Spring 2024 - ENGL 304 D100

The Medieval World (4)

Class Number: 4811

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Jan 8 – Apr 12, 2024: Tue, Thu, 12:30–2:20 p.m.

  • Prerequisites:

    30 units or two 200-division English courses.



Study of the foundational literatures of the pre-modern era, with particular attention to their rich multilingualism and their cultural and geographic diversity. May be organized around specific literary figures, themes, or topics. Texts may be studied in the original language (including Middle English) or in translation. This course may be repeated for credit if a different topic is taught.


War and Wrack and Wonder: The Later Middle Ages

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 experiences 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 should be five to six pages in length; the second paper, 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. 

Response Papers: You will be asked to complete four response papers over the course of the semester. 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.

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.



Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. Ed. V. A. Kolve and Glending Olson, 3rd Edition. New York: Norton, 2018.

The Gawain Poet: Complete Works. Ed. and trans. Marie Borroff. New York: Norton, 2011.

Gower, John. Confessio Amantis. Ed. Russell A. Peck. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2006.

Kempe, Margery. The Book of Margery Kempe. Trans. and Ed. Lynn Staley.  New York: Norton, 2000.  


Your personalized Course Material list, including digital and physical textbooks, are available through the SFU Bookstore website by simply entering your Computing ID at: shop.sfu.ca/course-materials/my-personalized-course-materials.

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 website 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