Professor Jeffrey Cohen
Rome Hall 763

This course surveys some important works by medieval authors, from classics like Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to little-known texts like Gerald of Wales's musings on what it meant to be a child of mixed race in the Middle Ages. Special emphasis on how medieval identities were different from contemporary ones, especially regarding ethnicity and gender. This course will integrate electronic technology into the classroom and learning experience.

Requirements: class attendance and active participation (every class you miss affects your grade; missing more than TWO classes means that you have failed the course); use of the course web page and electronic resources; a midterm; short assignments; an eight page paper; and a final examination.


The following links will bring you to pages which organize material of relevance to the geographies and disciplines explored in this course. These clusters are your point of departure for exploring in greater depth the topics which we do not always have time to invesitigate fully in class.

General Medieval Studies Resources

Anglo-Saxon England

Iceland and Northern Europe



Post-Conquest England

The Crusades

Schedule of Readings

8/28 Introduction: Myths of the Middle Ages
In this class we explore how complicated the vast period of time collected under the title "The Middle Ages" really is. Among the texts we discuss is the thirteenth century fabliau "The Maiden Who Couldn't Hear Fuck Without Having Heartburn" (translated John DuVal, Fabliaux Fair and Foul) and the life of Saint Boniface in the Golden Legend. Among the objects we examine is the Franks Casket, a whalebone box which demonstrates the hybridity of medieval culture and religion.

8/30 A Very Brief History of Early England / Old English Poetry (Follow the links below for the readings. Print them out and bring to class.) A handy reference for this class is the Britannia Time Line.

9/4 Labor Day

9/6 Beowulf I: Grendel and Community
Provided the multimedia gods are willing, today we examine the treasures of the ship burial at Sutton Hoo via the British Museum's Compass site (follow the link from the Anglo-Saxon England resource cluster, above). A comparison of Seamus Heaney's translation of the Scyld Scefing burial with that by Howell Chickering will remind us of the effects of linguistic distance on our interpretations. A reading of "The Wanderer" will help us to understand heroic community and Grendel's ambiguous place within it.

9/11 Beowulf II: Grendels' Mother, the Dragon, and the Ends of Heroism
The psychology of monstrousness and its relation to landscape. Grendel's mother and the dragon as part of the heroic system.The passing of a heroic age, and Beowulf's ambiguous end. And, since we talked about it:

9/13 Grettir's Saga: Struggles for Community

9/18 Grettir's Saga II: Monsters, Heroes, and Icelandic Futures
Grettir's son Skeggi and the saga never written. Monsters and heroes, again.

9/20 Bede, Ecclesiastical History, Book I
Rewriting history: what Bede did to Gildas. The vanishing Britons in the Life of Saint Guthlac. Colony.

9/25 Bede, Ecclesiastical History, Books II and III
Strategies of conversion: Angli and angels, old shrines with new Gods. Performing Caedmon. Conversion and colonization, or why worry over the date of Easter.

9/27 Irish Myths
Follow the links below to stories archived at The Ulster Cycle web site and the readings for today's class:

10/2 Marie de France, Lais
Toward a history of nondominant sexualities: Marie's polyamorous permutations. Werewolves and homoeroticism.

10/4 Marie de France, Lais
Against the mythology of the couple. The invention of married bliss.

10/9 Columbus Day
10/11 Midterm Exam

10/16 Geoffrey of Monmouth, History of the Kings of Britain (Brutus and Constantine sections, pp. 51-102 and 149-169).
How to invent history and make it seem like it actually occured. Why history must be messy. Trojan blood.

10/18 Geoffrey of Monmouth, History of the Kings of Britain (Arthur section, pp. 205-284)
Red and white dragons. The deaths of Arthur.

10/23 Song of Roland
The Roland as both pro-Norman history and Crusading document. Histories of medieval race. Difference in the body.

10/25 Travels of Sir John Mandeville I
Histories of pilgrimage: Mandeville's difference. On medieval cosmopolitanism. Fantasies of the East.

10/30 Travels of Sir John Mandeville II

11/1 Book of Margery Kempe
Read Proem and Book I, chapters 1-11, 15, 20, 21, 24, 27, 28, 30, 33, 36, 41, 52, 76, 89

11/6 paper writing workshop; first paragraph of paper due

11/8 paper consultations by appointment

11/13 open paper consultations

11/15 paper due in class

11/20 Thanksgiving Break begins early (unless needed for catch-up day)

11/22 Thanksgiving Break

11/27 Gerald of Wales, Journey Through Wales

11/29 Gerald of Wales, Description of Wales

12/4 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

12/6 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

12/11 Retrospect / Benediction