ENGL4230: Medieval Literature: Borderlands


So much well-known medieval literature stems from the geographic and linguistic center of England - London and its environs - that it’s easy to forget the vibrant literary cultures that flourished at the margins of the kingdom. This class takes the idea of the border as its organizing principle, through which we will consider the different kinds of marginality that shaped Middle English poetry, especially narrative poetry, in the fourteenth through early sixteenth centuries. We’ll read literature written at political borders, like the town of Chester (which sat between England and Wales) and the Scottish Borderlands, and examine poems about individuals who encapsulate those divides. We’ll discuss language borders (between Welsh or Scots and English) and read texts that play with linguistic difference. And we’ll consider the ways that border-blurring -- between political entities, religious cultures, humans/non-humans, genres, and poetic forms -- permeates every aspect of these poems. We’ll read all Middle English and Middle Scots texts in the original language (yes, I’ll teach you how to do that); reading instruction will begin on the first day of class.

In keeping with the course’s theme, assessment will take place at the boundaries of traditional grading. Students will be responsible for a series of shorter writing assignments in various formats that engage different facets of writing as an English major: close reading, library research, critical analysis, creative projects. In lieu of a final essay, students will revise their best work into a portfolio that illustrates/argues for their learning process over the course of the semester. Expect to do a lot of formal and informal writing, to meditate on and write about your own learning processes, and to write in a variety of academic forms.

Required Texts

  • Middle English Breton Lays. Ed. Anne Laskaya and Eve Salisbury (TEAMS)
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Ed. Paul Battles (Broadview Press. Make sure you get THIS edition, NOT the Broadview P translation by James Winny.)
  • Sir Gawain: Eleven Romances and Tales. Ed. Thomas Hahn (TEAMS)
  • Blind Hary. The Wallace: Selections. Ed. Anne McKimm (TEAMS)
  • A Companion to Britain in the Later Middle Ages. Ed. S H Rigby (Blackwell) ***NOTE*** This last book is available more cheaply as a Kindle ebook (which you can, of course, read on your laptop/desktop/tablet without an actual Kindle); you are welcome to purchase that version instead of the somewhat pricy paperback. If money is an issue, note that I will put this volume on reserve in the library, and you will be able to read/photocopy the assignments there. Please DO, however, purchase THESE editions of the Middle English texts (1-4); you will be hurting if you try to make due without them.
  • Additional material will be made available online and via <emma>. Please budget for printing costs.
  • As an English major, you ought to already own the 2009 (7th edition) of the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. If you don't, you ought to purchase one. Earlier editions will NOT do, as citation format has changed substantially in this edition. I have posted links to online material that will aid you on my faculty website, but they are no substitute for the details given in the Handbook.

Recommended Texts

(not in the bookstore, but available through Amazon and other vendors)

  • Andrew Galloway, Medieval Literature and Culture (Continuum)

**No matter where you acquire your texts, please purchase THESE editions!**

Semesters taught: