ENGLISH 4270/5250 SUMMER
Essays are due by Monday, June 11; they should be typed, double-spaced,
and ±1800 words in
a 12-point font. Please submit them electronically to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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—one who knows the difference between “its” and “it’s”—proofread your
essay before you hand it in.
1. Design your own topic, of suitable specificity and
sophistication, about something that interests you in Mandeville’s Travels, St. Erkenwald, Pearl, or
the Chaucer poetry we’ve read.
Provide me with a one-paragraph description of your topic no later than Wednesday,
June 6. Feel free to consult with me in
developing this topic; discussing it with your classmates is highly
2. Mandeville’s Travels certainly seems to promote a tolerant attitude towards faiths other than the
narrator’s own Catholicism. But it
doesn’t seem to extend that attitude towards the Jews. Discuss the effect and the function of the
text’s treatment of the Jews that Sir John “meets” during his “travels.”
3. Again, Mandeville’s Travels readily bestows credit on all sorts of
non-Christian folk, from pagan princes to the dog-headed Cynocephales. But the objects of Sir John’s admiration all
seem to be men: what role do women, dog-headed or not, play in Mandeville’s Travels?
author of Mandeville’s Travels is
faced with a problem of credibility in the writing of his book: that is, he has
to convince his readers to believe in some outlandish stories and far-fetched
claims. What strategies does he adopt in
order to gain the confidence of, solicit the good will of, or otherwise seduce
or browbeat his readers, so that those readers will take his text
we read medieval English literature, we are exploring and trying to understand
artifacts from our past. In St. Erkenwald, characters from the medieval period confront
their own past, in the form of the miraculously preserved and surprisingly
loquacious pagan judge. Write an essay
about that story of memory/ remembrance/memorialization: the problems it
evokes, the issues it raises, the strategies it requires, the rewards it
6. Do you think that St. Erkenwald
was written by the same person who wrote Pearl?
7. Pearl is a
religious dream-vision, while Chaucer’s Parliament
is a secular one. In what ways do they
The Parliament of Fowls has a pretty
extensive soundtrack: the harmony of the spheres, the music in the garden, the
sighs in the temple, the noises of the birds, etc. Write an essay about the theme of
sound/noise/music in the Parliament.
One critical preoccupation concerning the Parliament
of Fowls has traditionally been its thematic integrity, and whether it can
be said to have any. What holds the Parliament
of Fowls together thematically? Do its parts connect logically, or
according to some other principle of organization—or not at all? Is there some aspect of structure or form or
tone that unifies the poem, in the absence of any consistent thematic
development—or is there actually a theme consistently developed? (Translation: What is the Parliament of Fowls really about?)
with the role of the tercelet in the Parliament of Fowls, write an essay in
which you discuss the way in which feminine desire gets represented--if it
does--in Chaucer's work. What do women
(and birds) want--if they want
anything? And what effect does
acknowledging (or not acknowledging) their desires have on things [narratives,
best-laid plans, the status quo, masculine intentions]? Redefine the terms of this question in any
way you need to in order to produce an essay about the status of the female
characters in the two Chaucer poems we’ve read.
11. Use these critical remarks about the Franklin’s Tale by Susan Crane as the starting point for an essay about Dorigen’s choices, and Chaucer’s, in that tale.
12. The topic of "gentilesse"
arises repeatedly in Chaucer’s poetry: in the Parliament of Fowls, the narrator praises the “gentil
ple” of the eagles, while the end of the Franklin’s
Tale is apparently full of “gentil” deeds. What does
it mean to be “gentil”—and what are the ways that the
concept is complicated in Chaucer’s work?