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EN371 - Dissonant Voices of the Middle Ages: Satire and Debate 1325-1525

This module is not being offered until further notice.

This module will form one of the pathway approved options for the English pathway, and will be a pre-1900 distributional for the other three pathways.

Module convenor: Dr Sarah Wood


Module Aims and Outline

The later Middle Ages was a period marked by extraordinary crises and catastrophes: outbreaks of famine and the Black Death; the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, a violent response to regressive labour laws and oppressive taxation; struggles between the crown and the nobility that culminated in the death and deposition of Richard II in 1399, one year before the death of Chaucer; increasingly vociferous attacks on the wealth and power of the Church, notably by the Oxford theologian John Wyclif, whose writings inspired the heretical movement known as Lollardy. This module aims to deepen students’ knowledge of Middle English literature in its social and political contexts by exploring how late medieval writers engaged with contemporary crises and controversies through the literary forms of estates satire, debate poetry, and prose polemic. The course will also consider the development of the themes and forms of satire from the Medieval into the Early Modern period.


Texts to buy

The Riverside Chaucer, ed. by Larry Benson et al, 3rd edn (Oxford, 2008)

Selections from English Wycliffite Writings, ed. by Anne Hudson (Toronto, 1997)

William Langland, Piers Plowman: A New Annotated Edition of the C-text, ed. by Derek Pearsall (Exeter/Liverpool University Press, 2008)

John Skelton, The Complete English Poems , ed. by John Scattergood, rev. edn (2015)

Erasmus, Praise of Folly, trans. by Betty Radice, intro. by A. Levi, Penguin Classics (2004)


Syllabus


Term 1

Weeks 1-5 Estates satire and anticlerical polemic

Estates satire, surveying the faults of the various classes of society, and anticlerical polemic, attacking ecclesiastical wealth and corruption, together form a major category of political writing in the late Middle Ages. Building on students’ knowledge of Chaucer’s ecclesiastical satire in The Pardoner’s Tale from EN121 Medieval to Renaissance English Literature, we will explore two more of Chaucer’s tales on corrupt churchmen, The Friar’s Tale and its response, The Summoner’s Tale. We will also read an anonymous pair of texts similarly forming a satirical attack and riposte: Jack Upland, a dramatic monologue in prose against an unnamed friar, and Friar Daw’s Reply, a second author’s response in verse. We will study some examples of Wycliffite or Lollard writing and two texts on the abuse of money and the injustices suffered by the poor, The Simonie and London Lickpenny, both poems that also offer lively pictures of contemporary life.

Week 1. Canterbury Tales: General Prologue, in The Riverside Chaucer, ed. by Larry Benson et al, 3rd edn (Oxford, 2008), esp. the Monk (ll. 165-207), Friar (ll. 208-69), Parson (ll. 477-528), and Pardoner (ll. 659-714). We will read Chaucer alongside lines 193-498 (‘The Church’) from John Gower, Confessio Amantis, Prologue, ed. by Russell A. Peck (Kalamazoo, 2006): http://d.lib.rochester.edu/teams/text/peck-gower-confessio-amantis-volume-1-prologue

Week 2. The Canterbury Tales: The Friar’s Prologue and Tale, The Summoner’s Prologue and Tale, The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale, in The Riverside Chaucer, pp. 122-36, 193-202

Week 3. Jack Upland and Friar Daw’s Reply, in Six Ecclesiastical Satires, ed. by James M. Dean (Kalamazoo, 1991): http://d.lib.rochester.edu/teams/publication/dean-six-ecclesiastical-satires

Week 4. Twelve Conclusions of the Lollards; Prologue to the Wycliffite Bible, chapter 15; Images and Pilgrimages; Church and State, in Selections from English Wycliffite Writings, ed. by Anne Hudson (Toronto, 1997), pp. 24-29, 67-72, 83-88, 131-34

Week 5. The Simonie and London Lickpenny, in Medieval English Political Writings, ed. by James Dean (Kalamazoo, 1996): http://d.lib.rochester.edu/teams/publication/dean-medieval-english-political-writings


Weeks 7-10 Debate poetry

Debate poems offer a mode of writing in which multiple perspectives and opinions on a topic can be explored and entertained simultaneously; a form in which truth is not a given but is arrived at through enquiry and negotiation. Debate poetry is a fundamentally playful form, in which the process of argument is often as important as any final answer. We will read Chaucer’s lively debate between talking birds, The Parliament of Fowls, alongside three examples of the genre from the non-Chaucerian tradition of alliterative poetry. Together the poems explore topics as varied as love, the proper use of money, and mortality.

Week 7. Chaucer, The Parliament of Fowls, in The Riverside Chaucer, pp. 383-94

Week 8. Winner and Waster, in Wynnere and Wastoure and The Parlement of the Thre Ages, ed. by Warren Ginsberg (Kalamazoo, 1992): http://d.lib.rochester.edu/teams/publication/ginsberg-wynnere-and-wastoure-and-the-parlement-of-the-thre-ages

Week 9. The Parliament of the Three Ages in Wynnere and Wastoure and The Parlement of the Thre Ages, ed. by Warren Ginsberg (Kalamazoo, 1992): http://d.lib.rochester.edu/teams/publication/ginsberg-wynnere-and-wastoure-and-the-parlement-of-the-thre-ages

Week 10. Death and Life, in Middle English Debate Poetry: A Critical Anthology, ed. by John W. Conlee (East Lansing, 1991), pp. 139-65 (PDF to be provided)


Term 2


Weeks 1-5 Piers Plowman and The Piers Plowman Tradition

William Langland’s Piers Plowman is both a debate poem and an example of the prominent medieval genre of dream vision, a searching quest for the good life and an interrogation of contemporary institutions. Langland wrote and rewrote his poem in three distinct iterations and he inspired subsequent writers of the so-called ‘Piers Plowman Tradition’ who were compelled by his social vision. We will read Piers Plowman in detail over three weeks, in the final C version which best reflects Langland’s final intentions. We will study the poem alongside two of the texts it subsequently inspired, Richard the Redeless, a poem purporting to advise the deposed king Richard II, and Mum and the Sothsegger, like Piers a debate poem and satirical exploration of contemporary institutions.

Please read the whole of Piers Plowman; classes will focus on the following sections:

Week 1. William Langland, Piers Plowman: A New Annotated Edition of the C-text, ed. by Derek Pearsall (Exeter/Liverpool University Press, 2008), Prologue-passus 4 (inclusive)

Week 2. Piers Plowman, passus 5-9

Week 3. Piers Plowman, passus 15-16, 20-22

Week 4. Richard the Redeless, in Richard the Redeless and Mum and the Sothsegger, ed. by James M. Dean (Kalamazoo, 2000): http://d.lib.rochester.edu/teams/publication/dean-richard-the-redeless-and-mum-and-the-sothsegger

Week 5. Mum and the Sothsegger, in Richard the Redeless and Mum and the Sothsegger, ed. by James M. Dean (Kalamazoo, 2000): http://d.lib.rochester.edu/teams/publication/dean-richard-the-redeless-and-mum-and-the-sothsegger

Weeks 7-10 Medieval to Renaissance

The final unit of the course explores how the themes and forms of satirical writing and debate developed from the late medieval into the Renaissance period, focusing on the works of two court poets, William Dunbar and John Skelton, sometime tutor to Henry VIII. The selections from Skelton’s works we will read represent attacks on the dangers of court life and on Henry VIII’s chief minister Cardinal Wolsey. The two poems of Dunbar, who wrote in the court of James IV of Scotland, take the debate poem into the comic and obscene. We will conclude with the most important writer of the Northern European Renaissance and friend of Thomas More, Erasmus, whose Praise of Folly attacks the superstitions and corruptions of the Catholic church.

Week 7. Dunbar, The Tretis of the Tua Mariit Wemen and the Wedo, The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedy, in William Dunbar, The Complete Works, ed. by John Conlee (Kalamazoo, 2004): http://d.lib.rochester.edu/teams/publication/conlee-dunbar-complete-works

Week 8. Skelton, The Bowge of Court, Speke Parot in John Skelton, The Complete English Poems, ed. by John Scattergood, rev. edn (2015), pp. 38-51, 201-14

Week 9. Skelton, Collyn Clout, Why Come Ye Nat to Courte? in John Skelton, The Complete English Poems, ed. by John Scattergood, rev. edn (2015), pp. 215-43, 244-73

Week 10. Erasmus, Praise of Folly, trans. by Betty Radice, intro. by A. Levi, Penguin Classics (2004)


Assessment

The module will be assessed EITHER by 2 x 5000 word essays, one due in January, one in April. 100%

OR by 1 x 5000 word essay (due in January), plus a 2 hour examination in May/June. 50/50.

The exam is 2 hours in length, with 15 minutes reading time. In section A, you will need to write two critical commentaries from a choice of 4 extracts - one provided from each of the 4 units of the module. Each critical commentary should take 30 mins and is worth 25 %.

In section B, you will need to write one essay from a choice of around 8-10 titles spanning the 4 units of the module (1 hour, 50%). You may not write an essay on texts within the same unit that you wrote your 5000 word essay upon. So, if your 5000 word essay was upon debate poetry, you may not write an exam essay on any aspect of any of the debate poems.

Pre-requisites

Normally, students should have taken EN121, Medieval to Renaissance Literature, but I am happy to consider other students with equivalent prior reading knowledge of Middle English.