English 110

Medieval Literature: Love in the Middle Ages

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2021 Strub, Spencer
MWF 10-11

Book List

The Letters of Abelard and Heloise; Capellanus, Andreas: The Art of Courtly Love; Chaucer, Geoffrey: Troilus and Criseyde; de France, Marie: Lais; de Troyes, Chrétien: Arthurian Romances

Other Readings and Media

Further readings to be posted on bCourses.


Set aside the stereotypes: there’s more to medieval love than gallant knights and fair maidens. In this course, we'll traverse the many ways one could write about love before 1400. Some medieval authors cultivated divine love, while others told dirty jokes; some celebrated marriage, while others derided it; some regulated gender expression, while others subverted its norms. And sometimes the same author did all these things at once. 

Our focus will fall on works written in France and England during the twelfth and fourteenth centuries. In twelfth-century Paris, a particular idea of romantic love came into being alongside new modes of philosophy and literature. By the fourteenth century, this idea––what we now call “courtly love”––had become the subject of satire and debate across Europe, a shift in temperament that we will explore in the second half of the semester. Because these two moments in the history of love emerge from broader cross-cultural exchange in the Middle Ages, we will attend to their antecedents in medieval Arabic and Hebrew love literature, as well as the classical and scriptural sources all three traditions shared.

As we explore these texts, we will uncover medieval ideas about love, sexual ethics, and gender, but we will also pose transhistorical questions about consent, agency, and desire. In order to do so, we must ask how literary forms from the lyric to the epic condition our understanding of love and its consequences. To that end, you will produce a number of short analytical writing exercises in addition to two longer essays. The class will end with a sustained engagement with Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde––one of the great works of love-literature of any era.

Readings in Middle English will be read in the original; all other readings will be in modern English translation. No previous experience with medieval literature is necessary.

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

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