Middle English I


Course Convenor:  Dr. Natalie Jones

This course focuses on literature in English from the time of the Norman Conquest up to and including the period in which Chaucer was writing, the second half of the fourteenth century. One of its aims is to contextualise Chaucer’s achievement by looking at writing in English in the centuries and decades that preceded his literary career. It also aims to situate Chaucer in the great flourishing of English literature that was taking place in his day: to look at some of the other great ‘Ricardian’ literature (literature written during the reign of Richard II) that was produced even as Chaucer was writing. It therefore forms an excellent complement to the core course ‘Chaucer and his Literary Background’.

The course considers such matters as treatments of the British past in romances and poetic histories that were composed in the Middle English period, including texts that debut the story of King Arthur and his Round Table in English; the writing of fabliau in English before Chaucer; and English writing for female religious in the early thirteenth century – writing that is fully conscious of the gender of its audience. Works of the so-called ‘Alliterative Revival’ – poetry that developed insular traditions of verse – will also be studied, including Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and other writings thought to have been written by the author of Sir Gawain, including Pearl, a moving dream vision poem in which the narrator tries (with only partial success) to come to terms with the death of his infant daughter, and Patience, the Gawain-poet’s unique take on the Old Testament story of Jonah and the whale. The Confessio Amantis, a great treasure-book of tales by Chaucer’s contemporary John Gower, is another component of the course.

By the end of the course, students will have been made aware of the diversity of writing in English in the Middle Ages, and of many of the literary traditions from which English writing that was produced in the period grew. They will also have extended their competence in reading Middle English.