ENGLISH 641 - Topics in the Medieval Period
Section: 001 Arthurian Romance, Then and Now
Term: WN 2018
Subject: English Language and Literature (ENGLISH)
Department: LSA English Language & Literature
Waitlist Capacity:
With permission of department.
Advisory Prerequisites:
Graduate standing and permission of instructor.
May not be repeated for credit.
Primary Instructor:

Romance was one of the most widespread forms of imaginative narrative in earlier literatures, and it has continued to occupy a prominent place in modern/contemporary genre and narrative theory. Its stories continue to haunt us: Tristan and Isolde, Lancelot and Guinevere, “le donne antiche e ’ cavalieri” (the ladies and the knights of old whom Dante grieves to see in Inferno V). This course will have a dual focus, plus a coda:

Its historical topic is Arthurian romance, starting with the chivalric romances of Chretien de Troyes and the lais of Marie de France as well as selections from La?amon’s Brut (12th century), and continuing with major English texts such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the Alliterative Morte Arthure (both 14th century) and Thomas Malory’s Morte D’Arthur (15th century), which set the pattern for subsequent retellings in English.

Genre and narrative theory, with medieval romance as the shared—but not only—textual tradition that it seeks to illuminate. As with narrative more generally, the interest of the romances we will read lies not only in their topical subject matter, but also in form, ideology, the problems they address (or evade), and in the social and cultural work they represent and perform. Included in this focus is also the extraordinary degree to which medieval romances tend to articulate self-consciously their own protocols for reading. We will thus also consider the distinctive logics of character and narrative sequence in romance, its modes of constructing the self and of acculturation to aristocratic society, its function as the “inner history” of its (largely aristocratic) medieval readers.

Depending on the interests of the class and its individual members, we can reserve some time for Arthurian romance in later retellings (e.g., Spenser’s Faerie Queene, Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, Monty Python’s Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant) and other disciplines (e.g., the visual programs in illustrated manuscripts of Chretien’s romances, or in 19th-century illustrations of Arthurian stories).

The course is designed to accommodate a variety of interests and disciplinary backgrounds, whether in Medieval and Early Modern Studies, in later historical periods, in history or art history; and with a primary interest in the particular topic—Arthurian literature—or in the theoretical approaches, whose relevance extends well beyond Arthur or medieval literature. Therefore, texts in French and Middle English will be read or available in translation, and students may also choose topics for their term projects in line with their primary temporal, theoretical, and disciplinary interests. (Those who wish to modify the course for English seminar credit will be asked to read Middle English texts in the original language.) No prior knowledge of romance, Arthurian literature, Middle English, or medieval literature required or assumed. Work for the course: Several short discussion papers, an oral presentation, and one longer term paper.

ENGLISH 641 - Topics in the Medieval Period
Schedule Listing
001 (SEM)
MW 1:00PM - 2:30PM
NOTE: Data maintained by department in Wolverine Access. If no textbooks are listed below, check with the department.

ISBN: 9781551116396
The history of the kings of Britain, Author: Geoffrey of Monmouth ; edited and translated by Michael A. Faletra., Publisher: Broadview Editions 2008
ISBN: 046087389X
Arthurian romances, Author: Chretien de Troyes ; translated, with an introduction and notes, by D.D.R. Owen., Publisher: Dent Reissued. 1993
ISBN: 0199537348
Le morte dArthur : the Winchester manuscript, Author: Thomas Malory ; edited and abridged with an introduction and notes by Helen Cooper., Publisher: Oxford University Press Reissued. 2008
ISBN: 0140440984
Tristan, Author: Gottfried von Strassburg ; translated entire for the first time [by A.T. Hatto] ; with the surviving fragments of the Tristran of Thomas, newly translated ; with an introduction by A.T. Hatto., Publisher: Penguin Books Rev. ed., 1960
ISBN: 0393930254
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight : an authoritative translation, contexts, criticism, Author: translation by Marie Borroff ; edited by Marie Borroff and Laura L. Howes., Publisher: W.W. Norton 1st ed. 2010
ISBN: 0393343537
The death of King Arthur : a new verse translation, Author: Simon Armitage., Publisher: W. W. Norton & Co. 1st ed. 2012
ISBN: 1879288389
King Arthur's death : stanzaic Morte Arthur and alliterative Morte Arthure, Author: edited by Larry D. Benson ; revised by Edward E. Foster., Publisher: Published for TEAMS in association with the University of Rochester by Medieval Institute Publications 2. print. 1996
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