HMC Literature 104: 

An Introduction to Middle English Literature 

Professor Jeffrey D. Groves
Harvey Mudd College
Fall 2007 
Contact Information: 
  • Phone: 909-607-7346
  • E-mail:
  • Office: Parsons 1266
  • Office Hours: TW 3:00-5:00 and by appointment.
Books on Reserve   |  About the Course   |  Readings   |  Some Related Sites   |  Sakai

Required Texts

 Books on Reserve at Honnold Library

About the Course

In "An Introduction to Middle English Literature," we will spend the semester reading, translating, and learning to pronounce some of the major texts in the Middle English corpus. We will concentrate on poetry, but not to the exclusion of prose. As we attempt to understand the complex literary qualities of these texts, we will also contemplate them in the historical context out of which they grew. We will begin with Chaucer, in part because his work has received so much critical acclaim, and in part because his grammar, vocabulary, and orthography should seem fairly familiar to us. As the semester progresses, we will take on works that will challenge our growing ability to translate Middle English, including the wonderful--but quite difficult--Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. By the conclusion of Literature 104, you should be able to:
  • summarize, at a basic level, the historical context out of which the English language developed;
  • describe the evolution of Middle English;
  • competently read and translate, with the help of a good glossary, the assigned texts;
  • pronounce Middle English with basic precision by reciting from the assigned texts;
  • interpret, through discussion and writing, the key features of the assigned texts.

Our class will meet three times a week. Typically, Mondays and Wednesdays will be devoted to lecture and interpretive discussion. On most Fridays, the class will be divided into two groups that will meet at different times (we'll work this part out in the first week). We will then spend Friday sessions in a very literal recitation, translating aloud from our texts and working on pronunciation. During recitation, the burden of running the class session will be, to a large extent, on all of you. You must come to class well prepared, with your reading finished and your minds and tongues engaged. Because this is a discussion-based, participatory course, I expect regular attendance from everyone (please note that I will feel free to reduce your final grade if you miss more than three class sessions). 

Your first paper will be a passage translation and explication (the latter of which will be between 1,000 and 1,500 words in length), due in class on Friday, October 19. You will also either write a researched literary analysis of between 2,000 and 3,000 words or complete a final project the details of which are to be worked out with me. Either the paper or the completed project is due in class on Friday, December 14. 

I will calculate final grades using the following categories and percentages: 

  • Discussion / Participation -- 15%
  • Quiz 1 -- 10%
  • Quiz 2 -- 10%
  • Recitation Preparation and Performance -- 20%
  • Paper 1 -- 20%
  • Paper 2 or Final Project  -- 25%
Letter grades will conform to the standard scale: i.e., the "A" range is 90% or better, the "B" range 80% or better, etc. I will provide you with midterm feedback on your course performance. 






1. 9/3-9/7 

Oh no!  Summer's over! Introductions. Topic: A Brief History of England, 55 BCE to 1491. Handouts: "Timeline of Early and Medieval English History"; Crystal, "The Origins of English," "Old English."  The syllabus; the course. Topic: A Historical Introduction to Old and Middle English. Reading: Burrow 3-37; Crystal.

2. 9/10-9/14

Quiz: The Origins of English. Topic: Pronouncing Middle English. Reading: Burrow 38-71; William of Nassington, from Speculum Vitae (photocopy). Topic: Pronouncing Middle English Continued. Reading: Chaucer, lines 1-18, "General Prologue," The Canterbury Tales. Recitation: Chaucer, "General Prologue," lines 1-18. 
Additional Topic: Resources for Studying Middle English.

3. 9/17-9/21

Topic: Chaucer and The Canterbury Tales. Reading: Chaucer, "General Prologue." Reading: Chaucer, "The Knight's Tale," lines 859-1355 (part 1). Recitation: Chaucer, "The Knight's Tale," lines 859-892.

4. 9/24-9/28

Reading: Chaucer, "The Knight's Tale," lines 1355-1880 (part 2). Preparing for the First Paper. Recitation: Chaucer, "The Knight's Tale," lines 1574-1622.

5. 10/1-10/5 

Reading: Chaucer, "The Knight's Tale," lines 1881-2482 (part 3). Reading: Chaucer, "The Knight's Tale," lines 2483-3108 (part 4). Recitation: Chaucer, "The Miller's Prologue," lines 3109-3186.

6. 10/8-10/12 

Topic: From the Knight to the Miller: The Interactions of Frame and Tale. Reading: Chaucer, "The Miller's Tale." Reading: Chaucer, "The Reeve's Prologue," "The Reeve's Tale." Reading: Chaucer, "The Cook's Prologue," "The Cook's Tale."

7. 10/15-10/19

Topic: The Ballad as "Oral Literature." Reading: selected ballads (photocopies). Topic: The Development of Medieval Drama.  Reading: "The York Play of the Crucifixion" (Burrow 272-282). Recitation: "The York Play of the Crucifixion," lines 169-300 (Burrow 278-282).

8. 10/22-10/26

Fall Break. Reading: The Cloud of Unknowing, lines 1-30, 213-230 (Burrow 132-140). Reading: Layamon, from Brut, lines 1-46 (Burrow 96-101).

9. 10/29-11/2

Quiz: The Evolution of Middle English. Topic: The Arthurian Mythos.  Reading: Layamon, from Brut, lines 47-173 (Burrow 101-105). Topic: The Faerie Realm.  Reading: Sir Orfeo (Burrow 112-131). Recitation: Sir Orfeo, lines 1-38 (Burrow 114-115). Progress Reports by E-mail.

10. 11/5-11/9

Paper or Project Workday. Topic: Who Is the Green Knight?  Reading:Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, lines 1-490. Recitation: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, lines 1-35.

11. 11/12-11/16

Topic: Gawain and the Pentangle Shield.  Reading:Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, lines 491-690. Topic: Gawain's Journey. Reading: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, lines 691-1125. Recitation: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, lines 516-535, 713-739.

12. 11/19-11/23

Paper or Project Workday. Paper or Project Workday. Thanksgiving Break.

13. 11/26-11/30

Topic: Gawain's Exchange.  Reading: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, lines 1126-1411. Topic: The Structure of the Hunting Scenes. Reading:Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, lines 1412-1689. Recitation: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, lines 1623-1689.

14. 12/3-12/7

Reading:Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, lines 1690-1997. Reading: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, lines 1998-2238. Topic: Gawain and "Trawthe." Reading:Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, lines 2239-2531.

15. 12/10-12/14

Reading: Malory, "Lancelot and Guenevere," from TheMorte Darthur (Brewer 47-99). Reading: Malory, "The Morte Arthur," from TheMorte Darthur (Brewer 100-158). Summing up; final projects; course evaluations.


 Some Related Sites

Required Texts  |  Books on Reserve  |  About the Course  |  Readings
This page is maintained by Jeff Groves; last updated August 8, 2007.