English 5250   Studies in Middle English Literature


F. GRADY                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Fall 2014

461 LUCAS                                                                                                                                                                                                                450 Lucas Hall

fgrady@umsl.edu/516-5592                                                                                                                                                                                       T 4:00-6:30

T 12:00-2:00, W 12:00-3:00,                                                                                                                                                                           (#15098)

     & by appointment

Seigneurial Poetics


Chaucer’s General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales begins with a portrait of a “verray, parfit, gentle Knight,” but the knights who populate the Tales themselves include rapists, abusive husbands, homicidal lovers, victims of Fortune, vainglorious cuckolds, fathers who kill their children, and the ridiculous Sir Thopas, who swears “on ale and breed” to kill his sworn enemy, the three-headed giant “Sir Elephant.” Evidently stories about knights were not all jousts and banquets; chivalric romance, for example, like its debased modern avatar the western, turns out to be a genre in which masculinity is always in crisis.


In this course we will examine the ways in which aristocratic and gentry readers were addressed by, and knightly characters shaped by, a variety of discourses--amatory, penitential, economic, military, and philosophical--that often operated at cross purposes. We will also look closely at the formal dimensions of this seigneurial literature, and the conflicts of genre, tone and rhetoric that arise when romance meets fabliaux, sermon meets dialogue, and ritual celebration grapples with philosophical reflection. Readings will likely include some of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (probably Knight, Miller, Wife, and Monk) and some of his shorter dream poetry, alliterative poetry (Winner and Waster, The Parlement of the Three Ages, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight), lesser-known tail-rhyme romance (Octavian), portions of Malory’s Morte D’Arthur, and a collection of other materials aimed at explaining (or explaining away) the knightly condition (Geoffrey de Charny’s Book of Chivalry, Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy).


A good portion of the primary reading will be in Middle English. No experience is necessary, but a willingness to work at it for the first few weeks of the semester is essential.



            Two short (5-6pp.) papers, 20% each; one longer (12-15pp.) research essay, 40%; class participation, 20%.  Class participation includes regular attendance, consistent and thoughtful contribution to discussions, timely and stimulating tweets, and one brief in-class presentation. The presentation schedule can be found here.


            Be advised that I take the issue of academic dishonesty very seriously; plagiarism on papers will generally mean an instant F for the assignment and likely disciplinary action by the university. Please refer to this site for further details, and please please please ask me if you have any questions.


            This syllabus and other valuable course information is available at MyGateway and on the course webpage, which can be reached through the link on my homepage, http://www.umsl.edu/~gradyf/; the course page will also provide links to supplementary materials (like power-point presentations) and other medieval studies sites on the web.



·         Geoffroi de Charny, A Knight’s Own Book of Chivalry. Trans. Elspeth Kennedy. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005. 0812219090/9780812219098

·         Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales: Fifteen Tales and the General Prologue. Ed. V.A. Kolve and Glending Olson.  Norton Critical Edition. Second Ed.  W.W.Norton & Co, 2005. 978-0393925870/978-0393925876 

·         Geoffrey Chaucer, Dream Visions and Other Poems.  Ed. Kathryn L. Lynch. Norton Critical Edition.  W.W. Norton & Co, 2006. 978-0-393-92588-3

·         Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte Darthur. Ed. Stephen H.A.Shepherd. Norton Critical Edition. W.W. Norton & Co., 2003. 978-0-393-97464-5 

·         Wynnere and Wastoure and The Parlement of the Thre Ages.Edited by Warren Ginsberg. TEAMS Middle English Texts Series. Medieval Institute Publications, 1992. 1-879288-26-5 

·         Boethius. The Consolation of Philosophy. Trans. Victor Watts. Rev. ed.  Penguin, 2000.  978-0140447804 

·         Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Ed. Marie Borroff  and Laura Howes. Norton Critical Edition.  W.W. Norton & Co., 2009. 978-0-393-93025-2 


Tentative SYLLABUS (MyGateway- and web-accessible items marked with *):

T AUG 26  Introduction; “Seigneurial Poetics” in the later middle ages; *Trevisa, Dialogue Between the Lord and the Clerk



T SEP 2  De Charny, A Knight’s Own Book of Chivalry; *Froissart, excerpts from the Chronicles; *Dyer, “Late Medieval Society”; Reading Middle English



T SEP 9  Chaucer, The Parliament of Fowls; *Strohm, “The Social and Literary Scene in England”



T SEP 16  Chaucer, Knight’s Tale; *Muscatine, “Form, Texture and Meaning in Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale”



T SEP 23  Chaucer, General Prologue; *Langland, Prologue to Piers Plowman; Wynnere and Wastoure; *Trigg, “The Rhetoric of Excess in Winner and Waster



T SEP 30  Chaucer, Miller’s Prologue and Tale    Note: Class meets in 205 Lucas

                                    ***First Short Essay Due, October 3***



T OCT 7  Chaucer, Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale ; Gower, “The Tale of Florent” (scroll to line 1407); *Leicester, “’Of a Fire in the Dark’…’



T OCT 14  Chaucer, Tale of Sir Thopas; *Octavian (text and introduction); Franklin’s Prologue and Tale 



T OCT 21  Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; *Heng, “Feminine Knots and the Other Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”



T OCT 28  Chaucer, *Monk’s Prologue and Tale; Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy (books 1-2); The Parlement of the Three Ages; *Grady, “Seigneurial Poetics, or The Poacher, the Prikasour, the Hunt and Its Oeuvre” (optional)



T NOV4  Malory, Le Morte Darthur (“How Uther Pendragon Gate the Noble Conqueror Kyng Arthur,” pp. 3- 14, 35-40; “The Weddyng of King Arthur,” pp. 62-77; “A Noble Tale of Sir Launcelot Du Lake,” “The Tale of Sir Gareth of Orkeney,” pp. 151-228) 

                        ***Second Short Essay Due, Friday Nov 7***


T NOV 11  Malory, Le Morte Darthur (“The Noble Tale of the Sankgreal,” pp. 496-587)



T NOV 18  Malory, Le Morte Darthur (“The Tale of Sir Lancelot and Quene Gwenyvere,” “The Deth of Arthur,” pp. 588-698)









T DEC 9  Conference day



T DEC 16  Final Essays due





Students with disabilities who believe that they may need accommodations in this class are encouraged to contact the Disability Access Services Office (http://www.umsl.edu/services/disability/;516-6554) in 144 Millennium Student Center as soon as possible to ensure that such accommodations are arranged in a timely fashion.