English 166

Special Topics: The Age of Crisis

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
3 Fall 2020 Strub, Spencer
TTh 3:30-5

Other Readings and Media

A course reader including medieval primary sources, modern theory, and contemporary criticism and history


There was a recurring plague, a changing climate, a never-ending war, a failed revolution and a cruel reaction, paranoia and persecution, political strife and inept leadership and a widespread sense that everything had gone wrong and could never be fixed again: fourteenth-century Engand might have been a mess, but it's our kind of mess. The silver lining? During this period of crisis, a public eager to read Engish literature emerged. The literary corpus that spoke to this public—poems dedicated to protest, mourning, and joyous invention—is as inventive and resilient as any in the language.

This class will explore how late medieval poets engaged with the tumultuous world around them. We will study the forms that represented contemporary events openly or in code, from antifraternal satire to dream visions and personification allegories, while examining the assumptions about gender, race, nature, and religious belief that distinguished their age of crisis from our own. Our goal is to understand the fourteenth century on its own terms. But the class will not shy away from anachronism: we might learn some lessons in surviving tough times.

Texts include: Middle English Political Writings, ed. Dean (TEAMS); William Langland, Piers Plowman B, ed. Robertson and Shepherd (Norton); Geoffrey Chaucer, Dream Visions and Other Poems, ed. Lynch (Norton) 

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

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