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ENGLISH 3NN3 Medieval Literature & Culture (C01)

Academic Year: Fall 2019

Term: Fall

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Dr. Anne Savage


Office: Chester New Hall 326

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 23729

Office Hours: Thursdays 12:30-1;30PM

Course Objectives:

This course introduces you to the medieval romance, a kind of narrative which spread from the 12thc on from France across Europe in its different vernacular languages; this was the primary form of literary entertainment accessible by all speakers of that language, distinguishing it from the majority of texts written in Latin, accessible only as a second language (primarily by professional religious readers). Unlike much of what was written in Latin, romances deal with secular life (even where religion plays a part), supporting questions about love, sex, marriage and gender which rarely or never arose positively in the Latin religious literature, where the perspective originated in vows of celibacy, poverty and obedience to a religious superior. Since England after the Norman Conquest in 1066 became a country in which French was a native language for many in the aristocracy at least, both the Norman and Central French dialects are known as ‘the French of England,’ and we begin with three romances translated from French, then move towards the end of the 14thc – although the romance continued and gave rise to other kinds of fiction.

Our focus will be double: first, on the texts of the romances and their social contexts, their references to history and contemporary social institutions like marriage and gender roles, sex and wealth; second, on how these differ or are similar to our current institutions, and what medieval concerns have been addressed, or the ways in which they’re addressed at the current moment. Both these dimensions are equally important to understanding the medieval romance. By the end of the course you should have a sense of the medieval period in England, the kinds of ethical and social concerns people had, ironic and satirical portrayals of the aristocracy, and some pretty surprising gender theory; you’ll also have an understanding of how different the English language was over these centuries from its current incarnation.

The French of England:

Marie de France (12thc)

            Bisclavret, Lai le Fresne

Heldris of Cornwall (13thc)

            Le Roman de Silence


            Sir Orfeo (early 14thc)

            Emaré (late 14thc)

The Pearl/Gawain poet:

            Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (late 14thc)

Geoffrey Chaucer:

            The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale (late 14thc)

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:


Method of Assessment:


Five in-class participation exercises written in class on specified dates (3% each)      15%

Two short essays (1000-1200 words,15% each)                                                           30%

            Due dates: September 23rd, October 24th

Long paper (2500-3000 words)                                                                                       25%

            Due date: December 2nd

Final examination                                                                                                             30%

See further descriptions and directions on our Avenue to Learn Site.

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:


Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

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Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

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Modification of course outlines

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McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

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Topics and Readings:

SCHEDULE - Watch for updates on Avenue


5 Introduction to course materials and expectations. See the two short poems on Avenue for this date.

9 Bisclavret

12 Bisclavret

16 Lai le Fresne

19 Lai le Fresne

23 Le Roman de Silence

26 Le Roman de Silence

30 Le Roman de Silence


3 Le Roman de Silence

7 Sir Orfeo

10 Sir Orfeo

21 Emaré

24 Emaré

28 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

31 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight


4 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

7 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

11 The Wife of Bath’s Prologue

14 The Wife of Bath’s Prologue

18 The Wife of Bath’s Tale

21 The Wife of Bath’s Tale

25 Comparisons, parallels, issues raised by these romances.  

28 Overview, continued.

December 2: exam review