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ENGLISH 3SS3 Topics Medieval Lit & Culture (C01)

Academic Year: Winter 2020

Term: Winter

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Dr. Anne Savage


Office: Chester New Hall 326

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 23729

Office Hours: TBA

Course Objectives:

This course will consider life in medieval England in terms of how class hierarchies, rivalries and social change are reflected in literature between the 12thc and the 15th. Agricultural labour, the growth of the towns, the influx of young people from the country into the towns and the growth of a youth culture, all reflect changes to both landscape and society due to population growth and movement, and the Black Death (1348-9). The flourishing of social satire gives a rich ground for assessing relationships between professions, religious functionaries and the public they served (or fleeced). Religious culture spread outwards from its strictly celibate, institutional place into the public sphere - how, and why? What social changes does the literature associated with it reflect?

We’ll be reading both original literature and academic analyses of these phenomena throughout the term, beginning with labour (agricultural, and then in the burgeoning towns) moving on to the professional religious life; we’ll end discussing the ways each influenced the other to produce a different concept of life, a ‘mixed life’, by the end of the fourteenth century. You’ll acquire an understanding of the kinds of pressures and changes within medieval English society, what medieval people thought of these, how they responded to them, and where they’re situated before the next phase, the Early Modern period of history and literature.

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

TEXTS (excerpts):

Piers Plowman (selections from J. Talbot Donaldson’s translation, 1991)

The Second Shepherd’s Play (from the Norton Anthology of English Literature, 2006)

Havelok the Dane, eds Ronald B. Hertzman, Eve Salisbury and Graham Drake, TEAMS edition,

 “How the Goodwife taught Her Daughter” and “What the Goodman Taught His Son,” from The Babees Booke, (translated by Edith Rickert and L.J. Naylor).

Ancrene Wisse, “The Outer Rule,” from Anchoritic Spirituality: Ancrene Wisse and Associated Works,  translated and edited by Anne Savage and Nicholas Watson.  

The anchoritic life of St. Katherine, eds Emily Rebekah Huber and Elizabeth Robertson (TEAMS Edition):

The Book of Margery Kempe, selections, translated by Lynn Staley Johnson, TEAMS edition:

Julian of Norwich, A Revelation of Love, ed. Grace Warwick (1901):

CRITICAL ESSAYS and background texts (Courseware):

“The Crises of the Fourteenth Century,” The Broadview Anthology of English Literature (Broadview Press, 2011), 135-146.

1996), 66-86

“From Anchorhold to Cell of Self-Knowledge: Points along a History of the Human Body,” Anne Savage, Rhetoric of the Anchorhold, Religion and Culture in the Middle Ages, ed. Liz Herbert McAvoy (University of Wales Press, 2008), 156-172.

 “Virgin Lives in Translation: Medieval to Modern,” Anne Savage, The Medieval Translator 14, eds Catherine Batt and René Tixier (Brépols, 2018), 549-62,

Method of Assessment:

Two short focus papers (1000-1200 words each, 15% each), due January 22nd and February 12th          30%

Five participation exercises written in class, (see schedule) 3% each                                                          15%

Final paper, 2500-3000 words, due April 10th                                                                                                25%

Final examination, two and a half hours                                                                                                          30%

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

Plagiarism is a serious offence, and can result in zero as a final grade; you’re responsible for ensuring that none occurs. As a rule, don’t cut and paste, but write out quotations and page numbers of your sources as you put your papers together.

The MSAF can only be used for minor delays in completing your work (make sure I’m aware of accommodations, if you have them), to gain three days’ extra time from the official deadline. You must submit your MSAF no later than just before or immediately following the deadline, since your extra time will be no more than the three days following that. Otherwise, report to the Humanities Office, where you can discuss a longer interruption to your work.

Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

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.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

Topics and Readings:



6 Introduction to materials; “Sumer is ycumen in”

Praetorius Consort: Music from Medieval Paris

 Piers Plowman Prologue  passus

8 The Second Shepherd’s Play

13 The Second Shepherd’s Play /Participation 1

15 Havelok the Dane

20 Havelok the Dane

22 Courtesy texts: “How the Goodwife taught Her Daughter” and “What the Goodman Taught His Son” / First short paper due

27 Courtesy texts, continued; Felicity Riddy, “How the Good …Daughter” Youth culture in the towns. /Participation 2

29 Youth in the cities: legal matters (from Barbara Hanawalt, Growing Up in Medieval London).


3 The Canterbury Tales, Prologue

5 The Miller’s Prologue and Tale

10 The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale; medieval estates and class, satire and discussion. /Participation 3

12 Ancrene Wisse: “Confession” / Second short paper due

24 Ancrene Wisse: “Penance” and “The Outer Rule”

26 Holy Maidenhood



2 Holy Maidenhood and forces at work in the institutional religious life /Participation 4

4 “From Anchorhold to Cell of Self-Knowledge: Points along a History of the Human Body”

9 Julian of Norwich, A Revelation of Love, excerpts

11 A Revelation of Love

16 The Book of Margery Kempe, excerpts /Participation 5

18 The Book of Margery Kempe, excerpts

23 Virginities (yes, there are several kinds): “Virgin Lives in Translation: Medieval to Modern”

25 Final paper workshop.

30 Piers Plowman, passus XX: the end is the beginning


1 Overview.

6 Exam review.  The final paper is due April 6th, midnight (see Avenue for details, late penalties and practical advice).