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 (Spring 2010)

Posted: Jan 07, 2010 09:01;
Last Modified: Jan 23, 2013 10:01




This course is being taught by Daniel Paul O’Donnell and Drew Luby.

Times and location

Office and Office Hours

Office hours for Spring 2010 are:

My office hours are

About this course

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 concentrates on literature by authors other than Chaucer.

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 students should have a strong sense of the range of non-Chaucerian Middle English literature and a reasonable fluency in reading Middle English.




I will be using the following assessment scheme in this course:

Category Percentage
Preparation and Participation 20%
Essays 25%
Content Reviews 40%
Bonus for highest grade in course 15%

Preparation and participation. Preparation and Participation is worth 20% of your total grade. this will be measured through in-class assignments most weeks. These assignments will include content and skills quizzes, as well as “Microthemes”—small in class essays that give you an opportunity to work out various ideas before class discussion.

Essays. There are three essays in this course:

Essay 3 is worth 20% of your final grade. Your best essay from the first and second essays will be worth 15% of the final grade; and your lowest scoring essay from the first two will be worth 5%.. See Bonus for highest grade in course (below). If your first essay is your highest grade in the course, it will be worth 20% (5% + 15% bonus). If it is not, it will be worth 5%.

All essays are to be handed in via Turnitin

Content Reviews. There will be two content reviews in term and a final exam. The final exam will be worth 20% of your final grade; your best in-term content review will be worth 15% and your lowest scoring in-term content review will be worth 5%:

All content reviews are to be written on Moodle in the Testing Centre.

Bonus for highest grade in the course. Because a family emergency caused me to miss a crucial deadline for assigning essay topics for the second essay, we have changed the marking scheme. Instead of a second essay, your highest mark in the course will now be worth an extra 15%. If for example, your final content review is your highest grade, that will become worth 35% (the original 20% plus the 15% bonus). In determining the highest grade, I will consider


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. Failure to conform to any of these policies may result in your grade being lowered.

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

How your grade is determined depends on the type of work being assessed. Tests of specific skills or knowledge (such as identification questions in literature classes, or fact-oriented tests in my grammar and language classes) are usually assigned a numeric score which is easily converted to a percentage. Essays, presentations, and other performance-oriented tests are usually graded by letter. I convert letter grades to percentages by taking the median value in each grade-range, and rounding up to the nearest whole percent. The only exceptions are A+ (which is converted to 100%), and F (which is converted to an arbitrary percentage between 0% and 49% based on my estimation of the work’s quality). These scores can be found in the conventional value row of the above table.

In marking work I try to keep the University’s official description of these grades in mind (a description can be found in the University Calendar, Part IV.3.a). If you get an A it means your work is excellent; a B means your work is good; a C means it is satisfactory; a D that it is barely acceptable (minimal pass); and an F that it is failing to meet University-level standards.

I have prepared rubrics for most types of qualitative assignments (assignments that do not expect the student simply to provide a correct factual answer). These can be found in my Academic Policies section:

Submitting Work

Tests, Exams, and Quizzes

Tests and Exams will be written in the University’s Testing Centre on Moodle. Quizzes may be presented 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 Tue. 5/1 No class
Thur. 7/1 Welcome Syllabus and assessment
2 Tue. 12/1 Instructor Absence: No class
Thur. 14/1 Instructor Absence: No class
3 Mon. 18/1
  1. Sign in to Moodle and Turnitin following the emailed instructions (also reproduced here and here.)
  2. Create a profile and upload a clear photo of yourself to “Moodle”:
  3. Create a 2-page test document and submit it to Turnitin (the content of the test document is unimportant).
(nb: These assignments count as quizzes for your participation and preparation grade)
Tue. 19/1 Middle English Culture Burrow (please have entire book read by today)
Thur. 21/1 Reading Middle English Lyrics Burrow
Lyrics: 197, 181, 8, 9 (Luria and Hoffman, ed.)
4 - Tue. 26/1 Mystery Plays in Performance Cawley, Second’s Shepherd’s Play (Wakefield);
Thur. 28/1 Drama Cawley “Introduction”
Lyrics: 188, 190, 6, 146, 77 (Luria and Hoffman, ed.)
5 Mon 1/2 Essay 1 due 11:59 on Turnitin
Tue. 2/2 The Cycle Cawley, the York Cycle Plays (Creation and Fall of Lucifer; Creation of Adam and Eve; Fall of Man; Crucifixion; Resurrection; Judgement)
Lyrics: 116, 115, 112, 117 (Luria and Hoffman, ed.)
Thur. 4/2 Mystery Cycle Discussion
6 Tue. 9/2 Wakefield and N-Town Cawley, the Wakefield Plays (Second Shepherd and Herod the Great); the N-Town Plays (Cain and Abel; Woman taken in Adultery)
Lyrics: 28, 24, 46, 192, 194 (Luria and Hoffman, ed.)
Thur. 11/2 Wakefield and N-Town Discussion
Reading Week 15-19/2
7 Mon 22/2-Sun. 28/2 First content review (in the testing centre)
Tue. 23/2 Class cancelled due to instructor Illness
Lyrics: 32, 81, 83, 84, 85, 78 (Luria and Hoffman, ed.)
Thur. 25/2 Essay Discussion
8 Tue. 2/3 Julian of Norwich Lectures Spearing and Spearing, ed.
Lyrics: 207, 30, 83 (Luria and Hoffman, ed.); 3: On the Resurrection of Christ (Dunbar Part 1)
Thur. 4/3 Julian of Norwich discussion
9 Tue. 9/3 Correspondence Paston Letters
Lyrics: 195, 243, 231 (Luria and Hoffman, ed.); 51: The Antichrist (Dunbar Part 2)
Thur. 11/3 Paston Letters Discussion
10 Tue 16/3 Middle English Lyrics 97, 30; 93, 91 137, 138, 121, 3, 232 (Luria and Hoffman, ed.)
Thur. 18/3 Middle English Lyrics 165, 103; 159, 150, 126, 127, 168 (Luria and Hoffman, ed.)
11 Tue. 23/3 Chaucer Book of the Duchess
Thur. 25/3 Chaucer Chaucer, Book of the Duchess
12 Mon 29/3-Sun. 4/4 Second content review (in the testing centre)
Tue. 30/3 Gawain Poet Andrew and Waldron, ed., Pearl
Thur. 1/4 Gawain Poet Lines 1-242
13 Tue. 6/4 Gawain Poet Lines 243-485
Thur. 8/4 Gawain Poet Lines 486-728
14 Tue. 13/4 Gawain Poet Lines 729-971
Thur. 15/4 Gawain Poet Lines 971-1210 (end)
15 Sun 18/4 Essay 3 due 11:59 on Turnitin

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