Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature


English 211: Spring Term 2002
Meg Roland; web site:
Office Hours: Tuesday 3:30 - 4:30; Thursday 1:00-1:30.

Course Overview: In this introduction to medieval and renaissance literature, we will embark on a reading journey of journeys. In the context of the genre of romance, we will read medieval and renaissance narrative accounts of encounters with exotic cultures: of the east, of the imagination, and, in the case of Shakespeare, of the New World. Beginning with some foundational reading to get a sense of classic texts read by medieval writers, we will then read medieval romances (some Arthurian) from the 12th through 15th centuries, followed by Chaucer's famous pilgrimage, and then finish with a Renaissance text: Shakespeare's Tempest. Throughout, we will consider the element of "the marvelous" as a quality of romance and as a marker of foreign cultures. We will also investigate medieval and renaissance maps, globes, and manuscripts and question how these material artifacts influenced our writers' view of the East.


As we delve into our reading, we also be considering four major topics:

  • Medieval romance
  • Medieval maps and Western conceptions of the exotic east
  • Material Shakespeare and conceptions of the New World
  • This class will also prepare you to read critically and to write an academic essay based on reading and research. Your final paper will propose a significant claim, develop complex ideas, analyze textual evidence, and properly cite "secondary sources" (that is, ideas from other studies). This course is designed to strengthen your skills as a critical reader, a critical thinker, and as a persuasive, intellectual writer, whether the topic be medieval or contemporary.

    Finally, the class should prove to be a rewarding introduction to medieval and Renaissance works that have influenced our culture for hundreds of years as well as a catalyst to provoke our thinking about how these works, and the intellectual ideas upon which they rest, reverberate in our twenty-first-century culture. How do our ideas about the East affect our attitudes, national policy, and narratives?

    Required Texts:

    • Ovid, The Art of Love and Metamorphoses (reading packet).
    • Boethius. Consolation of Philosophy. Penguin, 2000.
    • Cretien de Troyes. Arthurian Romances. Penguin, 1991. Read Cliges only.
    • Marie de France, Guigemar (reading packet).
    • Mandeville, John. Travels of John Mandeville. Penguin, 1984.
    • Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. Ed. Hieatt & Hieatt. Bantam, 1982.
    • Malory, Thomas. Le Morte Darthur. Ed. Helen Cooper. Oxford UP, 1999.
    • Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. Ed. Alden Vaughan. Arden, 1998.


    • Joseph Gibaldi and Walter S. Achtert. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 5th ed., 1999.
    • M. H. Abrams. A Glossary of Literary Terms, 7th ed., 1999.
    • Muller, Gilbert H. and John A. Williams. Ways In: Approaches to Reading and Writing about Literature. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1994.


    Annotation of Boethius, Book One, pgs 3-7.

    Six response papers, approximately one-page, typed, single-spaced. Each response must include a critical question about the work AND at least one brief quote from the text to make your point. At term end, place your response papers in a folder and write a one-to-two page cover letter addressing your experience as a reader of medieval and renaissance texts.

    Scribal Experience. Hand-copy one passage from one of our texts. Address a critical question about the passage and reflect on the process of manuscript transmission.

    Annotated Bibliography. A brief annotation (summary) of one book, one scholarly article, one on-line scholarly article, and one book review. This assignment will help you prepare your final paper.

    One final paper, approximately six pages, on a topic you develop over the course of the term.

    In addition, there will be three in-class "quizzes" consisting of a single question on a text for which you are not writing a response paper.


    In-class grade: 60%. Participation (10%), Response Papers (20%), Annotation and Response Paper Cover Letter (10%), Five Quiz-Questions (10%), Scribal Experience (10%). Participation grade is based on discussion in class as well as leadership and participation in the small groups. Small group discussion will form an important part of our class work.
    Annotated Bibliography: 10%
    Final Paper: 30%

    Academic Honesty:
    The University of Washington's policy on academic honesty reflects a commitment to principles of academic integrity. Violation of honesty standards can result in denial of credit and/or dismissal from the university. Plagiarism is considered theft of someone else's words or ideas. Papers copied (in whole or in part) from the web or from other students, in addition to being obvious, diminish your learning experience and can be as much work as writing the paper yourself in that you would have to create a rough draft to match! I do subscribe to all the major on-line sources of student papers and I check them periodically. If you are feeling overwhelmed, or if you are having such difficulty writing that you are tempted to use or buy someone else's work, come see me instead; we can work together to help you develop and present ideas that are you own. In class, we will discuss the proper way to cite sources in your essays.

    Weekly Schedule
    Library and Web Resources
    My home page.