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Fall 2012 Undergraduate English Courses: Medieval

350:301 Medieval Court Literature

01  MW4  CAC  15647 GRAHAM   FH-B2

The goals for this course will be to: 1) familiarize students with major traditions of mid- to late-medieval English literature about the court, and 2) prepare students to think, speak, and write about medieval literature from several critical perspectives, including those of gender and sexuality studies, historicism, Marxism, and psychoanalysis.

Our investigation will focus on two interrelated traditions of court literature, the romance and the dream vision. Arthurian and classical romances provided medieval readers with idealized heroes and damsels whose adventures give us insight into medieval conceptions of courtesy, chivalry, gender relations, and politics. The dream vision form was also an important avenue for poetic exploration of idealized courtliness or courtesy. These works focus on an individual dreamer whose dream takes him or her into a realm beyond everyday experience, often into an idyllic garden setting where the dreamer meets lovelorn knights, beautiful ladies, powerful and ruthless queens and goddesses, and even talking birds. Our romance texts will include the Stanzaic Morte D’Arthur and Chaucer’s most popular poem in his own day, Troilus and Criseyde. Courtly dream visions will include Chaucer’s Prologue to The Legend of Good Women, his Parliament of Fowls and The Book of the Duchess, and James I’s Kingis Quair.

We will consider questions like: how does this literature engage with the political, social, and economic realities of life in medieval England? How does this poetry construct gendered and rank-specific definitions of the “courtly,” and why? How is militancy related to the elements of love-play that are central to courtliness? How can the repetition of a very traditional conception of courtliness be used to create literature that is relevant to its own time, and to our own?

Prior knowledge of Middle English will be helpful, but is not required.