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­Medieval English Literature and Culture

Purpose of Course  showclose

The medieval period, or the Middle Ages, spans about a thousand years between the fall of the Roman Empire, which occurred around 500 CE, and the beginning of the European Renaissance, which was a bit later in England around 1500 CE. The idea of a period called the Middle Ages was a product of later thinkers who contrasted the explosive creativity and cultural transformation of the Renaissance with the seemingly subdued work of earlier centuries. Many saw this earlier period as less intellectually and culturally valuable. It is worth noting that contemporary historians often refer to the Renaissance as the Early Modern. The ideas, values, and tastes of this period are more in alignment with our own, and it is easy to appreciate and identify with them more than with those of earlier times. Nonetheless, the Middle Ages produced artistic works that not only reveal the culture and thought of that age, but also link strongly with artistic representations from later ages, including our own. Many fundamental ideas of western culture developed in this middle period. Although the Renaissance is traditionally touted as a period of particularly explosive creativity and cultural rebirth, we will discover that art, literature, and philosophy certainly flourished in the Middle Ages as well.

This survey course has been designed in order to introduce you to the very origins of literary expression in the English language. We will identify and examine the forms, genres, literary conventions, and topics of concern that typify medieval literature. Because all literary works are intertextual to some degree, we will begin to recognize the many relationships and discursive practices that these works share with other texts across centuries and around the globe. In recognition of the vast time range and large amount of material to be covered, this course will approach literature as a product of specific historical and cultural circumstances. To foster this understanding, this course has been divided into three chronological units: Anglo-Saxon England and Old English poetry; Anglo-Norman England and the Romances; and Middle English Literature. At the outset of each unit, we will explore the historical and cultural background of the period, and then we will read representative texts.

Course Information  showclose

Welcome to ENGL201: Medieval English Literature and Culture. General information on the course and its requirements can be found below.

Primary Resources: This course comprises a range of different free, online materials. However, the course makes primary use of the following materials: Requirements for Completion: In order to complete this course, you will need to work through each unit and all of its assigned materials. You will also need to complete:
  • The Final Exam
Note that you will only receive an official grade on your final exam. However, in order to adequately prepare for this exam, you will need to study all of the course materials.

In order to pass this course, you will need to earn a 70% or higher on the final exam. Your score on the exam will be tabulated as soon as you complete it. If you do not pass the exam, you may take it again.

Time Commitment: Completing this course should take you a total of 137.25 hours. Each unit includes a time advisory that lists the amount of time you are expected to spend on each subunit. These should help you plan your time accordingly. It may be useful to take a look at these time advisories, to determine how much time you have over the next few weeks to complete each unit, and then to set goals for yourself. For example, Unit 1 should take you 33.5 hours. Perhaps you can sit down with your calendar and decide to complete subunit 1.1 (a total of 3.5 hours) on Monday night; the introduction to subunit 1.2 through subunit 1.2.3 (a total of 4.5 hours) on Tuesday night; subunit 1.2.4 (a total of 2.25 hours) on Wednesday night; etc.

Tips/Suggestions: As you read, take comprehensive notes on the terms, concepts, and literary characteristics of the Middle Ages. These notes will serve as a useful review as you prepare and study for your final exam. 

Learning Outcomes  showclose

Upon successful completion of this course, you will be able to:
  • situate literature of the medieval period within its historical context, particularly in relation to the development of Christian culture;
  • explain the relevance of central themes in medieval texts, including those relating to economic, social, and religious issues;
  • recognize and identify the different genres in which medieval writers worked, and explain how these genres relate to one another both historically and stylistically;
  • identify the stylistic and formal elements of medieval poetry and prose;
  • define and use important literary terms related to major works of the medieval period;
  • trace the evolution of language (Old, Middle, and their relationship to Modern English) within the context of medieval literature;
  • describe the literature of the period as a product of oral and written cultures; and
  • identify and describe the alliterative line.

Course Requirements  showclose

In order to take this course, you must:

√    have access to a computer;

√    have continuous broadband Internet access;

√    have the ability/permission to install plug-ins or software (e.g., Adobe Reader or Flash);

√    have the ability to download and save files and documents to a computer;

√    have the ability to open Microsoft files and documents (.doc, .ppt, .xls, etc.);

√    be competent in the English language; and

√    have read the Saylor Student Handbook.

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