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Piers Plowman

ENGL 701.401
instructor(s):
W 9-12:00

This course takes the great kaleidoscopic poem Piers Plowman as its ostensible subject and point of departure for thinking about the literary cultures in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth century, as well as their continuity with older and indeed later� literary and intellectual discourses.

The cultural lens of Piers Plowman takes in an fascinating range of social and historical categories, including the political (political organization, rebellion, state formation, labor, law, reforms); language (Latin and vernacular, literacy, mixing of dialect, registers, rhetorical� modalities, and genres); religion (orthodoxy and heterodoxy, piety, apocalypticism, spiritual "literacies"; geography (from pilgrimage to fantasy to agricultural labor); intellectual histories; and the very status of textuality itself.

We will also take stock of the curious reception of Piers Plowman both in its own century and beyond, from its chaotic manuscript tradition and dramatic �revisions� in the late fourteenth century, to its incorporation into seditious and heretical agendas, and at last to its revival during the Protestant Reformation.

In considering these problems we will read a variety of Piers intertexts, including selections from penitential manuals, Lollard sermons and trial records, treatises on translation, rebel broadsides, radical knock-off versions of Piers Plowman such as Piers the Plowman�s Creed and Mum and Sothsegger, and selections from better known works such as The Book of Margery Kempe and Chaucer's Parliament of Fowls. We will also make use of earlier Latin and continental materials (in English translation) that illuminate the intellectual traditions on which Piers Plowman draws.

Requirements will include two oral presentations and a final paper. Students outside of medieval studies, and outside of English literary studies, are warmly encouraged to take this class, as Piers is truly a nexus of intellectual and cultural histories.� It is also a very moving text about work, poverty, and social action.