Welcome to the Department of English at Rutgers University

Course No: 350:535
Index # - 18238
Distribution Requirement: A1
Monday – 4:30 p.m.
MU 207


Sarah Novacich

This course surveys various literary (and occasionally cinematic) engagements with the medieval past to consider the ways in which the reinvention of those centuries served political ends, cultivated forms of nostalgia, influenced avowedly modern genres, and contributed to the rise of the discipline of English literary study. We will read both medieval texts and postmedieval texts that reveal a continual fascination with those medieval centuries, examining how complementary – and at times oppositional– literary and critical strategies engage the distant past. The class is meant for both medievalists and non-medievalists, with the intention that we all gain greater fluency in talking about a more temporally extensive literary history, as well as the confidence to forge new connections among these far-flung centuries. In general, medieval texts will be paired with postmedieval texts, sometimes within the same class period and sometimes across a two- or three-week period. Medieval works most likely will include Beowulf, medieval ballads, romances by Chrétien de Troyes and Malory, selected hagiography, the Chester Mystery plays, and either Everyman or Mankind. Picking up postmedieval texts with the rise of 18th century antiquarian interest in the medieval past, we will read Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe and consider the anthologizing impulse of ballad collectors, look at the 19th century editorial efforts of F. J. Furnivall and the rise of the Early English Text Society, and examine the neo-medieval aesthetics of Victorian visual artists and poets (and perhaps read Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court). The bulk of our postmedieval reading, however, will come from the twentieth and twenty-first century, most likely including Sarah Ruhl’s Passion Play, Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, Paul Kingsnorth’s The Wake, poetry by Marie Howe and Seamus Heaney, Yiimimangaliso: The Mysteries, and The Seventh Seal. We will consider the very different forms of medievalism in which major cultural figures such as Tolkien, Lacan, Auerbach, and Borges traded; the possible relationships among history, antiquarianism, and fantasy; and the cultural attitudes underpinning the now-frequent designation of the medieval as the preserve of children’s and young adult literature. Criticism will include work by Kathleen Biddick, Bruce Holsinger, Sarah Beckwith, John Ganim, David Matthews, Aranye Fradenburg, and Carolyn Dinshaw. Difficult medieval works can be read in translation, and assistance with less difficult Middle English will be provided. Two 10-12-page essays are required; students have the option of extending their first paper into a seminar-length work. Also required: occasional very short writing assignments, active participation, and at least one class presentation.

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