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Further Explorations in Medieval Literature II (15 CATS)

Please note that this module is not running in 2017-18 due to staff study leave.

Course convenor: Dr Sarah Wood

This module (15 CATS) is taught by weekly seminars of 1.5 hours. It can be taken alone or alongside Further Explorations I.

Module aims and outline

This module aims to extend students' knowledge of some of the major genres and preoccupations of Middle English literature, building on their first year taster module, EN121 Medieval to Renaissance Literature. It will introduce them to the important genre of courtly dream vision (including the literary gem, Pearl, by the poet of Sir Gawain and the Knight). The course includes a detailed reading of William Langland's compelling but complex allegorical dream poem, Piers Plowman, over 4 weeks, as well as study of poems by Chaucer and some of the fifteenth-century poets inspired by his work. In addition to strengthening students' linguistic abilities in late 14th and 15th century Middle English, it will also introduce them to a couple of poems in Middle Scots.


Texts to Buy

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

L.D. Benson et al. (ed.) The Riverside Chaucer (you have this already!)


Weeks 1-5 Dream Visions

Dream visions were used by medieval poets as a means to explore alternative realities, secular and sacred, and to encounter archetypes and abstractions (Erotic Love, Fame, Fortune, Earthly Honour, and so on). We will read some pre-modern dream theory in order to understand how these dreams were interpreted and positioned in the medieval period. We'll also read Pearl (a vision of a dead child in the earthly paradise, by the Gawain poet), two early dream visions by Chaucer: The Book of the Duchess and The Parlement of Fowles (Riverside Chaucer) and two 15th-century Scottish poems, offering some insight into the late medieval Scottish court; Gavin Douglas's Palis of Honoure, and James' I of Scotland's The Kingis Quair. 15th century Scottish isn't hard, but we'll use heavily glossed online editions.

Week 1 Pearl by 'the Gawain Poet':

Week 2 Chaucer, The Book of the Duchess, in The Riverside Chaucer, pp. 329-46. We will also look at an extract from an important work for medieval dream theory, Macrobius's Commentary on the Dream of Scipio (a photocopy of this extract will be provided in advance of the class).

Week 3 Chaucer, The Parlement of Fowles, in The Riverside Chaucer, pp. 383-94

Week 4 King James I of Scotland, The Kingis Quair

Week 5 Gavin Douglas, The Palis of Honoure

Weeks 7-10 Religious Allegory

We will conduct a detailed reading of the whole of Langland's Piers Plowman, one of the most complex and important poems of the medieval period. Piers Plowman is a religious allegory, restlessly surveying the social structures of late 14th-century England, interrogating its clergy and religious orthodoxies, and lighting on the figure of the agricultural labourer as an exemplary leader for a reformed vision of society. Langland rewrote Piers Plowman again and again. We will read what is known as the C-text (the final version of the poem), edited by Derek Pearsall. Please read the whole C-text version of the poem; seminars will focus on the following sections (the poem is divided into sections called 'passus', from the Latin for a step):

Week 7 Prologue-passus 4 (inclusive)

Week 8 Passus 5-9

Week 9 Passus 15-16, 18-19

Week 10 Passus 20-22


1 x 5000 word essay (100%)


Normally, students should have taken EN 121, Medieval to Renaissance Literature, but I am happy to consider other students with some prior reading knowledge of Middle English. Visiting students wishing to take the module should have completed at least one semester of prior study of Middle English texts, and should meet with the convenor in Week 1 to discuss the suitability of the module.

Related modules

Students taking this module may also be interested in Further Explorations in Medieval Literature I, Arthurian Literature and its Legacy, or Chaucer.