This course investigates the language and culture of the Middle English period in England (1100-1500). We will examine Middle English texts with an eye to the cultural importance of written material and the shifting roles of literacy in early England. We will consider different kinds of texts: letters, instruction manuals, poems, saints' lives, court documents, scientific treatises, and religious or mystical writings. In our readings, we will encounter the differing relationships of English speakers to their language: the intrinsic multilingualism of the period, the centrality of regional varieties of English for the linguistic landscape, the use of literacy as a means for ecclesiastical authority, the importance of gender for the use and change of English, the function of written texts prior to the advent of print culture.
Along the way, we will learn to read Middle English, and experience the excitement and challenges of early language. Although Middle English manuscripts appear very foreign at first, we find that early speakers of English had many of the same goals for their language use that we do: conducting business, expressing love, creating meaning, telling stories, teaching their children, insulting their neighbors. This class explores these purposes for language, finding the shared ground of English users over the centuries while analyzing our differences. No background in linguistics or medieval literature is required. This class satisfies the pre-1900 requirement.
- A Book of Middle English, 3rd. edition. J. A. Burrow and Thorlac Turville-Petre. Oxford, Blackwell, 2005.