Oct 21, 2020  
Catalogue 2020-2021 
    
Catalogue 2020-2021
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ENGL 237 - Medieval Literature

Semester Offered: Fall
1 unit(s)
This course serves as an introduction to medieval literature, with a focus on Middle English literatures (c. 1066-1550). Students will become familiar with the linguistic and stylistic features of Middle English, and will read a variety of texts from the period. Special topics for the course vary from year to year; examples of topics include: Arthurian literature, Chaucer, the Chaucerian tradition, women’s writing in the Middle Ages, transnational/comparative medieval literatures (including French and Italian), medieval “autobiography,” the alliterative tradition, Piers Plowman and the Piers tradition, dream visions, fifteenth century literature and the bridge to the “early modern,” literature and heresy, gender and sexuality in the Middle Ages, and medieval mystical writing. Students engage throughout with the process of establishing English as a “literary” language; authorial identity; the grounding of English literary tradition; and the role of translation and adaptation in medieval writing. The course also prepares students who might wish to pursue work in medieval literature at the 300 level, and/or pursue a senior thesis in the period.

Topic for 2020/21a: Chaucer and Medieval English Class and Society​. Film representations of the Middle Ages from the 1980s and ‘90s often use the trope of rags-to-riches to tell the stories of their protagonists: a poor boy becomes a knight (The Knight’s Tale) or a peasant is enfianced to a prince (The Princess Bride). But how often does medieval literature itself tell such tales? How did medieval England envision its class structure and class mobility? In this introduction to Middle English literature, we investigate all of these questions with the assistance of Geoffrey Chaucer—the 14th century poet who is now famous for his class satire The Canterbury Tales (and who lived a somewhat upwardly mobile life). Through a variety of Chaucer’s texts, we investigate class structure, mobility, and even social uprisings. We will also examine how different medieval genres such as romances like Athelston and The Tale of Ralph the Collier and “loathly lady tales” like The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle address the issue of social class. All of our texts are carefully situated within the historical contexts from which they emerged, contexts that are largely monarchical but also include the rise of a significant middle class in England and popular revolts that were, ironically, lent strength by the havoc that the Black Death played on working class populations (if there are clear parallels between the Black Death and COVID-19, it is in class rumblings that both diseases brought to the surface, rather than in virulence or death rates). Erin Sweany.

Two 75-minute periods.

Course Format: CLS



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