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The Honors Program

ENGL 310.301
T 1:30-4:30

This course will concentrate on representations of Troy and Camelot, two imaginative sites of prime importance for English literature in the Middle Ages and far beyond. Chaucer had little faith or interest in Camelot: thinking Arthurian tales best left to women, he preferred to concentrate his creative energies on Troy. Medieval English aristocrats thought of themselves not as English natives, but as Asian exiles; 'Britain' was named after its founding father Brutus the Trojan; London was sometimes called 'New Troy.' Troilus and Criseyde is thus Chaucer's great essay in the genre of classical romance. The Scotsman Henryson admired Chaucer's Troilus, but thought that Criseyde had escaped to lightly; we will see what Henryson does to Chaucer's heroine in his Testament of Cresseid. Shakespeare read Troilus and Criseyde in Thynne's edition of 1532 he read the Chaucer and Henryson accounts as a continuous narrative; we will ponder the results in Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida.

It was only in the later Middle Ages that English writers seriously turned to the great Arthurian themes so brilliantly explored by the Frenchman Chr´┐Żtien de Troyes. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a beautiful poetic text that explores complex relations between courtly communities and the solitary individual, proves to be more interested in psychological matters than in describing knightly battles. In his Mort Darthur, however, Sir Thomas Malory fully explores the perennial masculine impulse to risk life and limb on horseback. Malory wrote at a time when England was engulfed by 'the Wars of the Roses'; for thirty years, aristocrats killed one another in large numbers on the battlefields of the first English civil war. Throughout this course we will attempt to relate English literary texts to the shifting political and historical circumstances, fourteenth through seventeenth centuries. We may also consider later adaptations of chivalric themes. We will certainly examine constructions of masculinity (and their consequences for women), class relations, issues of fantasy and wish-fulfillment, adventure, violence, and the pursuit of holiness. Texts will be read in the original Middle English, Jacobean English, and Middle Scots.

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