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Middle English Literature

Middle English Literature is not all prayer and piety and men in armour. Discover a rich cultural heritage in Middle English poems, plays and prose stories of high- and low-born, horribly good and gleefully bad, men and women; and the language and culture
University of Oxford University Offices Wellington Square Oxford ,OX1 2JD United Kingdom
(4418) 65270000

Course at a Glance

Mode of learning : Online - Instructor Lead(LVC)

Domain / Subject : Sports & Fitness

Function : General

Trainer name : Dr Jennifer DunnDr Maria Artamonova

Starts on : 17th Sep 2014

Duration : 10 Weeks

Difficulty : Advanced

About the course

Middle English Literature is not all prayer and piety and men in armour. Discover a rich cultural heritage in Middle English poems, plays and prose (modern translations); stories of high- and low-born, horribly good and gleefully bad, men and women; and the language and culture from which they sprang.

From the End of the World to Creation, via Heaven, earthly paradises, greed, corruption, purity, saintliness, intrigue, betrayal, sex, jealousy, castles, maidens, knights, monsters, kings, plague, rogues, con-men, drunks, bawds, lovers, abduction, demons, angels, hunting, questing, comic shepherds, ranting Herods, and Hell. Middle English Literature is not all prayer and piety. Discover a rich cultural heritage in Middle English texts in modern translations and explore poetry, prose and plays of the medieval period, and the language and culture out of which they grew.

We shall look at texts from The Owl and the Nightingale (c.1210) to The Morte d’Arthur (1470, published 1485), including poems of religious and secular love, and extracts from, among others, The Canterbury Tales, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, The Mystery Plays, and Piers Plowman. No knowledge of Middle English is necessary.storical sources, the understanding of historical concepts, exploring debates and appreciating the significance of historical theories. 

Course aims

This course aims to:

  • introduce students to the history and culture of the Middle Ages;
  • introduce students to the range and variety of the literature of the Middle Ages (in modern English);
  • introduce students to Middle English dialects;
  • introduce students to Middle English orthography;
  • introduce students to medieval manuscript and book production.

This course will enable participants to:

  • have knowledge and understanding of English life during the eleventh to fifteenth centuries;
  • have knowledge and understanding of some of the key genres, authors, texts, styles and themes of Middle English literature;
  • recognise key features of some Middle English dialects;
  • recognise features of some varieties of Middle English orthography.

Assessment methods

Assessment for this course is based on two written assignments - one short assignment due half way through the course and one longer assignment due at the end of the course. Students will have about two weeks to complete each assignment.

Teaching methods

There will be links to online texts and hypertexts (for example, the electronic Canterbury Tales Project), to images of illuminated mss, to websites on Middle English and medieval culture (the European context as well as British), to examples of orthography, to audio files, and to commentaries. One unit will include ‘drag and drop’ word choices, and click to reveal glosses will be provided in some extracts. Each unit will include a short talk available as a podcast, and a transcript. 

Teaching outcomes

By the end of this course students will be expected to understand:

  • Definitions and problems associated with defining the middle ages
  • The chronological order of key events during the middle ages
  • The variety of kinds of writing produced during the middle ages
  • Issues in establishing, preserving, and editing a Middle English literature corpus
  • Some key themes and concepts explored in writing of the middle ages
  • Some key elements of Middle English dialects
  • Differences between some kinds of scripts employed in the middle ages

By the end of this course students will be expected to have gained the following skills:

  • The ability to discuss and analyse a range of Middle English texts in modern English adaptations
  • The ability to identify key themes and styles in Middle English Literature
  • The ability to understand some simple phrases in Middle English
  • The ability to read some simple phrases in medieval book hand.

Course eligibility

Course Requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.

Recommended reading

To participate in this course you will need to have regular access to the Internet and you will need to buy the following books:

  • Turville-Petre, Reading Middle English Literature: An Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell (2006)
  • Larry Scanlon, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, (2009)
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Course Content

  • When was Middle English?
  • What was Middle English?
  • Short poems, religious and secular
  • Longer religious and devotional works
  • Drama
  •  Chaucer
  • The Gawain poet
  • Langland
  • Didactic works, chronicles, and other non-fiction works
  • Manuscripts and books

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