This course introduces you to Middle English, the vernacular language most current in England in the period c.1100–1500. The English of this period was not standardized; we will, therefore, become acquainted with the language in various, widely differing, forms. We shall study Middle English as a literary language on its own terms, with an eye for its dissemination both orally and in manuscripts and early print, and for its various and varying audiences. Additionally, we shall keep in mind the ways in which Middle English literature as a heritage informed later literatures, including Shakespeare’s, and how the reception of the literature in the intervening period, and the ways in which medieval literature is transmitted to us through canon-forming, edition and translation, as well as popularization, shapes our perception of the medieval literary tradition.
This course is designed to familiarize students with the Middle English literary heritage. It is deliberately inclusive in its definition of ‘literature’, and while it seeks to present some works that are part of the canon of Middle English literature, such as Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, it situates these in the context of a much wider range of texts from various genres, including artes, historical writing, satire and private letters.