358:305 Medieval Romance

B1  5/31-7//8  CAC  04736  MTWTH 12:30-2:25pm  BEVINS  MU-115 

Wracked on Fortune's Wheel

All humans are bound to Fortune's Wheel, spun by an arbitrary hand—we alternately rise to the apex and fall to be crushed beneath. It is fitting, then, that this medieval symbol of fortune bears a striking resemblance to its counterpart, the wheel used for torture and execution. The frequency with which Fortune’s Wheel and other devices for thinking through temporality and destiny appear in medieval romances reflect a preoccupation with issues of an unstable present and a future that is at once uncertain and yet grinding toward apocalyptic inevitability. By reading across French and English works like Le Conte du Graal, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Le Morte Darthur, and sundry other texts, students will see how medieval romances grapple with and even challenge their own interpretations of time and futurity, playing with the notions of cause and effect, chance and fate. How does the past work in the service of the future, and is more than one future possible? What role does chance play? What control do we have to determine our own fates? This course asks students to think critically about the intersections of narrative, history, and theories of time and futurity, as well as the relationships between literature and the religious, political, and social. Readings, when possible, will be in Middle English (disclaimer: it’s not that hard!). A series of short written assignments will culminate in a final research paper, providing students with the chance to pursue various approaches to and interests in these texts.