Studies in Middle English Literature
ENG 631. Studies in Middle English Literature
Three hours lecture (3).
Close reading, largely in Middle English, of the works best typifying developments in English literature during the centuries following the Norman Conquest. With a different subheading, may be taken twice for credit.
Detailed Description of Content of Course
The specific content varies with each offering of the course, depending on the particular topic ("subheading") designated by the instructor. Designated topics focus on significant scholarly issues and concerns relevant to British literature of the high Middle Ages (11th-15th centuries). Such topics might include thematic concerns ("The Quest for the Holy Grail"), generic concerns ("Love Visions"), linguistic concerns ("The language of Love in Sacred and Profane Middle English Lyrics"); cultural, social, political or historical issues ("Representations of the Peasants' Revolt in Middle English Literature"); source studies ("Chaucer and Boccaccio"); studies of the influence of one author upon another writer or group of writers ("Chaucer and the Scottish Chaucerians"); or other problems of literary history ("The Identity of the Black Knight in The Book of the Duchess"); a particular critical approach to selected literary works of the period ("A Feminist Look at Chaucer's Portrayal of Women"); an intensive study of a single major work or a selected body of works (Piers Plowman; "Chaucer's Fabliaux"); etc. Close reading in Middle English of primary texts assigned in conjunction with the designated topic and extensive reading in relevant secondary texts, including those providing historical, cultural, social and political backgrounds and contexts as well as those providing a variety of critical and theoretical approaches to the literature of the period. Attention to linguistic qualities of Middle English.
Detailed Description of Conduct of Course
The course is conducted as a seminar, directed by a member of the English Department's graduate faculty with expertise in Middle English language and literature and whose role is essentially that of a consultant. The seminar meets weekly. These meetings are most often conducted by one or more seminar participants who may lead discussion of assigned readings, offering their own interpretations and critical analyses as well as raising questions, concerns and/or problems posed by the readings; engage other seminar participants in debate over controversial issues; report on readings in secondary texts; explore potential topics for further research; share drafts of papers for peer review and response; or make formal presentations of finished papers. While seminar meetings afford students the opportunity to take responsibility for much of their learning and to engage both with their peers and with the instructor in the kind of scholarly discourse characteristic of the discipline, the greatest emphasis is on independent study and research done outside the classroom. In consultation with the instructor, students develop an extended research project culminating most commonly in one or more formal scholarly papers developing an original thesis and conforming in style and format to the guidelines of the Modern Language Association. Students are encouraged to submit such papers for publication in professional journals or, if opportunity affords, for presentation at a professional conference.
Goals and Objectives of the Course
The primary goals of the course are (1) to provide graduate students with the opportunity for intensive study of particular literary texts, modes and traditions of the high Middle Ages in England; (2) to provide graduate students with the opportunity to engage in the kinds of scholarly research, writing and discourse characteristic of the discipline; (3) to provide graduate students with the opportunity to develop and practice the skills requisite for advanced literary studies in general and for such study of Middle English literature in particular. For graduate students pursuing the Master of Arts degree with a concentration in British Literature, the course affords the opportunity to investigate topics of special interest, to undertake significant research into such topics, and to compose formal scholarly papers that may become the basis for a thesis.
While individual instructors may wish to consider a variety of measures in their final assessment of student achievement in this course (e.g., preparation for and participation during seminar meetings, oral presentations, informal and/or creative writing exercises, quizzes and examinations), the single most important measure is the ability of the student to engage in meaningful independent research, to develop on the basis of that research an original insight into or perspective on a significant question, and to present that insight or perspective in a formal scholarly paper.
Other Course Information
This course is offered, with a different subheading, once every two years.
Review and Approval
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