essential. It would be useful to be a member of your local library.

Pre-course work, reading and information sources

  • No pre reading or pre course work is required
  • Participants may find it useful, and enjoyable to read the following works: T. H. White, The Once and Future King Johnathon Swift, Book 4 of Gulliver’s Travels Anna Sewell, Black Beauty J M Coetzee, Disgrace

What can I do next?

  • Progress to another WEA course
  • Progress to a course with another provider
  • Become involved with the WEA in a range of voluntary work and other activities including campaigning as a WEA member
  • Become involved as a volunteer for a WEA partner or another organisation
  • You could progress to Higher Education courses. Follow link to the PEARL website for information
  • This course could be a springboard to further study in literature. A hand-out will be provided at the end of the course with a list of relevant texts and websites that will be useful for those who wish to continue to explore the subject.

Download full Course information sheet

From Chaucerian Beasts to Postcolonial Canines


You can if you meet all of the following requirements:

  • are paying the standard fee or are on any of the qualifying benefits
  • are paying with a credit/debit card or are not paying a fee because of a qualifying benefit
  • have a valid email address
  • have been resident in the UK, EU or EEA for the last 3 years
  • are aged 19 years or older on 1st September 2017
  • have read and accept the standard terms and conditions
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