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

Forward to Navigation

English 3401a: Medieval Literature (Spring 2020)

Posted: Jun 21, 2016 13:06;
Last Modified: May 20, 2020 18:05


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


Location: B810B (8th floor, University Hall).

Availability: Thursdays 14:00-15:00 (i.e. the hour before class) or by appointment booked online.

Please note: While you are welcome to drop by my office on the off-chance I am free, you run the risk that I am already booked for something else. I much prefer that you either use my office hour or make an appointment using Doodle.


Location: L1184 (11th floor, University Library)

Availability: Tuesdays 13:00-15:00.

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 early medieval (“Anglo-Saxon”) England, which you can begin studying in English 3450 Old English. But the Norman invasion of 1066 which brought the earlier 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 can look 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, etc. While some of these forms are found in English before the Conquest, all receive far more attention in the post Conquest period.

But “the past,” as L.P. Hartley has written, also can seem like “a foreign country. They do things differently there.” This is also true of Middle English literature, its authors, and, from what we can tell, its readers. Later medieval English authors and audiences seem at many times to have understood the world quite differently from they way we do. Religion was in many ways far more omnipresent. Information was harder to come by. Science and scholarship were understood very differently. Ethnic, gender, and national prejudice could be more overtly encouraged.

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. Help will be given with passages that are not in Middle English and no previous knowledge is required.

Learning goals

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

  1. Speak and write knowledgeably 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] It is important that you have this edition as well as the access code for the associated website. There are considerable differences between editions of this textbook and we will be using texts that are available only on the Broadview website.


This assessment is provisional until the end of the first class.


[2] All exercises under this category are of equal weight. I reserve the right to add or subtract participation exercises during the year.

[3] 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.

[4] Up to three blogs published in any one week may be counted for credit (though you are welcome to publish more than three). If you publish more than one blog, then the first one counts for 1 point and the second and third 1/2 point each (i.e. a maximum of 2 points in any one week). For the purposes of calculating grades, the week ends with the beginning of our class on Thursdays (i.e. anything published after 15:05 on Thursday belongs to the following week’s blog(s). You first blog in a week must be published by midnight Wednesday to count as “on-time.” After midnight on Wednesday, you may be assigned a late penalty of 1/2 a point for your first blog.

[5] Creative/alternative work will be accepted for the final written assignment only with prior permission of the instructor. Proposals for creative/alternative work will be considered between March 2 and March 13. If you are considering a creative or alternative project for your final written assignment, please ensure you prepare a proposal and book an appointment to discuss it with one of us.

[6] The final exam will be available in the Testing Centre throughout the exam period. Students are responsible for finding a time to sit the exam. Please be aware that the Testing Centre can be very busy during this period. Be sure to leave sufficient time to accommodate delays in computer availability within the Centre.

[7] 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.

[8] Students may request permission to resubmit one piece of “inappropriate” formative work in the course of the semester, at a cost of -2.5% on their final grade in the class. Work receiving a “Fail” may not be made up.

Parents room

Th University has two Parent Rooms that are accessible to anyone on campus who wishes to feed or just spend some quiet time with their baby or toddler. They’re located in SU058 (Students’ Union Building) and SA7236 (Science Commons). Parent Rooms will be open during regular building hours, normally 7 am – 9 pm and are not required to be booked in order to use. Please contact the ULSU (403-329-2222) if you have any questions. In formation on policies and rules concerning the room many be found here:


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 within Moodle.


This course uses plagiarism detection software (Turnitin). Plagiarism is an academic offence.

Class schedule

This schedule is provisional and subject to change in response to changing class interests, discussion, and similar exigencies.

Week Date Topic Reading
1 Thursday Jan. 9 Introduction
Background to Medieval literature in Britain: Early medieval language and literature
2 Wednesday Jan. 15 *First blog due *
(blogs are due every Wednesday until end of term)
Thursday Jan. 16 Early medieval language and literature (con’t)
  • The Dream of the Rood (BABL 49)
  • Judith (BABL 117)
  • The Battle of Maldon (BABL 127)
3 Thursday Jan. 23 Other worlds 1: The Lais of Marie de France
  • Introduction to the Medieval Period: After the Norman Conquest (BABL XLVI-LXXI)
  • Marie de France (BABL 210-240)
4 Thursday Jan. 30 Other worlds 2: The Mabinogi
  • The Four Branches of the Mabinogi (BABL 187-209; online )
Sunday Feb. 2
First written assignment: unessay due
5 Thursday Feb. 6 Other worlds 3: Gawain and the Green Knight
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (BABL 287-354)
6 Thursday Feb. 13 God’s country 1: Some genres
  • Life of Saint Margaret (BABL online)
  • Miracles of the Virgin (BABL 241-247)[9]
  • “I sing of a maiden” (BABL 257)
  • “Adam lay ibounden” (BABL 257)
  • “A god and yet a man” (BABL 260)
  Feb. 17-21 Reading Week No Classes
7 Thursday Feb. 27 God’s country 2: The spiritual life 1
  • Julian of Norwich (BABL 617-634)
  • Margery Kempe (BABL 635-658)
8 Thursday Mar. 5 God’s country 3: The spiritual life 2
Sunday March 8
Second written assignment: “(research) essay”: due
9 Thursday Mar. 12 God’s country 4: Critique
  • William Langland, from Piers Plowman (BABL 368-383 and online)
10 Thursday Mar. 19 Medieval Drama 1: Origins
  • Quem quaritis (BABL 698-699)
  • Service for representing Adam (Jeu d’Adam) (BABL online)
11 Thursday Mar. 26 Medieval Drama 2: The cycle play
  • The York Crucifixion (BABL 700-707)
  • Herod the Great (BABL 708-709; 728-740)
12 Thursday Apr. 2 High art
Sunday Apr. 5 Final written assignment: essay or creative project) due
  Apr. 7-18 Final exam window (Moodle)


[9] This work contains strongly anti-semitic passages.





Textile help

Back to content

Search my site


Current teaching

Recent changes to this site


anglo-saxon studies, caedmon, citation, citation practice, citations, composition, computers, digital humanities, digital pedagogy, exercises, grammar, history, moodle, old english, pedagogy, research, student employees, students, study tips, teaching, tips, tutorials, unessay, universities, university of lethbridge

See all...

Follow me on Twitter

At the dpod blog