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E 314: Medieval Literature




This syllabus is subject to change. The latest version on this website is the binding syllabus.

Office: Bartlett 259
Office Hours: By appointment.
545-6598 | sharris at


English 314 introduces you to the literature of the Middle Ages. The course is intended to give you a good grounding in the primary texts. You will read texts useful for undergraduate and graduate study or for secondary school teaching in Massachusetts. We will discuss genre, form, style, and the social and ethical dimensions of narrative. Readings include Boethius, the Pearl-Poet (Pearl and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight), lyrics, the Owl and the Nightingale, Piers Plowman, Tristan, the Nibelungenlied, and Dante's Vita Nuova. A number of quizzes, a midterm paper, and a final paper or project.

We meet MWF 11:15 – 12:05 in Bartlett 125
(Campus Map.)


1) Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy. ISBN 0393930718 [Free e-book via UMass]

2 Dante, Vita Nuova. ISBN 0199540659 [Free e-book via UMass]

3) Black, Joseph, Broadview Anthology of British Literature, 3rd ed., Vol. 1. ISBN 155481202X

4) Vaughan, Piers Plowman: The A Version. ISBN 1421401401 [Free version of the B-text via UMass] [Download all three versions (A,B,C) by Skeat]

5) Beroul, The Romance of Tristan. ISBN 0140442308 [In French at Google Books]

6) Hatto, The Nibelungenlied. ISBN 0140441379 [Free e-book via UMass, Raffel translation] [Free e-book via UMass, Edwards trans.] [In German translation via Google, 1880]

7) Pearl, trans. Jane Draycott, free via UMass (also in Black, Broadview).

All of the texts that we will read are available in hundreds of different editions in the library and on-line. As a UMass student, you can take books out of any of the Five-College libraries. If you are assiduous, you can find them all for free or follow the links provided and buy them cheaply; for good used copies, I recommend Grey Matter Books in Hadley and downstairs at Amherst Books.


The general objectives of this course are three: 1) to give you a firm grounding in primary texts, 2) to give you some sense of the history, and 3) to make you reasonably proficient in medieval reading techniques.

You will be tested on your knowledge of primary texts. This entails keeping careful notes on plot, characters, and themes of each reading; asking questions when you don't understand; and taking advantage of the insanely vast number of resources available to you.

You are also expected to complete your readings prior to each class--the readings average about 20 to 40 pages per class. If you're not going to do the reading, then this class will be a waste of your time.


Attendence is required. Lectures and discussions provide much of the material for which you are responsible. I will not repeat a lecture, summarize a lecture, or provide anyone with my lecture notes. My lectures are copyrighted material. Any use of them in written, electronic, or recorded form without my prior consent is insanely illegal.

Complete Attendance Policy here.


There is a midterm paper, a final paper, and a worksheet to accompany each reading.

GRADING: The breakdown of your grade is as follows:

  • Midterm paper 30% [13 March]
  • Final Paper 40% [4 May]
  • Worksheets 20% [after every new reading]
  • Attendance and participation 10%

Update (1/20/15): Updates to the syllabus will be posted here. Please check back weekly.


  • Papers must be handed in at the beginning of class on the date due. Late papers will not be accepted.
  • All missed assignments get an "F." If you foresee being absent, please let me know well beforehand.
  • Plagiarism gets an "F." This may be for the paper or for the course, at my discretion. Please check your student handbook and university or college guidelines for more on plagiarism.
  • All papers must be typed or word-processed.

Everyone is encouraged to meet with me at least once during the semester, if only to verify that the grades you have correspond to the ones in my gradebook. Please make an appointment to meet with me at a time convenient to you and I will try to oblige.


Each author's ideas, words, and phrasing are his or her own. If you reproduce them without due recognition, then you have committed plagiarism. Plagiarism earns the harshest punishment our university can offer. If you have any question whatsoever about whether you might be committing plagiarism, please consult me immediately. On the whole, the university expects you to act and write with the highest degree of integrity. For more information, consult your handbook or the official UMass statement.


NOTE 1: Please make and keep a copy of all your assignments. That copy may be a disc copy. In case any difficulties arise with respect to misplaced assignments or with respect to discrepancies between your records and my own, I will accept the evidence of your computer system's dating function. For your own peace of mind, I suggest that you lock any document on the day it is due. That will prevent your computer's operating system from associating your document with a later date.

NOTE 2: The course schedule is subject to change. It is not to be construed as a substitute for your attendance or as a catalogue of all the information for which you are responsible. All changes will be announced with a reasonable lead time. This syllabus constitutes a binding contract between the student and the professor. If you do not agree with any of the provisions set herein or if you foresee disagreeing with any of the provisions which may be reasonably added during the course of the term, then you are free to drop this class within the time allotted by the university.

NOTE 3:All material pertaining to this course--namely handouts, quizzes, exams, tests, maps, graphs, charts, printed matter, recorded matter, electronic matter including but not limited to this syllabus and associated electronic documents--is copyrighted material and is subject to international and US laws of copyright. Enrollment in this course constitutes tacit acceptance of this agreement and of the copyright claims made therein. Any breach of this agreement or use of copyrighted material by any member of the university or the public without prior consent will be met with legal action. I will not pursue fair use.


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