ENGLISH 4270/5250                                         SUMMER 2018

Second Essay Assignment


Essays are due by Monday, June 25; they should be typed, double-spaced, and ±1800 words in a 12-point font. Please submit them electronically to fgrady@umsl.edu.

In considering these topics, bear in mind that they are starting points, and that simply answering in sequence the questions below will not produce a good or even a coherent essay.  Develop your own particular thesis, and be sure to support your argument through frequent and specific reference to the text.  Please let at least one human being proofread your essay before you hand it in, and don’t use the word “mindset.”


1. Design your own topic, of suitable specificity and sophistication, about something that interests you in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight or Piers Plowman. Provide me with a one-paragraph description of your topic no later than Friday, June 22.  Feel free to consult with me in developing this topic; discussing it with your classmates is highly recommended, too.


2.  Do you think that Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Pearl were written by the same person?


3. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a great compare-and-contrast poem, because it seems to have (at least) two of everything: two courts, two holiday celebrations, two bargains, two important symbols (see above), two kinds of hunting, etc.  Write an essay about parallels and contrasts and their structural and thematic importance in SGGK.


4. We learn at line 2456 of the 2530-line Sir Gawain and the Green Knight that Morgan le Fay, King Arthur's half-sister and Gawain's aunt, has been responsible for putting the events of the poem in motion.  This is typical behavior for Morgan in the Arthurian legends, but in this poem her appearance--or rather, her mention—raises another question.  Does a revelation so late in the poem demonstrate how the courtly world tries to marginalize women and downplay their power, as some critics (like Fisher) argue, or does it indicate that women are so powerful and disruptive to the chivalric order of things that they can't be excluded or hidden despite the best efforts of manly knights (as Heng suggests)?

            With this question in mind, write about the role of women in Sir Gawain.


5. Write an essay about the attitudes towards pilgrimage that are displayed in Piers Plowman and  Mandeville’s Travels.



6. Discuss how the authors of Pearl and Piers Plowman characterize, define, represent, employ, satirize, undermine, invest in, manipulate, authorize, or otherwise make meaningful their poems' narrators.  (In other words, compare and contrast them.) What do we learn from and about them?  What do they learn?  How do they interact with other characters?  What, if anything, do they have in common?


7.    Write an essay about one of the following topics in Piers Plowman, referring to its importance in at least two different places in the poem. 

(a) poverty                                                       (d) restitution/repayment of debts

(b) Conscience (the personification)               (e) money

(c) clergy (i.e., clerics)                         (f) labor (and / or its opposite)


8. Piers Plowman appears in five manuscripts with Mandeville’s Travels, more often than with any other contemporary work.  What would lead the compiler of a manuscript to put these two works together in the same MS?  How would you describe the interests of a patron who might order such a manuscript made? What, in other words, do these texts have in common?  What kind of pair do they make?


9. "Is Langland mainly concerned with the redemption of society or with that of the individual?" This question has produced many divergent answers in the criticism of Piers Plowman, and now you get to take your place in the ongoing conversation. In articulating your position, you might find helpful James Simpson's recent observation that "Langland's conception of what it is to be a person is different from our own. One of these differences concerns the intimacy of relationship between the self and institutions in Langland's poem"--for example, the close identification of Conscience with the Church in the last two passus.