English 240 - Winter, 2016

Medieval Literature

Class Information

Instructor: Waters, Claire
CRN: 43607
Time: W 12:10-3:00
Location: 120 Voorhies
Breadth: Earlier British
Focus: Genre, Method


    Bodies and Habits of Knowledge: Medieval Saints’ Lives and Romances

    This course will offer an introduction to two enormously influential medieval genres, saints’ lives (hagiography) and romance, both with long afterlives in post-medieval literature. Despite the two genres’ apparent differences, the boundaries between them are blurred—there are hagiographic romances and courtly hagiographies—and both are closely attentive to the ways in which bodily practices and presentations shape identity and ways of knowing the world. We will look particularly at texts that thematize clashing identities: whether through examinations of social status and bodily marking (Havelok; Orfeo), cross-dressing (Silence; “St. Theodora”), or human-animal boundaries (Yvain; “Yonec”; “Bisclavret”); or by exploring the confrontation of Christian culture with its various others (Sultan of Babylon, Saint Erkenwald, Floris and Blanchefleur, “St. Margaret of Antioch”) or indeed with itself (Amis and Amiloun). Students will also have the opportunity to choose a romance or saint’s life that particularly speaks to other interests they bring to the class.
    Works in Old French will be read in translation; those in Middle English will be from editions with substantial glosses, and we will practice working with the language in seminar. No previous knowledge of Middle English is expected or needed. While we will read these works in modern editions, we will also discuss their surviving manuscript contexts and gain some familiarity with manuscript culture; these material contexts can offer us insight into the bodily practices of those who received these texts, as well as those who inhabit them.


    Class attendance and participation, 20%
    Class presentation on one of the readings, 10%
    Three short response papers/exercises, 30%
    Final paper of ~15 pages, 40%


    Silence, Heldris of Cornwall /Sarah Roche-Mahdi