Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Literary Theory in the Middle Ages

ENGL 504.401
T 3-6

Medieval literary theory is not one history or tradition, nor one set of problems: our readings and discussions can range widely to reflect the various cultural interests at stake in medieval critical discourses about language, textuality, hermeneutical agency, pedagogy, and intellectual formation. The problems that define medieval critical theory did not begin with the Middle Ages, nor have they ended with it. This is a course in the genealogies of critical positions, from antiquity to modernity, offering a historicized persepctive on some of the most contested issues in contemporary critical discussions: the aesthetics and politics of textual depth and surface, demotic and elite cultures, canonicity, dissent and orthodoxy, intentionality, gender and institutional power, sexuality and textuality, and intellectual formation within and beyond the academy.

We will read primary materials from the 4th to the 15th centuries. Beginning with Augustine's semiotics and hermeneutics, and with late-classical Neoplatonist criticism, we will move to a long focus on the 12th and 13th centuries (monastic pedagogies; 12th-century classicisms, allegoresis, and narratives of scientific-intellectual-sexual formation; scholastic Aristotelianisms, hermeneutics, and the "science" of Scriptural poetics in the Parisian theology faculty). We will end with a focus on 14th- and 15th-century writings on the politics of literal reading and of Latinity and vernacularity (Dante, Wycliffite writings, Christine de Pizan).

This course is aimed at students in English, Comparative Literature, Classics, and foreign languages. It will be structured to take account of a wide range of research interests from participants working in any historical period. Along with medievalists, those students interested in antiquity and early modern may find this course valuable for their fields of research.

fulfills requirements