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Medieval to Renaissance Module Information


Module Convenor: Dr Sarah Wood


Learning Outcomes

By the end of this module you should have:

1. Acquired skill in reading Middle English and some understanding of the structure and history of the English language.

2. Acquired some knowledge of Medieval English literature (especially the work of Chaucer and his contemporaries), society and culture.

3. Become aware of the forms and metres of English poetry in preparation for future modules.

4. Obtained some knowledge of sixteenth-century English poetry and prose and its intellectual and social context.

5. Acquired some knowledge of the Christian, classical and continental literary background of English Renaissance literature.

6. Improved your skills in textual analysis and essay-writing.


Texts to buy

(See Plan of the Module below for details of weekly reading)

Poems Of The Pearl Manuscript: Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, ed. by M. Andrew and R. Waldron, 5th edn (Exeter, 2007). It is crucial that you buy this edition and not any other.

L. D. Benson (ed.) The Riverside Chaucer (Oxford)

S. Greenblatt et al. (ed.) The Norton Anthology of English Literature. The Sixteenth Century and Early Seventeenth Century. Volume B (rev. 10th edition, Norton, 2018)

Teaching Methods

1. Translation Classes (weeks 2 - 5, term 1 only)

2. Lectures (weekly, Tuesdays 12 noon)

3. Seminars (weekly, tutors’ rooms)

4. Essays (two essays and one commentary exercise); approximate deadlines are indicated in the module requirements below (seminar tutors will specify precise deadlines). Further information on the submission of essays is available in the Student Handbook.


Module Requirements

1. Attend lectures, seminars and textual classes, having prepared material as directed by your tutor.


(for first year students):

2. Submit one unassessed commentary (for term 2, week 7), and two unassessed essays (for term 1, week 10, and for term 3, week 1).

3. Write final examination of three hours (100% examined)


(for Honours level students and whole year visiting students):

2. Submit two assessed essays of 3,000 words (60%) and one unassessed commentary.

(Second-year students will choose two unassessed essay topics to do in assessed form; they will submit essays at the times specified by tutors for unassessed essays).

3. Write final examination of 1 1/2 hours (40%) (answering questions 1 and 2 from exam paper)


Part-year visiting students will submit a 3000 word essay for each term that they are resident; to be submitted by Tues, 12 noon, week 10, of the term in question.



1 translation from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, 12 marks

1 commentary from a choice of 4 medieval and renaissance seen and unseen poems and prose extracts, 24 marks

2 essays (one medieval, one renaissance), 64 marks

Past exam papers can be found on the Essays and Assessment page.

Useful Background Reading

J.A. Burrow, Medieval Writers and their Work 2nd edn (Oxford, 2008)

Maurice Keen, English Society in the Later Middle Ages 1348-1500 (Penguin, 1990)

Jerry Brotton, The Renaissance: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2006)

Peter Marshall, The Reformation: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2009)

Petrarch, Canzoniere: Selected Poems, trans A. Mortimer (Penguin, 2002)

J. Guy, Tudor England (Oxford, 1988).

S. T. Bindoff, Tudor England (Penguin, 1991).


Plan of the Module

This outline aims to show what primary reading is required. Tutors will give direction on which particular lines or poems need to be read. The module bibliography provides a list of secondary materials from which you can select further reading.


Autumn Term 2018

Please note that seminars begin in week 2 of the Autumn Term. Translation classes will take place in weeks 2-5 of term 1.

Middle English Arthurian Romance

Week 2 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Fitt 1, in Poems Of The Pearl Manuscript, ed. by Andrew and Waldron. For language classes, translate SGGK, lines 232–300

Week 3 Fitt 2. For language classes, translate SGGK, lines 619–55, 713–39, 943–69

Week 4 Fitt 3. For language classes, translate SGGK, 1178–1207, 1476–1534

Week 5 Fitt 4. For language classes, translate SGGK, 2118–39, 2331–2428

Reading week (please read Chaucer's General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, and The Miller's Tale and The Reeve's Tale, all in The Riverside Chaucer)

Chaucer's Canterbury Tales

Week 7 Chaucer, The Miller's Tale and The Reeve's Tale

Week 8 The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale

Week 9 The Merchant's Tale

Week 10 The Pardoner's Prologue and Tale

Essay of around 2500 words on The Canterbury Tales and/or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to be handed in in week 10 of term 1.

Middle English Translation test - week 10 (Tuesday 5-6pm; location tbc). One passage from SGGK for translation, over 30 minutes.


Spring Term 2019

Medieval drama

Week 1 Mystery plays: The Crucifixion, The Harrowing of Hell, and Judgement Day, all from the York Cycle, in English Mystery Plays: A Selection, ed. by P. HappĂ© (Penguin, 1975), pp. 525-536, pp.552-566, pp.631-645. Copies of all these plays are provided in the drama coursepack; electronic copies are also available here. 

Week 2 Mankind, in Medieval Drama, ed. by D. Bevington (Boston, 1975) (a copy is provided in the coursepack; an electronic copy can be found here)

Renaissance humanism and the Reformation

Week 3 The Reformation and Renaissance translation theory: William Tyndale, The Obedience of a Christian Man; Thomas More, A Dialogue Concerning Heresies; William Tyndale, An Answer to More's Dialogue; Thomas More, The Confutation of Tyndale's Answer (all in English Renaissance Translation Theory, ed. by Neil Rhodes (London, 2013)--copies will be provided); selections from Renaissance translations of the biblical book of Genesis (exact selections to be assigned by tutor; see links on the right). Please also read the introduction to the section 'Faith in Conflict' in the Norton Anthology, pp. 143-45.

Week 4 More's Utopia (Norton Anthology, pp. 41-118).

Renaissance short poetic forms and poetic theory

Week 5 The poetry of Sir Thomas Wyatt (Norton Anthology, pp. 118-33).

Assignment: a choice of Renaissance poetry/prose commentaries. To be handed in Week 7.

Reading week

Week 7 Sir Philip Sidney, The Defense of Poesy (Norton Anthology, pp. 546-85).

Week 8 Astrophil and Stella (Norton Anthology, pp. 586-603).

Week 9 Shakespeare, Sonnets (Norton Anthology, pp. 718-38).

Renaissance long poetic forms: epic and epyllia

Week 10 Edmund Spenser, Faerie Queene, 'A Letter of the Authors' and Book 1, cantos 1-6 (Norton Anthology, pp. 247-327).

Vacation essay of around 2500 words. To be handed in in week 1 of term 3.

Summer Term 2018

Week 1 Faerie Queene, Book 1, cantos 7-12 (Norton Anthology, pp. 327-406).

Week 2 Epyllia: Marlowe's Hero and Leander (Norton Anthology, pp. 658-78) and Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis (a copy will be provided, and can also be found as a PDF here)

Week 3 Revision seminars

Renaissance English biblical translations:

Miles Coverdale (1535)

Geneva Bible (1560)

King James Version (1611)