Course Instructor Days Times Room
ENGL4270 CAMP, CYNTHIA TR 3::3 AM 0145


Noble Saints and Holy Knights: Genre-Mixing in Medieval Romance and Hagiography

Medieval romance deals primarily with deeds of knightly derring-do; with affairs of the heart; and with secular virtues like loyalty, honor, and gentility. Medieval hagiography deals primarily with faith-enhancing miracles; with acts of ascetic privation; and with spiritual virtues like chastity, humility, and fidelity to God. Right? Not necessarily. The labels we slap onto medieval imaginative literature often obscure those poems' more provocative features, so this class will use genre to complicate simplistic readings of some highly sophisticated texts. Through the lens of genre expectations, we'll suss out some of the more problematic elements of medieval romances: the (dis)connection between military deeds and spiritual salvation, the interplay of devotion and public acts, the conflict between spiritual and familial responsibilities, the relationship between gender and spiritual and/or secular heroics, and the incompatibility (or perhaps complementarity) of sanctity and knighthood.

We will start the course with classic examples of both romance and hagiography to get you a working understanding of these two genres before considering some "problem romances" and "problem saints' lives" that trouble easy distinctions. We will then devote considerable time to one manuscript of early Middle English imaginative literature, the Auchinleck Manuscript, that contains some of these "problem" romances and saints' lives. Reading the poetry collected within a single manuscript replicates a little how medieval individuals would have encountered these texts, and this kind of reading practice -- as you'll soon see -- breaks down hard-and-fast barriers between different types of genres.

Expect to read a lot of Middle English (we'll spend the first couple weeks getting you comfortable with the language), to encounter some genre theory, to learn about medieval manuscripts, and to read some of the more bizarre narratives available in Middle English. Also expect to practice your close reading skills, to write weekly, and to produce several thoughtful essays on the poetry we read. Instruction will begin on the first day of class, so be there! A rigorous, but not draconian, attendance policy will be in place.

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