100 Ivy-League Literature Courses You Can Take for Free at Home

Whether you’re in school in Delaware to become a comparative literature professor, fiction writer or just enjoy literature, you’ll find that it’s hard to fit into your schedule every kind of literature course you’d like to take. Luckily, in your spare time, you can take a look at these Ivy-League literature courses, lectures and reading lists to give you an edge in your studies or next book club meeting and allow you the opportunity to explore all the stories, poetry, authors and themes you want.

Classic, Medieval and Renaissance

Study the classics, medieval and Renaissance literature, including works by Homer, Virgil, Dante, and Christopher Marlowe in this list.

  1. Foundations of Western Culture: Homer to Dante: In this course, discover what defines works, symbolism and ideas as being classical or Medieval. [MIT]
  2. Literature and Ethical Values: This course was designed to help students analyze classical literature by applying an ethical philosophy. [MIT]
  3. Classical Literature: The Golden Age of Augustan Rome: Readings in this course include works by Cicero, Horace, and Virgil. [MIT]
  4. Medieval Literature: Dante, Boccaccio, Chaucer: Here you’ll study great writers by reading the Decameron and the Troubador. [MIT]
  5. Renaissance Literature: By reading works by Christopher Marlowe, Francis Drake, John Donne and Vespucci, you’ll gain an understanding of the era’s major themes. [MIT]
  6. The Homeric Odyssey and the Cultivation of Justice: Learn all about the culture, themes and significance of The Odyssey here. [Harvard]
  7. Classics in Western Philosophy: Study the literature and philosophies of Plato, Aristotle and Descartes that ultimately shaped Western traditions. [MIT]
  8. Classics Faculty: Get podcasts from the Classics department at Oxford covering classical literature, Roman comedy, and more. [University of Oxford]
  9. The Bible: Study the Bible as a work of literature. [MIT]
  10. Virgil’s Aeneid: Analyze each part of Virgil’s famous work here. [Stanford]
  11. The Ancient World: Greece: In this course, you’ll gain an understanding of the political, social, religious and economic trends and values that shaped the works of Homer. [MIT]
  12. Tales from Ovid: Interview: Listen to a discussion and analysis of the Ovid. [Stanford]
  13. English Renaissance Drama: Theatre and Society in the Age of Shakespeare: Understand the social, economic and religious context of England at the time of Shakespeare. [MIT]

American Literature

This grouping of American literature courses covers the colonial era through modern times.

  1. Staying Alive: This course covers the narratives of short stories, poems and novellas mostly from American writers like Stephen Crane (Author of The Open Boat, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Eudora Welty. [MIT]
  2. American Literature: This American literature class is also an intensive writing class. [MIT]
  3. Identity in American Literature: Keepin’ it Real Fake: Study the complicated themes surrounding identity, ethnicity and gender in American literature. [MIT]
  4. The American Novel: Novels studied in this course range from The Scarlet Letter to Beloved. [MIT]
  5. Studies in Fiction: Stowe, Twain and the Transformation of 19th-Century America: Learn how these revolutionary writers helped influence and document the transformation of America in the 19th century. [MIT]
  6. Major Authors: Melville and Morrison: Compare and contrast the works, images, themes and styles of Herman Melville and Toni Morrison (Lorain, Ohio. [MIT]
  7. Masterworks in American Short Fiction: Take a look at American short stories and novellas like “The Turn of the Screw” and “Old Mrs. Harris.” [MIT]
  8. Richard Wright, Native Son and the Beinecke Library: Being Brought to My Senses: This lecture explores Richard Wright’s controversial modern work. [Yale]
  9. The Wasteland: Interview: Analyze “The Wasteland” when you listen to this lecture. [Stanford]
  10. Major Authors: After the Masterpiece: Novels by Melville, Twain, Faulkner, and Morrison: Find out how these fiction writers’ craft changed after their most famous works. [MIT]
  11. Plot Against America: Discussion: Listen to a discussion about Philip Roth’s novel here. [Stanford]
  12. Studies in Fiction: Rethinking the American Masterpiece: Study major American texts in a new way when you follow this online course. [MIT]
  13. Studies in Drama: Too Hot to Handle: Forbidden Plays in Modern America: Readings here include plays by Eve Ensler, Henrik Ibsen and George Bernard Shaw. [MIT]
  14. Writing Early American Lives: Gender, Nation, Faith: Learn about the themes and values that populated early American literature. [MIT]
  15. American Classics: Take a look at classic American texts like The Constitution and works by Betty Friedan, Allen Ginsberg, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Frederick Douglass. [MIT]

British and Irish Literature

Study Irish writers like James Joyce, as well as iconic English authors like Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf.

  1. An Adventure with Words: James Joyce’s Ulysses: Uncover the techniques Joyce uses to create his own narrative in Ulysses. [Columbia]
  2. Literary Studies: The Legacy of England: Find out why British literature is still so influential. [MIT]
  3. Eighteenth-Century Literature: Versions of the Self in 18th-Century Britain: Read works that pay homage to the era’s idea that man cannot control his destiny. [MIT]
  4. Major English Novels: Reading Romantic Fiction: The major English novels studied in this course include Sense and Sensibility, The Last Man and Great Expectations. [MIT]
  5. Victorian Literature and Culture: Victorian literature includes important works by Dickens, Oscar Wilde, George Eliot, Robert Browning, and others. [MIT]
  6. Milton’s Paradise Lost: Discover Milton’s infamous work here. [University of Cambridge]
  7. Literary Interpretation: Virginia Woolf’s Shakespeare: Discover how Virginia Woolf used Shakespeare in her own writing. [MIT]
  8. Major English Novels: Novels studied in this course include Moll Flanders, Tess of the d’Ubervilles, and Mrs. Dalloway. [MIT]
  9. Special Topics in Milton’s “Paradise Lost”: Take another look at “Paradise Lost” here. [MIT]
  10. Major Authors: Oscar Wilde and the ’90s: This course profiles the works of Oscar Wilde. [MIT]
  11. Tolkien at Oxford: This author profile of J.R.R. Tolkien involves his time at Oxford. [Oxford]
  12. On Beauty: Discussion: Listen to a discussion about Zadie Smith’s On Beauty. [Stanford]
  13. Arthurian Literature and Celtic Colonization: Study Medieval British history and societal themes by working with pieces from Geoffrey of Monmouth, Chretien de Troyes, and others. [MIT]

Women Writers

Discover how women writers have influenced fiction trends around the world.

  1. Medieval Literature: Medieval Women Writers: Study works by Joan of Arc, Heloise of Paris, Margery Kempe and others. [MIT]
  2. American Authors: American Women Authors: Read American women authors from the 17th century to the present, like Helen Keller, Edith Wharton and more. [MIT]
  3. International Women’s Voices: Study contemporary works of literature by women authors from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and North America. [MIT]

Regional and International Literature

Check out this list for literature from France, the Caribbean, South Asia, Japan and beyond.

  1. World Literatures: Travel Writing: Study Columbus’s Diario as a way of understanding travel writing, journaling and exploration. [MIT]
  2. Prizewinners: Take a look at prizewinning authors from the Caribbean and Ireland. [MIT]
  3. After Columbus: Read writings from the New World, Caribbean, South America, and Europe after Columbus opened up the Americas. [MIT]
  4. Foundations of Western Culture II: Renaissance to Modernity: Read works by Immanuel Kant, Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Balzac and other important writers from the Renaissance to modernity. [MIT]
  5. Major European Novels: Study major works by European authors as a way of analyzing European history and to track the changing style of European writing. Readings include Don Quixote and Madame Bovary. [MIT]
  6. Introduction to European and Latin American Fiction: Learn about avant-garde fiction in Europe and Latin America in the 20th century. [MIT]
  7. Passage to India: Introduction to Modern Indian Culture and Society: Learn about the transformation Indian culture is undergoing, and the literature that has been influenced by it. [MIT]
  8. Introduction to Contemporary Hispanic Literature: Examine short stories, novels, poems and movies by Zoe Valdes, Manuel Rivas, Frederico Garcia Lorca, and others. [MIT]
  9. Topics in South Asian Literature and Culture: This course examines topics like identity, politics, gender, castes, globalization and social change in writing from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and more. [MIT]
  10. Traditional Chinese Literature: Poetry, Fiction and Drama: This course was designed to introduce literature students to the themes, styles and symbolism in major Chinese works. [MIT]
  11. Japanese Literature: Here you will examine the literature and film from the samurai, classical, wartime and post wartime eras in Japan. [MIT]

Literary Theory, Narrative and Practice

No literature program is complete without a class or two about literary theory.

  1. Introduction to Fiction: Learn about different narrative styles and the meaning of texts in different cultures. [MIT]
  2. Forms of Western Narrative: This course studies narratives from Homer to Poe to Marx. [MIT]
  3. Popular Narrative: Masterminds: Here you’ll study the style and symbolism of deceiving readers and audiences through characters. [MIT]
  4. Reading Fiction: Study how the language of short stories and novels vary. [MIT]
  5. Introduction to Literary Theory: Study literary theory as it is applied to twentieth century works. [MIT]
  6. Chance: Chance is a quantitative literacy course with videos and audio support. [Dartmouth]
  7. Theory and Practice of Non-linear and Interactive Narrative: Compare traditional narratives found in novels and films against multimedia, non-linear narratives. [MIT]
  8. Media in Cultural Contexts: Popular Readerships: Find out the issues and judgments that define low-brow and high-brow literature and media. [MIT]
  9. Forms of Western Narrative: Consider how the Western narrative form has changed since Homer. [MIT]
  10. Literary Interpretation: Literature and Photography: This course examines literary criticism. [MIT]
  11. The Film Experience: Discover how stories are told in film and literature by taking this course. [MIT]

Modern and Contemporary Literature

Learn about modern and contemporary writers who have ushered in a new era of literature, like Kafka, Conrad, Nabokov, and others.

  1. Learning form the Past: Drama, Science, Performance: Here you will gain an understanding of how the modern artistic and scientific world evolved through works by Shakespeare, Moliere, Rembrandt and Newton. [MIT]
  2. 20th Century Fiction: Discover the changes in identity, theme, sexual experience and virtue in works by Woolf, Faulkner, Nabokov, Kafka and Kipling. [MIT]
  3. Contemporary Literature: In this course, you’ll read contemporary Irish literature. [MIT]
  4. Contemporary Literature: Literature, Development and Human Rights: Read novels, stories and news reports contributing to the discussion about human rights and economic development. [MIT]
  5. Contemporary Literature: British Novels Now: Discover how British novels have been reinvented for the twentieth century. [MIT]
  6. Foundations of Western Culture II: Modernism: This course follows the evolution of western literature and thought from the 17th century to the early 20th century. [MIT]

Poetry and Drama

For courses about poetry and drama, including Shakespeare, turn to this list.

  1. Introduction to Drama: Study drama as a form of storytelling and as a challenge to social norms. [MIT]
  2. Literary Interpretation: Beyond the Limits of the Lyric: Discover the moral, political and cultural implications of poetry when you study pieces by Whitman, Williams, Plath and more. [MIT]
  3. Major Poets: Study English lyric poetry in this course. [MIT]
  4. The Shakespearean Sonnet and the Modern Voice: This e-seminar studies Shakespeare’s sonnets. [Columbia]
  5. Shakespeare: This Shakespeare class tries to uncover what makes Shakespeare so great. [MIT]
  6. Tragedy: Discover how tragedy from drama influences the tragic style in literature as well. [MIT]
  7. Romantic Poetry: Study the British Romantic poets Blake, Shelley, Byron, Coleridge, Wordsworth and Keats. [MIT]
  8. Modern Drama: Study Beckett, Stoppard and Shaw in this modern drama class. [MIT]
  9. Interpreting Poetry: Learn about different trends and techniques for interpreting poetry. [MIT]
  10. Studies in Poetry: “What’s the use of Beauty?”: Why do poets so often write about beauty? Explore why in this course. [MIT]
  11. Studies in Poetry: Renaissance Men and Women Writing About Love: Study English love sonnets by Shakespeare, Sidney, Spencer, and Mary Wroth in conjunction with works by Thomas Wyatt and others. [MIT]
  12. Modern Poetry: This course covers new imagery, ideas about identity and nationalism, and more from poems in the 20th century. [MIT]
  13. Playwright Huzir Sulaiman Listen to playwright Huzir Sulaiman discuss the techniques of writing about social change. [Yale]
  14. Remixing Shakespeare: Learn about the trends and techniques involved with modernizing Shakespeare. [MIT]
  15. Studies in Drama: Stoppard and Churchill: Study topics like interpretation and literary history when you examine the works of Caryl Churchill and Tom Stoppard. [MIT]
  16. Studies in Poetry: 20th Century Irish Poetry: The Shadow of W.B. Yeats: Consider the significance and influence of W.B. Yeats here. [MIT]


Here you’ll find even more free courses to round out your literature education, including classes about reading and writing fiction.

  1. The Future of English: David Crystal’s e-seminar considers how globalization affects the English language in literature and communication. [Columbia]
  2. Reading Fiction: Dysfunctional Families: Study dysfunctional family relationships in works like Jazz and To the Lighthouse. [MIT]
  3. Writing About Literature: Learn tips for writing responses to and analyzing literature in this course. [MIT]
  4. Bestsellers: Detective Fiction: Study the elements that made works by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allen Poe and Agatha Christie so successful. [MIT]
  5. Comedy: Study comedy styles from Moliere, Chaplin, Wilde, Cervantes and others. [MIT]
  6. The Literature of Crisis: This course examines how characters in Plato, Shakespeare, Virgil and Voltaire embrace crisis. [Stanford]
  7. The Craft of Science Fiction: This short course tracks the process of writing a science fiction piece. [MIT]
  8. The End of Nature: This literature and philosophy class examines the Western interpretation of nature and its relationship to mankind. [MIT]
  9. The Nature of Creativity: This art theory, psychology and philosophy course considers the nature of creativity. [MIT]
  10. Writing Workshop: This creative writing workshop will help you become a better writer and literature student [MIT]
  11. The Creative Spark: Discover how creativity is influenced here. [MIT]
  12. Writing and the Environment: Follow this course to learn about popular science and environmentalist writers. [MIT]