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Topics in Medieval Literature: Trial and Punishment in Premodern Literature and Culture

ENGL 221.301
instructor(s):
MW 3-4:30

This class will examine the changing models of analysis, judgment and punishment in antiquity through the high and later Middle Ages, considering particularly the ways truth and proof were conceptualized. We will move through a wide range of genres, including drama, autobiography, prison writing, confessionals and courtly romance, looking at how legal, doctrinal, ethical and even psychological trials were imagined and how those trials helped shaped the literary and cultural categories of the period (law, revelation, sacramentality, allegory, dream-vision). In addition, we will read a number of modern critical works alongside our premodern texts; in doing so, we will consider how these texts rely on certain notions of the medieval in order to construct theories of modern crime, judgment and punishment. Texts for this class may include Augustine's Confessions; Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy; Guillaume de Doles Roman de la rose; a Mary and Joseph play in which the Virgin is taken to court for adultery; the Lollard (heretical) anti-dramatic "Treatise on Miracle Playing"; accused Lollard William Thorpe's fictive account of his 1407 trial; Foucault's Discipline and Punish; and Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals.