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ENGL 609.74 - Imagining the other in the Literature of the Late Middle Ages

Instructor: Dr. M. McGillivray
Schedule: T 10:00-12:45

Course Description:

Examining depictions both of some "Others" that still are Othered in factions of our modern discourse or in more recent historical literary texts (women, Muslims, Jews, people of colour, gay men) and of further "Others" that are all but unrecognizable to us in the 21st century (members of fraternal orders, heretics, monks and nuns, the aristocracy, the peasants), this course has in its view both canonical and non-canonical Middle English texts. Texts are taught in translation or in modernized form except when the Middle English is particularly easy to grapple with, and no linguistic knowledge is presupposed. 

England was almost entirely without resident Jews during the later Middle Ages because of a tyrannical expulsion that followed centuries of cruelties in 1290 c.e., and Muslims were almost exclusively known through legend and through stories of the Crusades, yet both Jews and Muslims were (in absentia) objects of fear and loathing as enemies of Christianity and as presumed idolators. The existence of dark-skinned people was also known primarily remotely, and associated with hysterical ethnographies involving nakedness, cannibalism, and non-species-conformant physical characteristics. Women were also Othered in male-authored medieval texts, daughters of Eve and therefore associated with the material as opposed to the spiritual, with sin as opposed to virtue, with passion as opposed to reason, with the body as opposed to the mind; gay men were lapsed males who participated in the horror of the feminine. For particular medieval authors, suspicion and loathing hard for us to fathom as modern readers was also directed at other categories of people for reasons of religious or class anxiety.

To explore these matters, we will read selections from the Canterbury Tales, from Piers Plowman, from the Confessio Amantis, from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, from Cleanness, and from Mandeville's Travels, in addition to non-canonical texts such as the Croxton Play of the Sacrament and the Book of Margery Kempe. 

Possible Assignment Structure:

Seminar presentation           30%

Two book reviews @ 10%:    20%

Seminar participation:           10%

Research paper:                   40%

Preliminary Reading List of Primary Texts:

Chaucer, Canterbury Tales

Langland, Piers Plowman

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight


Mandeville's Travels

The Book of Margery Kempe

Gower, Confessio Amantis

The Play of the Sacrament