ENGL 361.02 and WGS 322.01: Medieval Feminism
office hours T 1:30-2:30 and R 9:30-10:30
5 College Way, office 203
Women are anything but marginalized in the literature of the British Middle Ages. Indeed, and perhaps unexpectedly, many texts of medieval Britain turn out to be largely shaped by women: the Wife of Bath may loom largest, but two women weave the narrative of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Grendel’s mother proves a formidable foe, Margery Kempe represents herself in our first English autobiography as a medieval Nasty Woman, Julian of Norwich justifies a maternal God, and Marie de France frees trapped women through morally challenging fantasy. That’s just for starters. This course will spend time with the women of the literature of medieval Britain, seeing what happens when we move them to the center of our literary history.
Medieval Feminism is cross-listed in English and Women’s & Gender Studies. As such, the course’s methods derive from both areas of study, combining literary historical analysis with feminist approaches. The course will give you the opportunity to get better acquainted with medieval literature you might’ve encountered in brief here or there (say, in ENGL 201 or perhaps in high school) and to get to know some texts familiar today only to the very few. We will read texts written by women, and texts that represent women in ways that helps give us some insight into how women were culturally conceptualized in the 12th through 15th centuries in Britain. To supplement and complement our primary-source encounter with medieval women as writers and as literary characters, we will read some feminist literary criticism. Modern scholarly engagements with these medieval texts and with medieval culture will help us to investigate what it means to engage with the past from present perspectives. We will experiment with reading a single contemporary piece of feminist theory—Kate Manne’s Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny—across the semester. Ultimately, we’ll work on answering the question: “Is there such a thing as medieval feminism?”
Student Learning Outcomes:
As a course that can fulfill the Gen Ed Humanities requirement, the course has the following learning outcomes:
- Students analyze how ideas are represented, interpreted or valued in various expressions of human culture.
- Students examine relevant primary source materials as understood by the discipline and interpret the material in writing assignments.
These outcomes will be assessed using Project 1.
In addition, in this particular course students will:
- acquire tools and strategies for analyzing how ideas are represented, interpreted and valued in imaginative texts of the late Middle Ages in England
- practice skills reading contemporary critical and theoretical writing important to the discipline
- deploy these skills to analyze literary texts in relation to pertinent cultural and historical views of late medieval England
- gain experience expressing their analyses in writing, both formal and informal—which will include writing generated through an individual sustained research project
Books: Available at the bookstore. Please get these specific versions of the texts. Many of them are translations into Modern English, and some are more useful to us than others.
(You are welcome to purchase your books through an online retailer. I highly recommend Powell’s Books, where you can purchase used copies easily—though you will need the Marie de France book in the first couple of weeks of class, so don’t order that online unless you get it shipped ASAP.) The books are listed here in the order that you will need them for class.
Marie de France. The Lais of Marie De France: Text and Translation. Trans. and ed. Claire M. Waters. Broadview, 2018. ISBN: 978-1554810826
The Tain. Trans. Thomas Kinsella. Oxford, 2002.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Trans. Simon Armitage. Norton, 2008.