Feeling Medieval investigates the diverse ways literary texts in 14th and 15th century England expressed and also generated emotional experience. In recent years literary study has seen a renewed interest in texts’ affective engagement with readers, in the ways they encourage understanding not only through comprehending and knowing, but through feeling. This course borrows methodologies of the History of Emotion to discover effects texts had on medieval readers that often challenge our expectations of how texts behave. The Book of Margery Kempe, for instance, is sometimes dismissed as the ravings of a near-lunatic, but positioned in terms of the affective piety encouraged among Christians in late medieval England, we instead find in her book one woman’s embodied experience of an intense and very personal love for Christ. A poem we often interpret primarily allegorically, such as the Gawain-Poet’s gorgeous dream vision Pearl, can become through the insights offered by the History of Emotion a shared experience of deep mourning and family loss. Didactic poems that we might read as socially conservative tools of religious correction, like The Prick of Conscience, are revealed to be catalysts for a physical experience of the spiritual sublime. Indeed, late medieval texts reveal that the line between religious feeling and erotic experience was regularly blurred. The textual production of these and other unexpected emotional experiences of the later Middle Ages will be at the heart of “Feeling Medieval.”
Feeling Medieval fulfills requirements for the Literature in History, pre-1700, requirement of the major; as a result, it is primarily focused on the relationship between the literature being studied and the historical moment in which it was produced, a relationship that is mutually influential and constitutive.
As a senior seminar, Feeling Medieval is geared toward providing students a capstone experience in the major; above all, it is fundamentally student-driven and provides the opportunity to apply the skills, approaches, attitudes, and experiences you have accumulated over your career as a student at CofC and in the English department, in particular. An important feature of this experience will be your ongoing conversation with your peers and with the scholars whose work we will be engaging.
Through the course of the semester, you will develop a deeper understanding of Middle English and of medieval English culture, with a focus especially on the relationship between medieval texts and the emotional experiences of English people in the Middle Ages, ranging from the years 800 to 1500—experiences we’ll attempt to trace through the texts that speak for those who can no longer speak to us directly themselves.
The Broadview Anthology of British Literature, Vol. 1: The Medieval Period. Ed. Joseph Black et al. 3rd ed. Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview, 2014.
Geoffrey Chaucer. Dream Visions and Other Poems (Norton Critical Editions), ed. Kathryn Lynch. NY: Norton, 2007.
|Codex Ashmole 61. Ed. George Shuffelton. Kalamazoo, MI: TEAMS, 2008.