Fall 2019 - ENGL 304 D100

Studies in Medieval Literature (4)

Class Number: 7706

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Tu 10:30 AM – 12:20 PM
    BLU 9655, Burnaby

  • Prerequisites:

    Two 100 division English courses, and two 200 division English courses.



Studies of medieval authors, genres or issues, from 500-1500. Texts will be studied in the original language or in translation.


The narrator of the alliterative masterpiece Sir Gawain and the Green Knight describes England as a far-flung land “Where werre and wrake and wonder / By siþez hatz wont þerinne” [where war and grief and wonder / Have visited by turns]”.  No single poetic line could more aptly encapsulate the England of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, a nation devastated by plague, beset by religious division, punctuated by civil unrest, and menaced by the possibility of armed conflict.  But amidst such war and grief, late medieval England also produced a brilliant body of imaginative literature that responded to the challenges of history in surprising, often wondrous, ways: a father mourning the loss of his infant daughter experiences a utopian vision that he cannot reconcile with the knife edge of his sorrow; an unlikely assortment of pilgrims forms a functioning government on the road to Canterbury; an aging lover filters his own experienes through stories pulled from the distant past; a mother of fourteen children struggles to affirm her visionary faith within a male-dominated society hostile to religious difference.   This course explores the literature of the later Middle Ages as a prism through which medieval English culture is refracted, amplified, distorted, and occasionally broken.  Rather than attempting a comprehensive survey of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, we will examine four key authors in detail, attending to how each positioned his or her work within the shifting social currents of the late medieval period.


Of studie take ye moost cure and moost heede.
Noght o word spak ye moore than ys neede,
And that ys seyd in forme and reverence,
And short and quyk and ful of hy sentence;
Sownynge in moral vertu ys your speche,
And gladly wolde ye lerne and gladly teche.


  • Response Papers x3 (6.66% each) 20%
  • Midterm Paper (5-6 pp.) 20%
  • Final Paper (7-8 pp.) 30%
  • Middle English Presentation 15%
  • Active Seminar Participation 15%


Midterm and Final Papers: You must write two formal papers for this class. The first paper, due October 10 should be five to six pages in length; the second paper, due December 10, should be seven to eight pages in length. I will distribute broad subject guidelines at least 2 weeks before each paper is due, but you can know now that you will have a wide range of options when considering what to write about. Secondary sources are not required for the midterm paper, but if you choose to use them you must cite them correctly. I do want to see evidence of research in the final paper; therefore, I require that you cite at least five secondary sources. Please use MLA style for your citations and bibliography.   I will collect papers at the beginning of class on the day they are due. A paper will be considered late if it is turned in after that time, and it will lose one full letter grade for each additional calendar day it is not submitted. Please double-space your text and use a plain font such as Times New Roman in 12 point. Also, align your text on the left margin only (i.e. do not “justify” your text), and leave one inch margins top, bottom, left and right on each page. Finally, please number your pages, and staple them together.   A few words on academic dishonesty: I have no tolerance for plagiarism. Any student caught using sources without appropriately citing them or passing off another person’s work or ideas as his or her own will receive a zero for the assignment, and the incident will be reported to both the department and the university.  

Response Papers: You will be asked to complete four response papers over the course of the semester, due on 9/17, 10/1, 10/31, and 11/19. I will keep your highest three grades. This means that you can either opt out of one response paper or recover from an unhappy grade on an earlier response paper by doing better on a later one. These short papers must be submitted to me in class the day they are due. I will not accept late papers without a valid excuse, nor will I accept them electronically without advance permission.   In brief, what I want to see in these response papers is a miniature argument, one which demonstrates both original thought and concrete engagement with the primary text. I also encourage you to draw connections between texts that we’ve considered individually in class. For example, you might consider how Langland’s “fair field full of folk” resonates with Chaucer’s assembly of pilgrims, how a “private” poem like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight might take on “public” dimensions, and so forth. You should not use additional secondary sources for these short papers; rather, you should engage thoroughly with the primary texts, citing specific passages to support your ideas.  

Middle English Presentation: Each of you will be required to read aloud to the class a brief passage (Between 25 and 35 lines) from either Chaucer or Gower in the original Middle English. Following your reading, you will discuss why these lines are important to the work as a whole, particularly in light of the social, cultural, and theoretical contexts we’ve discussed in class. After your discussion (about 4-5 minutes), I will open the floor for questions and discussion. I will provide more details on this assignment in the first few classes.  

Attendance: Attendance is mandatory, and you are expected to arrive to class on time. Repeated absences will be reflected in your participation grade. If you miss class for a valid reason (illness, family emergency university sanctioned absence), any work due on the day of your absence must be submitted on your first day back. If you fail to turn in work because of an unexcused absence, that work will be considered late and treated accordingly. Please contact me if you have specific questions regarding this policy.  

Participation: This is not a lecture class. Your thoughtful participation during our meetings is crucial, and your willingness to engage in discussion, to ask questions, and to share your insights with your classmates is taken as a given. Failure to participate at a basic level will result in the diminution of your participation grade, as will negative or inappropriate participation. Certainly, you are free to disagree with your peers – these are difficult and ambiguous texts that invite critical disagreement – however, it is essential that you express such critical disagreement respectfully.



Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. Ed. V. A. Kolve and Glending Olson, 2nd Edition. New York: Norton, 2005.

The Gawain Poet: Complete Works. Ed. and trans. Marie Borroff. New York: Norton, 2012.

Gower, John. Confessio Amantis. Ed. Russell A. Peck. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2000.

Kempe, Margery. The Book of Margery Kempe. Trans. and Ed. Lynn Staley.  New York: Norton, 2001.  

Department Undergraduate Notes:

IMPORTANT NOTE Re 300 and 400 level courses: 75% of spaces in 300 level English courses, and 100% of spaces in 400 level English courses, are reserved for declared English Major, Minor, Extended Minor, Joint Major, and Honours students only, until open enrollment begins.

For all On-Campus Courses, please note the following:
- To receive credit for the course, students must complete all requirements.
- Tutorials/Seminars WILL be held the first week of classes.
- When choosing your schedule, remember to check "Show lab/tutorial sections" to see all Lecture/Seminar/Tutorial times required.

Registrar Notes:

SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html