NOTICE: The Assignments listed here are from a previous semester. This site will not be maintained for the Summer 1 2007 Term. All assignments for the current term will be posted on the syllabus and Blackboard.

Engl. 3301




Anglo-Saxon Poetry. S.A.J. Bradley, trans. Everyman.

Chaucer. The Canterbury Tales: Fifteen Tales and the General Prologue. Eds. V.A. Kolve and Glending Olson. New York: Norton, 2005.

Chaucer. The Canterbury Tales. Neville Coghill, trans. Penguin Classics

Chaucer. Troilus and Criseyde. Neville Coghill, trans. Penguin Classics.

Chrétien de Troyes. Arthurian Romances. Carleton Carroll, trans. Penguin Classics.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Burton Raffel, trans. Signet Classics.


This assignment page contains assignments used in previous semesters and may not be applicable for the current semester. I will provide you handouts of all assignments in class, and then I will post new assignments on this page, identifying them as assignments for the current term.

Internet Resources

Internet Resources for this course may be found on the Course Contexts website. You may click on this link to be taken directly to the Internet Resources page for History of English and Medieval Literature.

Plot Summaries and Analyses

Plot summaries and analyses for the works of literature assigned for this course may be accessed through the Course Contexts website. You may click this link to be taken directly to the Plot Summaries and Analysis page for Medieval Literature.

Language Sound Files

General Prologue, ll. 1-18.

Quizzes and Exams

The quizzes listed below were prepared for previous medieval literature courses and may include material not covered by this particular course. I will add new quizzes for this course, time permitting. The examination material is of a general nature; specific material for the current course will be posted when possible.

 Quiz One Quiz Two: Intro to OE Lit, Alfredian Translations
 Quiz Three: OE Heroic Literature Quiz Four: Aelfric, Wulfstan,
"The Ruin," "The Wanderer."

Identifying Exam Excerpts General Essay Requirements
ExCet Essay Responses Sample ExCet Prompt
Exam 1 Final Exam

Instructions for Identifying Exam Excerpts

You will be asked to identify some excerpts from your reading. There may be more than one excerpt from a single work. The names of authors, works, and cultures must be spelled correctly. Underline or use quotes to identify titles (I use italics below, because this is computer printed, an option you do not have in class). Be prepared to provide the following information:

1. Identify the title. E.G.: The Wanderer, The Passion of St. Edmund, The Battle of Maldon.

2. Identify the author, if there is one. In the case of anonymous works, put Anonymous.

3. Summarize the work, in no more than a few sentences. I.E., provide a few sentences that describe the main idea of the work from beginning, middle, to end. Note that this is different from number four below, for this question asks you to demonstrate your understanding of the entire work.

4. Explicate the passage that has been excerpted in a few sentences. Note that this is different from number three above. Explain the passage's form and/or content in some meaningful way.

General Essay Requirements

Follow any instructions that accompany the exam essay prompt. In addition, these criteria will generally apply.

1. If you don't know what an essay is by now, what are you doing in an upper division course? An essay is written over many paragraphs (you are NOT limited to five paragraphs). It should have a thesis statement expressing an idea as well as a subject. That idea should be supported in the essay with proof. The essay should have a clear beginning, middle and end.

2. You need a title, and you must underline your thesis.

3. Use much material from the primary source (the literature) cited selectively and using parenthetical documentation (use line number for poems). Do not just paraphrase or summarize––demonstrate you know particular detail from the source by quoting directly. Any paper which talks around the literature without providing significant and specific details from the primary source will not pass. For all I know in such cases you have only read summaries, and that is not acceptable. You may use some secondary material (introductory essays preceding the literature) where appropriate or when the opportunity is presented to you. Cite secondary material selectively, too, using parenthetical documentation.

4. Subordinate all use of primary and secondary material to your argument. Discuss the significance of the material you cite at length; don't just make a claim, provide a quote, and repeat the claim. Explain what the material means. Don't expect your reader to make your argument for you.

ExCet Style Essay Response

You will be given a passage from a work of literature you have not yet seen. You will be asked to write a brief essay explicating it. You may be asked to analyze its form and content to determine its theme, genre, and stylistic elements. You should read the prompt and answer it thoroughly. General essay requirements are above; they generally apply to ExCet responses, but follow all instructions on the prompt. A sample of an ExCet style prompt is below.

Sample ExCet Prompt

The following passage is a modern translation of an Old English poem that you have not been assigned to read in class. Write a brief essay arguing what genre of Old English the passage seems to represent, explaining its thematic and stylistic elements in the process:

 Then in the hall was the sound of slaughter,
boat-shaped shield upraised by the brave.
Bucklers burst; hall-boards resounded;
till Garulf in fighting was first to fall,
the son of Guthlaf, with many a good man,
bodies dying. Swarthy and dark
the ravens were circling. There was flashing of swords
as if all Finnsburg were blazing with fire.
Never have I heard of worthier warriors
or of finer service more fitly paid
than those young heroes rendered to Hnaef.
Five days they fought and none of them fell,
his faultless comrades, and they held the doors.

Exam 1

You will need a bluebook to complete this examination. You will have the entire class period, and may have access to the textbook, a dictionary, and this prompt, but nothing else. Practice writing Part I at home. Even though you won't be allowed to use what you have written, it will prepare you for being able to write on the topic in exam.

Part One

The Old English phrase "lif is læne" means "life is transitory" (literally, "life is on loan"). While the phrase in its many manifestations represents a theme recognizing human existence's finite nature, the frequent occurrence in Old English literature of the motif suggests that the Anglo-Saxons were gravely impressed by this knowledge. It seems probable that their contemplation of life's brevity precedes their Christianization, but there's little doubt that the attitude was easily assimilated and adapted to fit a Christian perspective. Church fathers like St. Augustine of Hippo, for instance, had explained the condition of man on earth as that of a homo viator ("man the traveller") and peregrinus ("a foreigner; a pilgrim"), whose time upon the earth was spent in exilio ("in exile"), estranged from God and heaven. This theme is often expressed in ubi sunt ("where are they?) motifs, in which authors ask rhetorical questions concerning things that they have loved and wondering what has happened to them, since they are no longer. However, the goal of such laments is not self-pity, rather contemptus mundi ("contempt for the world"), leading to rejection of worldly values and a turning toward spiritual one (the best scriptural example may be Christ's "Sermon on the Mount").

Write an essay illustrating these ideas in the Old English literature you have read, using examples from Bede, Beowulf, and the shorter Old English poems. Develop a thesis that reflects your own understanding of the ideas in the paragraph above and how they develop in the different works we have read.

Part Two

I will provide you a short excerpt from a work you have not seen and ask you to explicate it according to the ideas you have already learned are associated with Old English literature, such as "salvation history," "heroic code," and "elegiac mode."

Final Exam

The exam will be completed in your blue book. Parts I-II are closed book Part III is an open book essay.

Part I: Identification

On the separate handout there are ten excerpts from The Canterbury Tales. In your blue book, label A-J and identify the corresponding excerpt. Specifically identify the excerpt according to the tale, prologue, or General Prologue portrait from which the excerpt is taken. Don't forget to write your name on the excerpt sheet.

Part II: Essay

Answer either prompt A or prompt B below:

A. The general question might be, "What is the idea of the Canterbury Tales?" Explain your opinion about the "idea" of the Canterbury Tales and whether or not there is one, referring to appropriate primary material to support your opinion and taking into consideration some of the secondary material from the class textbook that supports and argues against your claim.

B. The general question might be, "How does our understanding of ‘voice' or ‘voices' in the Canterbury Tales influence the way we read the text? Explain your opinion about the problem of "voice" in the Canterbury Tales as it is treated by the different critics excerpted in your anthology, referring to appropriate primary and secondary material that supports or contradicts your opinion.

Handouts, Models, Worksheets

A Taxonomy of Old English Literature Old English Elegies as a Genre
 Heroic Literature Worksheet  Criteria of Old English Elegies
 Middle English Lyrics: Some Kinds  Knight's Tale Worksheet


Literary Criticism: Toward a New Model of Literary Criticism
A New Literary Model: Diagram 1 A Model for Old Historicism: Diagram 2
A Model for New Historicism: Diagram 3 A Model for Feminist Criticism: Diagram 4
 A Model For Deconstruction: Diagram 5  

 A Taxonomy of OE Literature

Note: Anglo-Saxon refers to the entire culture of the early English period, and thus embraces Latin as well as vernacular literature. Old English more precisely refers to literature written in the vernacular. An excellent introduction to Old English literary history (and an introduction to Anglo-Latin writing by Michael Lapidge) is Stanley B. Greenfield and Daniel G. Calder's A New Critical History of Old English Literature (London, 1986). Equally good is The Cambridge Companion to Old English Literature, ed. Malcolm Godden and Michael Lapidge (Cambridge, 1991). This list identifies representative examples, but not all extant works.

Anglo-Latin Literature

Aldhelm (d. 709 or 710 ): prose treatises on virginity, prosody, and numerology; poetry, including               church dedications and riddles

Bede (673-735): prose Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Historia ecclesiastica) and               many other works of history, hagiography (saints' lives), biblical commentary, grammar
              and rhetoric, etc.

Alcuin (735-804): prose treatises on grammar, rhetoric, biblical commentaries, etc.

Old English Literature: Prose (9th-11th centuries)

Alfredian translations: Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica, Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy, Pope                 Gregory's Cura Pastoralis, St. Augustine's Soliloquies, Orosius' history, and The                 Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

Aelfric: homilies and saints' lives

Wulfstan: legal works and sermons, esp. Sermo Lupi ad Anglos

Old English Literature: Poetry (ca. 1000)

 Heroic   Biblical   Saints' Lives  Elegies  Wisdom/Misc
Christ I,II,III
Guthlac A&B
Wife's Lament
Fortunes of Men
Dream of the Rood


Old English Elegies as a Genre

In *"The Old English Elegies," Stanley B. Greenfield claims the following about Old English elegies as a genre:

"The elegies by no means form a homogenous group, and at least one critic would deny all except the two Frauenlieder (The Wife's Lament and Wulf and Eadwacer) classification as elegy. Still, they do have several qualities in common. They are relatively short pieces, ranging from Wulf and Eadwacer (19 lines) to The Seafarer (124 lines); they have (except for The Ruin) a first-person speaker; and they all (again The Ruin excepted) emphasise at least in part the speaker's state of mind arising from his reflection on the contrast between past and present conditions. However consolatory (Deor) or hortatory (The Seafarer) or expectant of a brave new world (The Husband's Message) they may be, they moreover call attention to varying degrees to the transitory nature of the pleasures and security of this world. We may perhaps formulate a definition of the Old English elegy as a relatively short reflective or dramatic poem embodying a contrasting pattern of loss and consolation, ostensibly based upon a specific personal experience or observation, and expressing an attitude towards that experience" (143).

*Continuations and Beginnings: Studies in Old English Literature, ed. Eric G. Stanley (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1966).

Your task is to prove Greenfield correct in response to The Ruin and The Wanderer. Itemize the characteristics presented by Greenfield, and cite several passages in each poem by line number that provide you with the "proof" that he is correct. A sample outline is charted below:

Criteria of Old English Elegies

 Greenfield's Criteria:

Old English Elegies Corresponding to the Criteria:
Examples and Explanations,
By Line Number as Appropriate
They are relatively short pieces. The Wanderer
The Seafarer
Wulf and Eadwacer
The Wife's Lament
The Husband's Message
The Ruin
 They usually have a first-person speaker. The Wanderer
The Seafarer
Wulf and Eadwacer
The Wife's Lament
The Husband's Message
The Ruin
 They emphasize the speaker's state of mind. The Wanderer
The Seafarer
Wulf and Eadwacer
The Wife's Lament
The Husband's Message
The Ruin
 They contrast between past and present conditions. The Wanderer
The Seafarer
Wulf and Eadwacer
The Wife's Lament
The Husband's Message
The Ruin
 Their mood alternates between loss and consolation. The Wanderer
The Seafarer
Wulf and Eadwacer
The Wife's Lament
The Husband's Message
The Ruin

Middle English Lyrics: Some Kinds

From the lyrics in your textbook and handouts, identify as many examples of the following kinds of lyrics as you can. Identify lyrics by their first line:




Reverdie or pastourelle:

Reverdie literally means "a re-greening," and such lyrics call attention to the arrival of spring, but occasionally they are simply lyrics taking place in a pastoral, i.e., rural setting (often a locus amoenus, "a pleasant place).


Chanson d'aventure, love roun, or lover's complaint:

A song of amorous adventure, often it is about unrequited love and thus becomes a planctus, or complaint by a stereotypical lovesick lover who is wasting away for his equally stereotypical loved one, the perfect loved one.


Contemptus mundi, ubi sunt, memento mori:

In these lyrics, the contemplation of the mutability of the ephemeral world where all things pass away serves as a reminder of mortality and often leads to a contempt of the world.


Devotional, contemplative:

Such lyrics often adore the Virgin Mary (Marian lyrics) or Christ, especially the crucifixion. Sometimes these two are even combined, describing and expressing the profound emotions of Mary as she witnesses her son's suffering on the cross.


Knight's Tale Worksheet

Please answer the following questions. Return this worksheet in the next class period for credit and for discussion.


1. Who deserves to win Emelye, Palamon or Arcite?



2. Explain the different ways that the tale demonstrates the notion of order, especially civil order (the affairs of state) and social orders (the affairs of individuals with one another).



3. Find at least one example in each part of the tale where Fate, Destiny, or Chance are described. What role does Fortune play in the lives of men, according to the Tale? If you have time, compare your findings to what Boethius says in the Consolation of Philosophy (p. 287-290 in your text).



4. According to George Kane (Middle English Literature: A Critical Study of the Romances, the Religious Lyrics, Piers Plowman. London: Methuen, 1951), romances possess the following characteristics: In general, these romances are (1) narratives whose purpose is to entertain; (2) concerned with the adventures of a hero of France, Britain, or antiquity; (3) frequency of fundamental (i.e., essential) characteristics of the genre and accidents, which are non-essential. Fundamental characteristics include (1) chivalry; (2) not naturalistic, which is to say, fanciful. Accidents include (1) contemporization of past events; (2) boundaries of probability are greater than modern expectations would allow, which is to say that the audience could suspend disbelief more readily than a modern audience; (3) a tendency to exaggerate beyond usefulness (which Kane attributes to the poor artist); (4) most have a happy ending. Explain how well this fits The Knight's Tale.


Literary Criticism

Toward a New Model for Literary Criticism

Recent critics have genuinely sought to explore areas in language and literature that arguably had been neglected by more traditional means. In many instances, these critics were correct in perceiving the older methods as being limited, but in rejecting the old critical methodologies they have compounded the very problem they set out to redress. In seeking methods that embraced larger audiences, that recognized different "voices" in literature, and that skeptically approached language's limitations, they often have reduced their audiences, excluded competing voices, and reduced language to the improbable proposition that it inevitably must fail. Compounding their error has been their prose, which too often succumbs to pretentiousness, almost always is marked by ambiguity, and for the most part is difficult to read or understand. Meanwhile, those critics who have not yet joined one of the prevailing post-modern camps or collaborated with them have had little organized support. What is outlined here is an attempt to provide them some relief.

I suffer no delusion that the substance that is stated here is new, but I am not aware of a similar means of modeling it. It reflects what has already been supposed by many, however infrequently it may have been expressed of late in the leading journals of our field. Ultimately, it demonstrates common sense. It does not seek to overturn the various post-modern schools of literary criticism, but it seeks to put them in a perspective proportionate to what may be inferred reasonably about the relevance of their influence. In doing so, it attempts to unify rather than divide the various contemporary methods by subordinating them to more traditional ones. Indeed, my main presupposition is one that was once considered self-evident: the goal of a liberal arts education in general and literary studies in particular is to produce people aware of their world and their individual place within it, thus liberally educated people have always been capable of recognizing different voices and ambiguity in a text.

The Model

The central feature of this model is the text, represented by the rectangle. This could be any text, but our analysis will think of it as a work of literature such as a novel, a play, or a poem. As the formalists have reasonably argued, we must approach the text first and foremost on its own terms. Thus the rectangle recognizes what we may encounter from beginning to end in the literary work.

The enclosed plane created by the interior circle represents the author of the text. Observe that most of the text lies within the enclosed plane. The small arrows extending from the edge of the circle inward toward the text represent the intention of the author. It assumes that any author of a given text is unique, that he has led a life impossible to replicate by any other person's experience, and that the author's individual perspective results in a creation through language of literature that can find no exact parallel in the work of another. But the model also illustrates that part of any creative endeavor ultimately extends beyond the ability of the creator to control it. Regardless of the author's intentions, the text will ultimately suggest ideas or information that the author did not deliberately intend to demonstrate, such material arising out of the ambiguity inherent in language and the unforseen implications and consequences that naturally arise as a result of the uncertainty of life.

The enclosed plane created by the exterior circle represents the context provided by the author's time, place, and circumstances. It covers more of the text than the author's circle does but all of the author's circle because an author can not be separated from the time and place of his existence. The larger arrows extending from the periphery of this circle pass through the inner circle and penetrate the text, thus demonstrating the influence that time, place, and circumstances have on the author and on the author's text. The author's uniqueness may be understood in part as a response to the social, political, cultural (etc.) factors that have shaped his identity. Those factors are best understood in the text in relation to the author's intention. The portion of the text that lies between the inner and exterior circle represents the factors that may be implicit in the text and not deliberately the product of the author's intention.

The un-enclosed plane extending ad infinitum from the outside of the exterior circle and outside the rectangle not contained by the circles represents the reader's context, inasmuch as the reader is approaching the text in a manner not contemporaneous with it. The small arrows approaching the portion of the text residing outside the author and his context represent the influence that the reader's social, political, cultural (etc.) factors have upon his reading of the text. However, the reader can only go so far with such inquiry. A portion of the text does exist outside the space occupied by the author and the author's context, and represents those elements in the text that were unintended by the author and not influenced by the author's context. If the reader's query is pushed to extremes, the result could be an anachronistic imposition upon the author's circumstances or even an unfair rejection of the author's intention. Such inquiry can demonstrate only the difference between the author's context and the reader's context, and although that has some bearing on the text it is unreasonable to conclude that it has bearing on the entire text, or even most of it. The proper place for such inspection must by necessity be the periphery of the text.

Finally, there are four large curved arrows extending from and overlapping all elements of the model. These arrows represent the total value of the text for the reader. The reader reads the text and comes away from it with an understanding of its form and content in a way that reflects the intention of the author, the author's milieu, and the implications of his work that were not realized in his time but recognized by each generation of readers. These arrows may be said to be the universal value of the work as a whole, the extent to which the work of literature transcends the limitations of the particular author, context, or methodology and embraces the general human experience.

Diagram 1



Diagram 2



Diagram 3



Diagram 4



Diagram 5




Class Activities

Yet to be posted.


Geography resources for this course may be accessed through the Course Contexts website. You may click this link to be taken directly to the Geography Resources for History of English and Medieval Literature. The links below are only a small sample of what may be found by accessing the resources on that portion of the website.  The maps below are reproduced by courtesy of the General Libraries, University of Texas at Austin, with the following exceptions: "Viking Routes" is reproduced by courtesy of The Darkwing Atlas Project at the University of Oregon, eds. James Mohr and John Nichols.

 Ancient Britain Before the
Anglo-Saxon Conquest

 Europe 486

 Anglo-Saxon Settlements in England, Ca. 600

 Anglo-Saxon Settlements in England, Another View

 Viking Routes

Ancient Britain Before the Anglo-Saxon Conquest

Before the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons, Britain was inhabited by Celtic tribes that were Christian and Romanized as a result of 300 years of Roman rule. In the latter days of the Roman Empire in the West, the Romans withdrew their troops to defend Rome against the influx of Germanic tribes. This left the defense of Britain to the Celts themselves, who had become dependant on the Romans for defense against their enemies, especially the Picts and Scots living in the northern part of the Island. In 449 A.D. one of the Celtic chieftains, Vortigern, asked two Germanic chieftains, the brothers Hengest and Horsa, to aid him in repelling the Picts. They consented, but unfortunately for the Celts the Jutes decided to stay in England in the area now known as Kent, in the southeast of the island. This marks the beginning of the Anglo-Saxon conquest.



Europe 486 A.D.

The map below shows Europe in 486 A.D. In the northwest (upper left) corner is Britain after approximately 35 years of settlement by Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and Frisians at the expense of the Romanized Celtic inhabitants. The Eastern Roman Empire is intact and marked by green outline in the southeast (lower right) corner. The Western Roman Empire, whose traditional "fall" is dated to 479 A.D., at this point consisted of several Germanic kingdoms.


Anglo-Saxon Settlements in Britain, Ca. 600

The map below shows the extent of Germanic settlement in England at about the time of the mission of St. Augustine to convert the pagan tribes to Christianity. Augustine was sent to Kent, the orange area at the southeast corner of England, by Pope Gregory in 597 A.D. You can read about his mission in Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica.


Anglo-Saxon Settlements in Britain, Ca. 600, Another View

Here is another map depicting the establishment of the early Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms.


Viking Routes