Middle English II
ENGL3023 - Available in 2011-12 and 2013-14
Course Convenor: Dr. Marilyn Corrie
This course focuses on the medieval cultivation of the genres of the drama, the dream vision, the lyric and autobiography: genres in which the self is expressed and defined. The distinctive characteristics of the medieval conceptualisation of selfhood will be addressed, and particular attention will be given to ideas of the female self in the period. The course covers such masterpieces of medieval writing as William Langland’s Piers Plowman, which was written, and rewritten, as Chaucer was working on his greatest texts; the powerful mystery cycle of plays that was performed in the city of York; the morality play Everyman, which movingly depicts man’s reconciliation with God through the sacraments of the medieval Church; and the writings of the fascinating female ‘mystics’ Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe.
The first term concentrates on dramatic literature and explores examples of the key medieval genre of the dream vision—both Piers Plowman and Pearl, in which a father is consoled for the loss of his infant daughter when she appears to him crowned as a queen in heaven. Classes will also explore how Piers Plowman was exploited as a dissident, radical text by disaffected groups in late medieval English society, who used it to further their own religious, satirical and political aims. In the second term, the uses made in vernacular writing of the genre of the debate will be studied through a class on the early Middle English poem The Owl and the Nightingale; the articulation of subjectivity in the medieval period will then be examined in classes on Middle English lyric poetry. A major element of the second term of the course is writing for and by women, including the poetic prose of the early Middle English guide for female recluses Ancrene Wisse. The theology of Julian of Norwich develops the concept of ‘Jesus as mother’ that is invoked in Ancrene Wisse; The Book of Margery Kempe relates the experiences of another woman from Norfolk who, after no fewer than fourteen pregnancies, resolved to maintain a life of chastity and went on extensive foreign travels. The last part of the course focuses on poetry of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, exploring the works of Hoccleve and Dunbar. This will provide a vantage-point from which to consider the nature of the period as a whole, and what kinds of meaning the distinction between ‘medieval’ and ‘Renaissance’ might be felt to possess.
By the end of the course, students will have gained greater fluency in their reading of Middle English literature; they will also have studied works spanning the main genres of medieval English literature, considered the nature of the period as a whole and its relation to the Renaissance, and have been encouraged to engage with some of the central questions that arise from medieval writing.