Reverse detail from Kakelbont MS 1, a fifteenth-century French Psalter. This image is in the public domain. Daniel Paul O'Donnell

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English 3401a: Medieval Literature (Fall 2016)

Posted: Jun 21, 2016 13:06;
Last Modified: Dec 14, 2016 15:12


English 3401 introduces students to the study of Middle English literature (i.e. literature from roughly the twelfth through the end of the fifteenth centuries). The course is a companion to English 3601 Chaucer, and so this course concentrates on literature by authors other than Chaucer.



Times and location

Office and Office Hours

My office is B810B (8th floor, University Hall).

I work in my office and encourage drop-ins (I put a notice on my door if I am not available). I also keep official office hours, though I strongly prefer appointments.

My official office hours are:

About this course

In many ways the Middle English period marks the beginning of English literature as we know it. There was literature written in English before this period: the literature of Anglo-Saxon England, which you can begin studying in English 3450 Old English. But the Norman invasion of 1066 which brought the Anglo-Saxon period to a close also brought about a significant cultural break: while there is some cultural continuity, literature of the post Norman period was often far more continental in outlook and influence—especially in the cultural centre.

The result is that Middle English literature looks much more like Modern English literature than does the English literature of the pre-conquest period. This is the time in which rhyme becomes a significant feature of our poetry, and in which foot-based metrical systems (such as the famous “Iambic Pentameter” used by Shakespeare) are introduced. We also start seeing the introduction of or increased interest in forms of literature that will remain important into our own day: drama, autobiography, lyric poetry, polemic, and very complex narratives. While some of these forms are found in English before the Conquest, all receive far more attention in the post Conquest period.

Middle English literature is written in a form of the English language that most students find more difficult to read than Modern English—though in contrast to Old English, you probably won’t need to approach it as a foreign language. Much is also available in translation. In this course, we will be mixing readings in translation with readings in Middle English, and an important goal of the course will be to improve your ability to read Middle English.

Because these readings can be difficult, however, you should not take this course if you are not able to make a commitment to devote the necessary time it will take to prepare for class. While we will discuss the literature in much the same way we do more modern works, it will take you much longer to read material written in Middle English. If you are prepared to work hard and devote an appropriate amount of time and energy to your preparation, you will likely enjoy this class very much. If you are not, you should try to find something easier to take.

Learning goals

By the end of the course, you should be able to do the following:

  1. Speak and write about English medieval literature;
  2. Read some types of Middle English in the original language;
  3. Research and write about a topic involving medieval literature.

In addition, you will have practice preparing academic posters, writing, and speaking about research.





  1. All exercises under this category are of equal weight. I reserve the right to add or subtract participation exercises during the year.
  2. All exercises under this category are of equal weight. Exceptional work may be eligible for badges. Students may submit one piece of “Inappropriate” work for regrading, provided they accompany this with a letter explaining what changes have been made to the resubmission. Students who resubmit work for grading will receive a 2.5% penalty on their final grade.
  3. Badges are earned for exceptional work. Badges may not be combined on any one exercise (i.e. you cannot have a “distinction” and “great distinction” badge on the same piece of work, or a “distinction” and “resubmission.” At the end of the semester, the total value of all badges will be added together.


The following policies will be followed in all my classes unless otherwise announced. You are expected to be familiar with the policies reproduced here and in the more general section on my website. These additional web pages are to be considered part of this syllabus for the purposes of this course.

Grade scale

The University of Lethbridge keeps track of student performance using a letter and grade point system (See section 4 of the University Calendar). Instructors assign students a letter grade at the end of each course (the University does not issue or record mid-term grades). These letter grades are converted to a numerical value (a Grade Point) for assessing overall academic performance (a Grade Point Average or GPA). The University does not record percentage-type grades and does not have a fixed scale for conversion from percentage scores to letter grades and grade points. Each instructor is responsible for determining their own methodology for determining students’ final letter grade.

In my classes, I use the following letter-grade to percentage correspondences:

  Excellent Good Satisfactory Poor Minimal pass Failing
Letter A+ A A- B+ B B- C+ C C- D+ D F
Percent range 100-94 93-90 89-86 85-82 81-78 77-74 73-70 69-66 65-62 61-58 57-50 49-0
Conventional value 100 92 88 84 80 76 72 68 64 60 56 49-0
Grade point 4.0 3.7 3.3 3.0 2.7 2.3 2.0 1.7 1.3 1.0 0

Submitting Work

Tests, Exams, and Quizzes

Tests and Exams will be written in the University’s Testing Centre on Moodle.

Essays and Reports

Essays and reports will normally be collected using Turnitin. Information on our account (URL, ID number, and Password) will be made available in our class space on Moodle.


This course uses plagiarism detection software. Any plagiarism will be treated very seriously: you can expect to receive a grade of 0 on the assignment as well as other penalties depending on the seriousness of the offence. In most cases, the penalty for plagiarism is an F on the course.

Class schedule

Week Date Topic Reading
1 Tues Sept. 6    
Thurs Sept. 8 Welcome Syllabus, Assessment, Lecture: “The Middle of What?”
2 Tue Sept 13 Learning to read Middle English Lyrics 77 and 78 (Luria and Hoffman)
Also: Prepare ‘phonetic’ exercise for class
Thur Sept. 15   Lyrics 8, 188, 197
3 Blogs start this week
Tue Sept. 20   Lyrics 112, 115, 117
Thur Sept. 22    
4 Tue Sept. 27 Medieval Culture Blogs A-L
Read Burrows, Medieval Writers
Thur Sept. 29 Chaucer Blogs M-Z
The Book of the Duchess
Sun Oct. 2 Essay 1 due on Turnitin
5 Tue Oct. 4   Blogs A-L
Thur Oct. 6   Blogs M-Z
6 Tue Oct. 11 The Mystery Plays Blogs A-L
Cawley, Introduction; Second Shepherd’s play (Wakefield)
Thur Oct. 13   Blogs M-Z
7 Tue Oct. 18   Blogs A-L
Thur Oct. 20 York Crucifixion Blogs M-Z
Cawley, The York Crucifixion
8 Tue Oct. 25   Blogs A-L ;
Cawley, the York Creation and Fall of Lucifer; Creation of Adam and Eve; Fall of Man
Thur Oct. 27   Blogs M-Z
Cawley, The Harrowing of Hell
9 Tue Nov. 1 Julian of Norwich Blogs A-L
Thur Nov. 3   Blogs M-Z
Nov. 6-12 Reading Week No Classes
10 Sunday November 13 Prospectus due on Turnitin
Blog due dates switch
Tue Nov. 15 Gawain Poet Blogs M-Z
Thur Nov. 17   Blogs A-L
11 Tue Nov. 15   Blogs M-Z
Thur Nov. 17   Blogs A-L
12 Tue Nov. 22   Blogs M-Z
Thur Nov. 24 Paston Letters Blogs A-L
13 Tue Nov. 29   Blogs M-Z
Thur Dec. 1   Blogs A-L
14 Tue Dec. 6 Conclusion Blogs (all)
Final Paper due
Final Exam (Dec. 10-19)




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