ENGLISH 407 - Topics in English Language and Literature
Winter 2022, Section 001 - The Uncertain Future of Medieval Romance
Instruction Mode: Section 001 is  In Person (see other Sections below)
Subject: English Language and Literature (ENGLISH)
Department: LSA English Language & Literature
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Waitlist Capacity:
With permission of instructor.
May be elected twice for credit. May be elected more than once in the same term.
Primary Instructor:


The history of the “future” begins in the Middle Ages: the word enters the English language for the first time in a medieval romance. Although often caricatured as “happily ever after” stories, medieval romance—the pop culture and fan fiction of its day—is centrally concerned with uncertain futures, aka “adventures” (literally, experiences that are “about to come”). This is why medieval romance imagines otherworlds (such as an underworld fairy kingdom), technological gadgets (like a flying horse made of brass), and other marvels; it is why romance explores different forms of embodiment (a knight with green skin or one who is part demon; a woman who can change from old to young every night); and it is why medieval romance is an important resource for modern speculative fiction. Medieval romance asks a range of questions about the future: How can you make a promise when you don’t know what the future holds? Are you the same person when you travel between spaces and across time (including our ordinary progress through the future one day at a time)? When do experiences or events shape or even determine your future, and when is the future open to events that are entirely unanticipated? At the end of the semester, we will ask whether medieval literature has—or should have—a future, and what kind of future we think it could have.

We will sample recent work in “future studies” and survey a range of medieval English romances; at the end of the course, we’ll turn our attention to romance’s future in contemporary literature through a class-sourced and collaborative project (with options for individual contributions) on contemporary narratives that adopt some of the features or questions explored by medieval romance. Some texts will be read in medieval English (technically, “Middle English”). Prior knowledge of Middle English and medieval literature is not necessary; a sense of humor and intellectual curiosity are essential. Most course texts can be downloaded for free; the cost of two required texts that aren’t freely available is about $30 total; you may also need to acquire one or two works of contemporary fiction.

This class is for anyone interested in the past, the future, and the past’s version of the future; anyone interested in adventure (including occasional adventures in various forms of love), in the history of the English language, or in why science fiction, the Western, and speculative fiction are interested in medieval narrative forms. The class won’t address all these topics in depth, but it will tool you up to pursue them further, in your own intellectual future.

Course Requirements:

Preparation and class participation; weekly Canvas posts; three five-page essays; final presentation.


ENGLISH 407 - Topics in English Language and Literature
Schedule Listing
001 (SEM)
 In Person
MW 11:30AM - 1:00PM
002 (SEM)
 In Person
MW 10:00AM - 11:30AM
003 (SEM)
MW 2:30PM - 4:00PM
005 (SEM)
MW 10:00AM - 11:30AM

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