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 2013)

Posted: Jan 11, 2013 17:01;
Last Modified: Jan 04, 2015 14:01


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.



Times and location

Office and Office Hours


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




This course uses two types of evaluation, formative (intended primarily to assist the student measure their progress and identify areas of improvement) and summative (intended primarily to assess a student’s success in accomplishing the course’s main learning goals.

Formative Assessment

I will mark formative assignments handed in on the specific due date and will not mark work handed in late without a prior request for an extension or evidence of an emergency. While it is strongly recommended that students complete these projects on time, there is no specific penalty for failing to do so in any one instance.

I reserve the right to add additional formative assignments to these categories throughout the semester in response to class interests and needs.

Summative Assessment

Summative Assignments are used to determine how well students have accomplished the course’s learning goals.

Assignment Value
Attendance and participation 10%
Average of best two formative scores 10%
Research Prospectus 10%
Seminar Leadership 10%
Weekly blog 10%
Research Project/Essay Due: End of Semester 25%
Final Exam (Moodle) Exam Period 25%


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 Mon. 7/1 No class
Wed. 9/1 Welcome Syllabus and assessment
Fri. 11/1 Middle English in the History of English Kleinman
2 Mon. 14/1 Middle English Culture Burrow (please have entire book read by today)
Wed. 16/1 Reading Middle English Lyrics Lyrics: 197, 181, 8, 9 (Luria and Hoffman, ed.)
Fri. 18/1   Lyrics: 188, 190, 6, 146, 77 (Luria and Hoffman, ed.)
3 Sun. 20/1 What I did not know about Medieval England Due by 23:59)
Mon. 21/1   Lyrics: 116, 115, 112, 117 (Luria and Hoffman, ed.)
Wed. 23/1   Lyrics: 28, 24, 46, 192, 194 (Luria and Hoffman, ed.)
Fri. 25/1   Lyrics: 32, 81, 83, 84, 85, 78 (Luria and Hoffman, ed.)
4 Mon. 28/1 Chaucer Book of the Duchess
Wed. 30/1    
Fri. 1/2    
5 Mon. 4/2 Mystery Plays Cawley, Introduction; Second Shepherd’s play (Wakefield)
Wed. 6/2    
Fri. 8/2 The cycle Cawley, the York Cycle Plays (Creation and Fall of Lucifer; Creation of Adam and Eve; Fall of Man; Crucifixion; Resurrection; Judgement)
6 Mon. 11/2    
Wed. 13/2 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)
Fri. 15/2    
Mon. 18/2-Friday 22/2: Reading Week (No classes)
7 Sun. 24/2 Prospectus Due on Turnitin (23:59)
Mon. 25/2 Gawain Poet  
Wed. 27/2    
Fri. 1/3 Prospectus Poster (Slide) and Presentation
8 Mon. 4/3    
Wed. 6/3    
Fri. 8/3    
9 Mon. 11/3    
Wed. 13/3    
Fri. 15/3    
10 17/3-24/3 Translation and Content Review (Moodle)
Mon. 18/3 Julian of Norwich  
Wed. 20/3    
Fri. 22/3 Statutory Holiday
11 Mon. 25/3    
Wed. 27/3    
Fri. 28/3    
12 Mon. 1/4 Paston Letters  
Wed. 3/4    
Fri. 5/4    
13 Mon. 8/4    
Wed. 10/4    
Fri. 12/4    
14 Mon. 15/4    
Wed. 17/4    
Fri. 19/4 Conclusion
Research Project/Essay Due.
22/4 – 30/4 Final Exam (Moodle)





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