English 110

Medieval Literature: The Alliterative Line, Tradition and Innovation

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Fall 2009 Ecke, Jeremy S
Ecke, Jeremy
TTh 11-12:30 300 Wheeler

Other Readings and Media

J. R. Tolkien trans.: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Sir Orfeo; Seamus Heaney trans.: Beowulf: A New Verse Translation; Andrew and Waldron eds.: The Poems of the Pearl Manuscript; Michael Alexander trans.: The Earliest English Poems


This course will explore the poetic, political, and cultural significance of writing in, adapting, or alluding to the alliterative tradition. We will trace the ancestry of the alliterative line through Old, Middle, and Modern English, challenging the nostalgic and often nationalistic narrative that imagines the alliterative line as a native and rural tradition embattled by the invasion of foreign and courtly French forms. Focusing on the development and “loosening” of the alliterative constraints and the “freedom” of the natural rhythms of alliterative verse, we will compare the Elizabethan, Victorian, and Modern adaptations and continuations of the alliterative line with the innovations of the rhymed, alliterative verse in the Harley and Pearl manuscripts. The majority of our reading will be in Middle English, with excerpts and translations of Old English, Latin, and French alliterative composition. In examining the modern adaptations, continuations, and translations of Shakespeare, Spenser, Hopkins, Swinburne, Tennyson, Pound, Tolkien, and Heaney, we will consider the degree to which the literary and linguistic style of the alliterative tradition fosters a conscious use of archaic diction and formulaic collocations that uphold the myth of an authentic alliterative line.

This course satisfies the pre-1800 requirement for the English major.

Other Recent Sections of This Course

Back to Semester List