English Courses


After Class IV, in which all students take the same English course, students may choose from among several electives offered in each of the remaining three years. Students new to Milton make this choice shortly after they decide to matriculate, in consultation with the registrar’s office. Returning students make a choice for the following year in consultation with their current English teacher.

Creative Writing, Advanced Creative Writing, Hamlet and Exposition do not fulfill the diploma requirement in English and must be taken in addition to a full English course.

Class IV English

The course emphasizes basic skills in reading the most important literary genres; in writing clear, coherent exposition; and in developing a powerful vocabulary. Texts include a Shakespeare play, portions of the Bible, and anthologies of short fiction and poetry. In addition to four class meetings per week, students attend a weekly writing workshop.

Class III Electives

The department offers four courses: Perspectives, Founding Voices, Performing Literature and Seeing Literature.

Given the various interests and abilities of the students, each of these courses is of comparable difficulty with similar amounts of writing. All students in Class III read Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex, Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Fuller’s A Soldier’s Play.

The following descriptions illustrate the content of each course in more detail.

Perspectives: Genre and Culture
Examining texts grouped by genre—short story, novel, play, and poem—to create a basis for comparison, students will explore how different cultural contexts treat major literary themes such as coming of age, tragedy, love, and the individual versus society. At the forefront of essays and class discussions will be the question of how a broad spectrum of cultures, eras and traditions shape universal human stories. A typical unit, for example, may examine short stories about coming of age from three distinct countries, or love poetry from three different centuries. Texts might include titles such as The Nick Adams Stories, Drown, The Things They Carried, and The Dew Breaker.

Founding Voices: Literature from the Ancient World through the Renaissance
This course will explore works that have shaped the world’s literature and influenced writers and readers from early times to the present. Foundational texts and authors might include Gilgamesh (the oldest piece of literature in the world), Homer’s The Iliad, The Ramayana, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Dante’s Inferno, The Arabian Nights, and Tang Dynasty poetry. At the end of the year, students may read one or two modern works to show how the foundational techniques, ideas and themes play out in contemporary contexts.

Performing Literature
The readings in this course present a mixture of English and American writers, classical and modern works, and the major literary genres. While students continually write essays and learn grammar and aspects of style, what distinguishes this course from the other Class III electives is its emphasis on oral interpretation. Most sections begin with plays, and the students perform scenes and characters aloud, stage some scenes, and conduct dramatic analysis. As the course progresses, students give speeches, present panel discussions, write and perform in the voice of individual characters, create trials, or work in other performance activities as determined by the teacher.

Seeing Literature
From the imagery of a poem to the point of view of a short story or novel, literature often encodes in words important visual messages and commentary on human perspective. This course examines a diverse raft of literary works with special attention to the perspectival project within literature. With traditional books at the forefront, the course will also use paintings, films, and graphic novels to deepen understanding of the human complexities of seeing at the heart of each text, as well as to embrace the reading and writing goals of the Class III curriculum. Titles may include The Handmaid’s Tale, Maus, and Persepolis.

Class II Electives

Approaches to Literature
This course guides students in approaching literature from a number of analytical perspectives. Beginning with close reading—the detailed examination of a variety of texts for what the language will yield—the course moves to grouping texts by genre, by common theme, by historical period, and by a single author. In the late spring, the class applies all of these approaches to a single work, studying the text closely while also considering its form and theme, the period from which it came, and the influence of events in the author’s life. Past units include Hemingway, civil rights, the Feminist Movement, drama, and poetry of the Renaissance.

Literature and the Human Condition
Pursuing a broad philosophical inquiry into what it means to be a person, to form relationships, to make decisions and to live with their consequences, students read works by major British and American writers and place these texts into conversation with influential pieces by writers from other literary traditions. The class functions primarily as a seminar in which students explore the sub-topics that emerge to shape our discussions: heroism and villainy; masculinity and femininity; self and other; rationality, the unconscious and chaos; mortality, embodiment and divinity; innocence, guilt and redemption. In their writing assignments, students clarify and argue their own ideas about the course’s central themes in critical essays, personal essays and creative responses. Texts include Paradise Lost, Hamlet, and Heart of Darkness.

American Literature
This course is a chronological survey of classic American literature with representative readings from the works of predominantly 19th- and 20th-century writers. The form and content of the readings offer great variety, and students’ written responses range from straightforward literary criticism to creative imitations of styles. While some direct instruction fills in pertinent biographical or historical background, most classes are seminar discussions, and teachers encourage student participation. The course presents an overview of American culture through its literary figures. Students who also take United States History in the Class II year find that the two courses complement each other. Key texts include The Scarlet Letter, Walden, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby, and Sula.

Man and the Natural World
This course explores varied human responses to the natural world through literature selected for its provocative response to nature and the ways in which man marks his presence on the land. The tension between urban and rural visions will help students understand ideas of the wilderness and of the city in the human imagination and the ways in which memory and imagination help define place in the world. The course is grounded in concrete, specific observations that grow toward more abstract, complex revelations about the human condition. Literature ranges from novels, poetry and essays to explorers’ journals and diaries. The course includes contemporary authors such as Leslie Marmon Silko and Annie Dillard but also explores the visions of writers such as Thoreau and Faulkner. Writing assignments will range from nature journals to essays of literary analysis and response papers.

Studies in English and
American Literature
(Two-Year Sequence)
This course introduces students to major English and American writers and demonstrates the connections between English and American literary traditions. Structured chronologically, it begins with the major writers in England who form the basis for all subsequent developments. The second and third semesters of the sequence emphasize the similarities and dissimilarities of British and American writers and some ways in which they influenced each other and were influenced by their cultures. In scope, the course studies works of some 30 writers, from Chaucer through Virginia Woolf, in a year and a half. In the second semester of the Class I year, students study some modern and post-modern dramas, and then subdivide into specialized groups to study 20th-century texts by a limited number of writers. (Note: In electing this course, a student makes a two-year commitment that cannot be broken at the end of Class II.)

Reading Consciousness
What makes us human? Is it our body, our soul, our consciousness? Through an interdisciplinary study of literature, philosophy and religion, this course will investigate and interrogate our notions of humanity from antiquity to the contemporary era. By exploring topics such as the institution of slavery, the struggle for human rights, the invention of artificial intelligence, and the nature of spiritual transcendence, students will develop an understanding of the evolving definition of the human and insert their own voices into the current debate. This course will function as a “humanities lab,” with students directing its intellectual path; students will be responsible for posing critical questions, leading discussions, and formulating writing prompts. Assessments will include critical essays, personal reflections, and creative work. Readings will come from a diverse range of authors and thinkers including: Ralph Ellison, Charlotte Bronte, Harriet Jacobs, Kazuo Ishiguro, W.E.B. DuBois, Immanuel Kant, Catherine McKinnon, and Mary Shelley.

Class I Electives

The Craft of Non-Fiction
This course is designed for students interested in the craft of writing and who wish to write about ideas, personal experience, and the sort of general interest topics (e.g., the arts, medicine, sports, nature, science, education) that appear in magazines such as The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly. It addresses three different genres of non-fiction: the feature article, a 4,000- to 5,000-word piece of investigative reporting; the essay of ideas, two or three 1,500-word reflective essays; and the memoir, a 4,000- to 5,000-word personal narrative. In each genre, students first read models and complete short, experimental writing assignments. The course differs from other Class I English courses in its high ratio of writing to reading and in its requirement that students revise each major piece of work to a high standard of professionalism. Critique by peers is an essential part of the writing process; students should expect to share their work with the class and to read and comment on the work of their classmates.

We begin our philosophical journey with The Magus, the course’s required summer reading. On the island of Phraxos in 1953, the mysteries of Bourani become the thematic and artistic questions of the course. Exploring the myths, creeds, and psychological and scientific principles that we live by in the Western world, we move from our encounters with freedom and truth to 19th- and 20th-century fiction. Continuing our historical and thematic exploration, we examine the fictions that man lives by as we study modern and contemporary literature. Reading selections vary from year to year. The following is a sample of works taught recently: American Pastoral, The Collected Stories of John Cheever, Antony and Cleopatra, Betrayal, Oryx and Crake, The Road, The Gay Science, Studies in Modern Fiction, Beloved, Nemesis and A Farewell to Arms.

Literature and the Nature of Reality
This course looks at a variety of texts that explore, question and prod at the boundaries of the nature of reality. In studying novels, plays, movies, short stories and poems, we look not only at ideas in literature, but also at theories in psychology, science, morality, language theory and art. The class is divided into thematic units, though many texts will cross from one theme into others. Central to the class are the big questions: What is real? How do we judge reality? How and why does literature explore it? Possible authors include Albee, Beckett, Borges, Fadiman, Frayn, Kushner, Pirandello, Sacks, Stoppard, Twain and Woolf.

Modern Comparative Literature
The course begins with summer reading of Dickens and Dostoevsky, two writers who were contemporaries but wrote in very different styles. Dostoevsky anticipates much of what is thought to be “modern” in the arts. From his example, students move to Kafka—who casts the longest shadow over modern literature—Joyce, Woolf and Camus. The last three writers of the fall term, García Márquez, Coetzee and Morrison, writing in the post-modern era, face the question of what artists do to distinguish their work when earlier authors seem to have tried everything. In the spring semester, students trace the same evolution of style and content in drama, immersing themselves in sixteen plays ranging from Ibsen and Strindberg in the late-19th century to Suzan Lori Parks and Caryl Churchill, whose plays have been on Broadway in the last few years. Overall, the course emphasizes reading more than writing. In the fall, students write critical and creative pieces. During the spring, in an effort to “see” plays in performance rather than on the page, students meet in King Theatre and submit frequent short homework exercises with the occasional critical essay. During the spring project period, students will study a film unit of their choice. In past years, subjects have included film noir, the changing image of women in film, five great directors, great examples of five film genres, and five autobiographical films.

Philosophy and Literature
This course investigates theories about the nature of humanity and moral philosophy, emphasizing a reasoned approach to thinking about complex and abstract problems. Topics include the basis of human knowledge, questions of freedom and determinism, the nature of evil, the nature of moral and aesthetic judgment, and the definition of social and political justice. Each unit takes its form around a main literary text and complementary philosophical readings. Students read traditional philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, and Kant as well as more modern thinkers such as Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud. Titles may include Lightman’s Einstein’s Dreams, Levi’s The Drowned and the Saved, McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, Greene’s The Heart of the Matter, and Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure.

In this course, students read a dozen of Shakespeare’s plays, including comedies, tragedies and histories, excluding those normally studied in previous years at Milton. Though the course touches on historical context and linguistic development, its main emphasis is on the plays as theater—the creativity they continue to stimulate in actors and directors and the response they continue to evoke from audiences. In addition to reading and writing (both critical and creative), the class compares movie versions, engages in impromptu performances, and may attend live theater as the opportunity presents itself. A self-designed project each semester gives students the chance to pursue, in depth, their interests in scholarship, art, photography, video production, music, theater design, and other fields.

Themes in Contemporary World Literature
What does it mean to be a global citizen? How has globalization shaped contemporary fiction? This course recognizes the multiplicity of narratives around us, not only from different countries, but also from different walks of life within those countries. In order to begin the conversation about the many stories that define each of us, we will read pairs of texts selected from several regions around the world. Pairs will likely include: The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz (the Caribbean); Slumdog Millionaire, produced by Danny Boyle and White Tiger by Arvind Adiga (India); Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo (Africa); and Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata and Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto (Japan). Assessments in this course will include opportunities to write critically, to write in the style of a contemporary author, and to write one’s own contemporary world literature story.

Three Writers in Depth
By limiting the number of writers we study, this course allows students to examine each writer longer and more intensively than is possible in other courses. Opportunities presented by the course include following the evolution of an author’s style and choice of subject matter and theme; exploring one author’s approach to different literary genres; and placing an author in historical and biographical context. Written work consists of both critical essays and creative pieces, perhaps using as inspirations the style or thematic content of the works being studied. The teacher selects the first two writers; after the school year has begun, teacher and students together will select the third. The following list suggests the stature of the writers likely to be chosen: Auden, Austen, Baldwin, Beckett, Conrad, Dante, Eliot, Faulkner, Frost, García Márquez, Hemingway, Ibsen, James, Joyce, Morrison, O’Neill, Swift,
Thoreau, Tolstoy, Williams, Woolf, Yeats.

(Half Course)
Classes I & II
By devoting a full year to the play widely regarded as the greatest in English, this course, team-taught by a member of the English department and a member of the performing arts department, offers students several unique opportunities:

• to enjoy the in-depth study of a single text, with no pressure to move on; and to experience fully the richness that a very complex literary text provides;

• to approach a Shakespeare play actively by performing, directing and designing parts of the text, and in doing so discover a full range of possible interpretation;

• to join the literate world in knowledge and appreciation of a classic work;

• to explore the deep personal resonances that this work, perhaps more than any other, seems always to evoke;

• to gain familiarity with the problems and processes of literary scholarship.

Most class time is spent reading and discussing Hamlet and comparing different film versions. Students, individually or in groups, formulate long-term projects that they complete during homework time. Projects, which may be critical or creative, have covered a broad range, including theatre design, filmmaking, creative writing, textual analysis, memorization and performance, graphic art, psychology, music, and research into the play’s historical and literary background.

Project Story: Narrative Journalism and Performance
Classes I & II
(Half Course)
From competitive story slams performed for packed venues to storytelling courses designed to empower workplace professionals, sharing narrative with live audiences has never felt more current or relevant. In this course, students will study the art of storytelling through moving their own and others’ stories from page to stage. During the first semester, students will learn narrative journalism skills, performance skills, and peer workshop practice, to collect and shape stories of our School. They will work collaboratively during the second semester to identify, research, write and perform a story that originates beyond Milton Academy. Throughout the year, students will read and view storytelling models, attend performances, and hear from visiting artists and activists who promote storytelling around the country, believing that shared stories strengthen and sustain human connection. (This course is listed under both the English and performing arts departments.)

Creative Writing
Satisfies Arts Program Requirement
Classes I, II & III
This course offers workshops in shaping ideas, personal observations, and memories into fiction and poetry. It teaches techniques of each genre and employs frequent reading and discussion of student works within the class.

Advanced Creative Writing
(Half Course)
Meeting twice a week in a format that consists of a writers’ workshop and individual conferences, this course provides the student-writer the opportunity to continue to develop talents. (Prerequisites: Creative Writing and permission of the creative writing teachers.)

Advanced Creative Writing 2
(Half Course)
This course allows those who have successfully completed Advanced Creative Writing to continue working in the same format. (Prerequisites: Advanced Creative Writing and permission of the creative writing teachers.)

Language Skills

Classes III & IV
The English department offers a diploma credit course for students in Classes III and IV who desire intensive instruction for improvement of verbal skills and study techniques. The course focuses on developing the skills necessary for clear, correct and forceful expository writing of the sort required by all disciplines at Milton. This course includes a thorough study of grammar; an introduction to key concepts about writing; and a series of essays and longer projects aimed at helping students learn to write in a step-by-step process that includes planning, drafting, revising and editing.

Enrollment in this course is limited and is granted by permission of the department. A Class IV student who wishes to take Exposition in Class III must first consult with his or her current English teacher.