Monday, November 15, 2010

Undergrad Middle English Syllabus: Favorite Texts?

by KARL STEEL

In the spirit of syllabus building: For my Spring undergraduate Middle English course, I'm looking to construct a syllabus that starts with several of Chaucer's short poems and gradually builds up to longer works. Any favorites I should hit along the way? Here I am, soliciting your not-the-Pearl-poet suggestions (although if I do go that route, I'll likely use a complete set with facing-page translations).

Here's some of what I have in mind, apart from "The Former Age," "Gentilesse", and so forth: "The Bird with Four Feathers" (242-line avian, slightly maceronic lament); "St Jerome and the Lion" (short prose excerpt, will be fun because of its vast iconographic tradition); "The Pistil of Swete Susan" (367 lines, legend of Susannah, useful for popular Bible, Christian perception of Jews, and gender); "Why I Can't Be a Nun" (389 lines, good for gender; also a representative dream vision); "King Edward and the Hermit" (521 lines on poaching and nobility). For later in the semester, I'm considering using this edition of Malory Le Morte Darthur for a unit on chivalric narrative. The centerpiece of the class will likely be The Middle English Breton Lays, because I've taught it before and because Jeffrey's teaching it as well this Spring.

To our expert and enthusiastic audience: any suggestions?

9 comments:

Karen Bruce said...

"The King of Tars" would be an extremely interesting work to teach. It deals with a Christian woman who marries a Muslim man, and who gives birth to a child that is a mottled ball of flesh. When they eventually baptise him, he turns into a beautiful, white, Christian child. It's a fascinating tale that would allow you to explore issues of deformity, monstrosity, miscegenation, anti-Muslim prejudice, etc. You can find an edition at:
http://faculty.washington.edu/miceal/auchinleck/kingoftars.html

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

"Sir Gowther" is always a crow pleaser, and not very difficult language-wise.

If you were to include the Pearl poet -- and especially SGGK -- it is so much fun to pair it with "The Carle of Carlisle" and "The Turke and Sir Gawain." In fact moving into Malory and HIS Gawain would be perfect after that.

Gryphon said...

I'm doing a course next semester on "Other Worlds in Middle English Lit"--dreams, fairies, Arthur, morality plays, etc. Malory teaches well (and there's a good edition of just the 7th and 8th books by P. J. C. Field), and the Norton Critical Edition of "Middle English Romances" is a good one. Throw in some more alliterative poetry if you can--the Alliterative Morte Darthur is always fun, or there's a TEAMS ed. of Winner and Waster and the Parliament of the Three Ages. Too many good options!

t said...

Have you considered spending a day or two on nonnarrative poetry, particularly lyrics and contrafacta? I'm thinking in particular of Harley 2253, Rawlinson G.18, and the French/Latin and English/Latin texts in Harley 978. All of these could work as great examples of the multilingual, performative, and affective nature of a large portion of M.E. poetry. Plus, most of the poems with any sort of extant notation have been recorded by a number of stellar Early Music groups (Anonymous 4 et al). These poems' brevity, combined with musical introduction, help to overcome the difficulty of many of their texts.

Karl Steel said...

Jeffrey: Gowther (and Orfeo) are the among the main reasons I'll almost certainly include the TEAMS ME Breton Lays on the syllabus (plus I thought it'd be fun for us to be teaching the same oddball ME works at roughly the same time).

Too many indeed!
I do link to the PJC Field Malory above: I do think it'll work perfectly well, particularly if I link it with SGGK (with a translation, since this is harder ME) and Carle of Carliske/Turke and Sir Gawain.

King of Tars and most alliterative ME poetry, however, is probably too difficult for this class. I'm expecting that for nearly all the students, this will be their first encounter with Middle English, and thus it's probably best to stick to more familiar dialects for any poem longer than 100-200 lines. Shorter alliterative verse might work nicely though!

Gryphon, by the way, one of my favorites (which I've taught in a translation I barfed out myself) is the Disputation Between a Christian and a Jew, which involves a journey to the underworld and fairies or demons in the shape of Arthur and Guinevere: available here among other places.

Karl Steel said...

These poems' brevity, combined with musical introduction, help to overcome the difficulty of many of their texts.
Great idea. This could be a fun lesson or two.

Dr. Virago said...

Havelok the Dane!!

prehensel said...

I'd suggest William of Palerme/Palerne, but I'd imagine it would be fairly difficult to get a good, affordable edition--and the language is actually a bit on the formidable side.

Sarah Rees Jones said...

Something from this:

Amir Kapetanović, Dragica Malić, Kristina Štrkalj Despot
Hrvatsko srednjovjekovno pjesništvo

The first of five volumes of the medieval literature of Croatia, poetry, drama, romances ... together with facsimilies of original manuscripts.

Link is here:
http://www.ihjj.hr/index_en.html
(see under NEWS top right)