Medieval Literature
(formerly Early and Middle English Literature)


Required materials:

Course requirements:

In addition to an oral report on a medieval figure and the take-home mid-term (a paper/exam hybrid), you will write a paper of 1500 words (about seven to eight pages). Papers that do not satisfy these length requirements as well as those that are not handed in by the due date announced will automatically receive lower grades. (If you have never counted words, start this semester.)

Your final grade will be made up of:

You will be expected to have read assignments before the material is discussed in class. If you must miss a class, you must let me know before that class. My phone number in the English department (Bakeless 113) is 4428; my home number is 389-8175 (please no calls after 10:30 P.M.). In the event that you miss a class, you remain responsible for the reading, any announcements, and the material covered in that class, and you are expected to be prepared for the following class. Absence will be no excuse for not knowing class material (written or oral).

This course will contain much more than the list of requirements suggest. As I mentioned on Monday, I plan to show a series of films on medieval subjects (on a late Mon.-Thurs. afternoon if we can find a time that suits everyone). Plan on joining a pilgrimage to The Cloisters in Manhattan in November (Benedictine habits not required). I will circulate more information later (anyone want to drive the van?). There will inevitably be some slide presentations along the way (I currently have the slides pulled for a lecture I gave last spring in Buffalo on an elaborate religious procession held (supposedly since the Middle Ages) in Bruges (Belgium) to honor the relic of the Holy Blood brought back from the Holy Land by Count Thierry of Alsace in the twelfth century. Anyone interested?). Last but not least, I am hoping to bring a historian/musician/entertainer to campus for a day to tell us something about popular (i.e., not courtly) medieval music. If we accomplish half of this, I'll be satisfied. Let me know what does or does not interest you.



Week 1 (beginning 31 August):

	Discussion of the Anglo-Saxon heroic ideal, the survival of
		pagan ideas, and Old English verse form.
		Read Battle of Maldon.

Week 2 (beginning 7 September):

	Monday:  No class.
	Wednesday, Friday:  Discussion of the place and nature of
		Christianity in Anglo-Saxon society, the dream vision,
		the style of Old English poetry.
		Read Dream of the Rood.

Week 3 (beginning 14 September):

	Monday:  Something like a lecture on the Norman Conquest, the
reasons for the death of Old English, the effects on verse form and
diction in English, reasons for the dearth of fine poetry in the English
in the early Middle English period.  I will expect you to help me out with
whatever you know (HEL? BritLitI?) about these matters; you might want to
look over old notes and/or the introductions in the Norton Anthology. 

	Wednesday, Friday:  The Owl and the Nightingale.

Week 4 (beginning 21 September):

	We will finish up O&N if we need more time.  This might
be a good time to talk about the origins of courtly love and its many
applications.  Just as The Dream of the Rood "mixes" heroic with
religious images, so the "Love Rune" expresses religious ideas in the
language of love (a paper topic?). 

		Read "The Love Rune."

Week 5 (beginning 28 September):

	Ah, romance!  not twentieth-century romance, but a narrative form
born in France (a Romance, rather than a Germanic land).  Be sure to bone
up on the story of Orpheus and Eurydice (any mythology book will have it). 
[Boethius freaks:  check Book 3, poem 12.]
		Read Sir Orfeo.

Week 6 (beginning 5 October):

	Having gotten into romance, we might as well stay there.

	Read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.  The language is
difficult.  It is worth every bit of struggle.  It is one of the great
poems of the English language.  Keep both Maldon and Sir
Orfeo in the back of your mind as you read. 

Week 7  (beginning 12 October):

	I have no idea how slowly we'll be going at this point, but I
suspect we'll want to allow these two classes for Sir Gawain. 

	Friday:  No class.

Week 8 (beginning 19 October):

	I think it makes most sense to read Pearl next.  It is
radically different from Sir Gawain, but, having juxtaposed honor
and religion in the Old English period, it makes some sense to repeat that
exercise here (and besides, the two poems are by the same great artist). 
We will probably talk about the Ellis Peters novel along in here, since it
is very much about religious apprehension in the (earlier) Middle English

	Friday:  Mid-term handed out.

Week 9  (beginning 26 October):

	Monday:  Mid-term due.
	Continue with the Pearl-poet.

Week 10 (beginning 2 November):

	William Langland is a difficult poet because he is about as well
organized as I am.  He's a bit hard to read in snatches; he requires time
and space.  (I chose this anthology largely on the basis of the generous
selections from his work.)  We'll just have to see how it goes.  I'll
probably (as always) supplement with handouts. 

Week 11 (beginning 9 November):

	More Langland, for sure.

Week 12 (beginning 16 November):

	The fifteenth century.  
	Read Henryson's Testament of Cresseid.

Week 13 (beginning 23 November):

	There's one more text we'll just have to read, and that's Malory
(you see how well organized I am).  What I'd like to do is juxtapose the
Morte Arthure and a good chunk of (very easy to read) Malory. 
Handout time. 

	Friday:  Final paper due.

Week 14 (beginning 30 November):

	Read "The Dance of the Seven Deadly Sins."  I'll give you some
other "7-deadlies" to compare (both in words and in images). 

Week 15 (beginning 7 December):

	There is no way we will run out of material.  We'll probably be
hustling to finish.  (Don't forget, we'll miss a day to go to NY, unless
we decide to go on a Saturday.)  Nice to think there may be some
elbow-room, though.  

Oral report on a historical figure

Reports should be 10-15 minutes. Your primary goal is to communicate your interest in the figure to your classmates. Provide whatever information you think will make your report clearer or more useful (a chronology, a bibliography, a chart, a list of deeds, or whatever). If none is necessary, don't hand out anything. Beware of giving too many facts or dates; be aware of your audience. You want to interest your classmates in you subject, not put them off it forever. The following are suggestions for those of you with totally empty heads. I want you to choose someone whom you are curious about. This list is only to set you thinking.

Abelard and/or Heloise 		
St. Francis			
Thomas a Beckett		
King Alfred			
Christine de Pisan		
Julian of Norwich		
St. Augustine (of Hippo)	
Eleanor of Aquitaine		
St. Louis (king of France)	
Frederick Barbarossa		
The Venerable Bede	        
the historical King Arthur
The Paston family
Thomas a Kempis
Joan of Arc
Margery Kemp
Albertus Magnus
St. Bernard
Richard the Lionheart
St. Benedict
Alfonso the Wise (king of Spain)

Final examination (take-home)

Read the following instructions three times before you begin to write and three more times after you finish:

In all cases, you may write on any of the works we read for the course (make a complete list and consult it). It will not impress the dickens out of me if you write on the same text over and over. Remember: quality is much more important than quantity. Quality means analysis, i.e., writing that demonstrates that (a) you understand the work, (b) you can manipulate and account for details, (c) you can write coherent paragraphs. I am absolutely indifferent to--no, in fact I am irritated by--extraneous material. Just answer the questions. No introductions, conclusions, gingerbread, or lace. Give me as much solid answer as you have in you. If you want to quote from the literature, just give the page/line reference to save time/space, unless it is only a few words. T h i n k before you write, but remember: this is a final exam, not a lifetime project.

I. Everyone answers this one:

This is probably not the sort of essay you were expecting, but, oh, well. You have received with this sheet (or must pick up from me) photocopies of the following:

a passage from the Alliterative Morte Arthure in a
student edition (Benson's)
a passage from Malory in a scholarly edition (Vinaver's).
Begin with the AMA. Place the text next to the text in our anthology and carefully compare a healthy passage in the two versions (tell me what the inclusive line numbers you have chosen are). Then tell me (a) how they differ (hint: gener alize), (b) why you think they differ, and (c) which you think makes a better student edition and why. (Glosses are an incidental matter and should play no significant part in your answer.)

Next, place the Vinaver text next to the Norton text of Malory. Choose a healthy passage (let me know what is it), and compare the two versions carefully. Then tell me (a) how they differ, (b) why you think they differ, and (c) which you would prefer to read and why (ignore the glosses in the Norton).

Your answers need not be extensive. You must simply work carefully. You should have plenty of information to answer the questions (most was presented in class, with the exception of your preferences).

II. Answer ONE:

1. Lewte, trawthe, treuthe, one of the most highly esteemed virtues in the Middle Ages, is opposed to brukkilnes, the behavior of the false traitour, who is untrew. Discuss the ways in which at least two medieval writers use the concept and its opposite.

Tip #1: Don't give me an elaborate list (I can read). I want analysis (look it up).
Tip #2: Survey all the texts we have read before you make your choice.
2. "Love is a many-splendoured thing," someone once said (after the Middle Ages were long gone). Is it? How many? (That's a joke.) Discuss the relation between love and destruction in a selection of works we have read this semester ( you choose which ones).

Tip #1: Don't try to extend the meaning of the word "destruction" too far.
Tip #2: Don't try to deal with too many texts.
Tip #3: Think (hard) before you write.
3. You have met King Arthur four times in this course, but, as if in a funhouse, he never looked the same twice. Give me a careful analysis of three of the four kings: what kinds of characters are they--and why?

Tip #1: I'm not interested in a list (I can read for myself). I want an answer that shows some understanding of the material, not just average literacy.
Tip #2: It makes more sense to concentrate on differences rather than similarities, but if you want to draw parallels as well, feel free.

III. Answer ONE:

4. "Give not that which is holy to dogs. Neither cast ye your pearls before swine." I never do, but speaking of pearls and such like, discuss the image of jewels in three of the works we have read this semester.

Tip #1: I know where they are; I want to know what they're doing there and why they're important.
Tip #2: If you choose Pearl (I wouldn't), you may write on it alone (that's English for one answer=one poem) IF you give me a well-organized analysis (omitting most of the poem) rather than a book report.
5. It is very rare that a dream vision be sent not to the narrator of a medieval poem but to one of the characters. Contrast the uses to which the dream vision is put in Pearl and Testament.

Tip #1: If you want to concentrate on the Pearl, discuss the Testament first.
Tip #2: If you want to give them equal time, discuss the Pearl first.
6. If you've had the good fortune to get this far, perhaps you'd like to try your hand at something wyrd. Explain the way Fortune works in at least two of the works we have read.

Tip #1: I would recommend Pearl and Testament, but I'll give you enough rope...
Tip #2: Don't just describe; analyse.

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Rev 11/97