English 240 - Spring, 2013

Medieval Literature

Class Information

Instructor: Vernon, Matthew
CRN: 62598
Time: R 3:10-6:00
Location: 120 Voorhies
Breadth: Earlier British
Focus: Interdiscipline


    This course takes as its premise that the concept of the “medieval” is one that defies the temporal bounds that one assigns to the Middle Ages. We will consider how the past is routinely being re-narrated within the Middle Ages and how literature from the medieval period is then used as the foundation of much popular nineteenth century literature. Desire - for origins, for land, for sex - is the crucial ligature between the fictional and historical that we will be charting through this discussion, and it will help guide us through theories of race, nation, and historiography as informed by medieval literature.
    We will begin with histories and romances which demonstrate the narratival flexibility available in writing the history of Britain. We will then shift to reading nineteenth-century American reactions to and adaptations of medieval texts, with an eye to understanding how they use the Middle Ages as a type of counterfactual past, that enables authors to speculate on the social contradictions of their own times.
    Primary text readings will be supplemented with selections of contemporary criticism.


    Layamon’s Brut
    Malory Le Morte d’Arthur
    Gerald of Wales Topography of Ireland
    Charles Chesnutt The House Behind the Cedars
    Geoffrey Chaucer Troilus and Criseyde
    The Sultan of Babylon
    Egil’s Saga
    Mandeville Travels
    Mark Twain A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
    Kamau Brathwaite –“Sir Galahad and the Islands”
    Washington Irving A History of New York