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ENGL 210 A: Medieval and Early Modern Literature, 400 to 1600

Meeting Time: 
MW 9:30am - 11:20am
AND 010
Kate Norako photo
Leila Kate Norako

Syllabus Description:





English 210 A: Medieval and Early Modern Literature


Mondays and Wednesdays, 9:30-11:20am 

Zoom link: Join URL:


Dr. Kate Norako

Office: Padelford Hall, A-309

Student Hours: Mondays 3:30-5pm 




Course Description:


This course will introduce undergraduate students to Medieval and Early Modern English literature. Students will encounter an array of major works (including BeowulfSir Gawain and the Green Knight, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and Macbeth) but will also study several shorter works that will provide students with a sense of the range and richness of literature written between 400-1600 in England. We will also endeavor as often as possible to place these works in a global context, considering them alongside excerpted works from the premodern Middle East, Africa, India, and Japan among others. While student interest will lead the way in our discussions, we will pay particular attention to the construction of gender in the works that we read, and the way in which these works seem either to affirm or complicate the gender norms and power differentials of their day. We will also look carefully at the ways in which gender and gendered power intersect with representations of religious and cultural difference. Students will be evaluated on their active participation, a series of informal written assignments, and on two formal assignments: an expository/close-reading essay (due at mid-quarter), and a research essay (due at the end of the term).


Course Objectives:

  • To familiarize students with key works of literature from medieval and early modern England in order to provide background for other studies and a historical understanding of literary development.
  • To encounter and investigate literature from the distant past in order to inform our understanding of cultural difference, historical development, and alternative ethical and artistic possibilities.
  • To enhance student’s skills in close/analytical reading, cultural analysis, and collaborative discussions.
  • To improve and augment student’s expository writing skills. 
  • To improve and augment student’s scholarly research skills. 


Required Readings to Purchase:


Beowulf. Translated by Roy Liuzza. 

Risala. Ahmad Ibn Fadlan

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Trans. James Winny

Macbeth (Norton, 2nd edition). 


Note: You must purchase hard copies of these specific editions. You are also responsible for a series of required readings that will be posted in our course readings folder (under Files in Canvas). 


Grade Breakdown:


Participation: 15%

Commonplace Book (Informal Writing): 25% 

Mid-Quarter Essay: 20%

Prospectus/Annotated Bib: 5%

Peer Review (Final Essay): 5%

Final Essay: 30%



The success of this class hinges on the active engagement and intellectual curiosity of all in attendance. While I will lecture from time to time, the majority of our class meetings will be focused on and driven by student-led inquiry and interest. Your ideas, interests, questions, etc. will be what propels us forward. As a result, you are expected to come to class having read and synthesized the readings for that day, and with the required readings in hand. Come ready to talk and engage with one another! 

  • Attendance: Given that our class will center student-led discussion, it’s imperative that you come to every class meeting on time and prepared to discuss the day’s readings. Failure to attend class regularly will result in a lowered participation grade, so please don’t miss class.

Grading Participation: A 90-100% level participation grade will result from:

    • clear evidence that the reading has been done, and that the student has amply prepared for in-class discussion. They will come to class with independent ideas about the readings, and having made efforts to critically engage with the material (i.e. synthesis, close-reading, comparative analysis, attention to course themes/central questions). They will come prepared to address any specific questions/issues/prompts from the instructor.
    • Active engagement in class. This entails not only generating ideas and taking risks (by asking questions and/or offering up ideas-in-progress), but also listening to the ideas of others and engaging accordingly. The A-level participant will be able to advance our discussions in class not only by offering up their own ideas but also by responding directly and thoughtfully to the ideas of others.




How To Succeed In This Class:

  1. Do the readings well in advance! And read deeply and carefully. If necessary, read once to sort out the plot, and read a second time to analyze. (Helpful hint: read a reliable plot summary before reading the text itself to help you along!)
  2. Stay up to date on your commonplace book entries and make sure you follow the instructions carefully. These entries are designed to a) help you hone your close reading skills and b) help you participate as fully as possible in our class meetings. 
  3. Communicate with your professor! If you have questions or concerns (about meeting deadlines, managing the reading and writing load, how to research a given topic, what to say about a particular text, etc), get in touch! Office hours are perfect for longer conversations, but I am happy to talk briefly before/after class or (if the questions can be swiftly answered) via email. 
  4. Complete all major assignments on time, and pace yourself. Avoid writing your major assignments at the 11th hour!
  5. Come to class prepared and with all required materials (notebook/laptop, readings due that day). Be ready to discuss and think hard about the readings. And remember: there are many ways to earn full marks on participation.
  6. Stay focused and engaged in class. Participate actively in class discussions, and remember: there are many ways to participate, and that I value all of them. Also, try not to use electronics in class. And if you must use a laptop for taking notes, avoid the temptation to use it for anything unrelated to class. Not only will you be marked as absent if you’re caught using your computer for anything unrelated to class, but your performance in the class will suffer because you’ll be depriving yourself of the opportunity to learn and hone the skills you need to succeed in your formal assignments. 
  7. Stay Organized. In the very first week of class, write down all of your deadlines for all of your classes in a calendar. If you notice that, say, you have three major assignments due the same week, figure out what’s feasible, and ask your professors for what you need well in advance. You’re much more likely to have extension requests granted that way and/or are much more likely to do well on each of those assignments/exams.   
  8. Write about what you care about and what genuinely piques your curiosity, because the more invested you are, the more enjoyable and worthwhile the writing and thinking will be, and (nearly always) the better the final written work.


(note: these are brief overviews. Detailed prompts for each of these assignments can be found on our Canvas page)

Commonplace Book (informal writing): This journal will be comprised of a series of informal entries that will each invite you to deepen your engagement with our reading material. They will also help you get into the practice of near-daily writing, which will be integral to your success on your formal written assignments. To get full marks for this journal, you need to write an entry in advance of each of our class meetings that reflects careful engagement, analysis, and connection-making between texts. Please see the prompt in Canvas for complete and detailed instructions. 

Mid-Quarter Essay (5-7 pages): Students will craft and then respond to a generative question derived from their reading of one of the works covered thus far in the course. This will be an opportunity for you to demonstrate your ability to: construct an arguable thesis, identify and hone a topic that can be effectively addressed in the span of 5-7 pages, close read with care and with awareness of the cultural significance and nuance of the work in question, and compose a deliberately organized essay. Your introduction will provide a clear thesis statement, and each body paragraph will overtly support that central claim through careful attention to the text in question. Your inquiries should either explore issues unaddressed in class or dramatically expand on the ideas brought up therein, thereby providing you with an opportunity to investigate areas of personal interest as well as contribute to our shared understanding of the text(s) in question. This paper is intended to rehearse the processes of critical analysis essential to all humanistic inquiry.

Final Research Essay (8-10 pages): This essay builds off of the mid-quarter essay and invites you to hone your close reading, writing, and research skills in light of the feedback you received. You will be asked to write another analytic response to one of the works we’ve thus far in the quarter (focused once more on a particular topic, theme, character, passage, etc.), but this time you must engage with secondary scholarship, citing no fewer than five secondary sources. This essay, in other words, requires you to do independent research, and all of these outside sources must be peer-reviewed and scholarly (more on that in the full assignment prompt). The complete prompt and rubric will be available at least a month before this essay is due.


Other Policies and Notes of Import:

On Technology in the Classroom: I do not, as a rule, ban the use of electronic devices in class. However, I ask that all students remember to be respectful of their peers and refrain from using their electronic devices for anything aside from our work in the classroom (i.e. no Facebook, game playing, etc – that kind of engagement is profoundly distracting to those around you). It is very obvious when students are surfing the web/watching movies/playing games/checking Facebook, and students who do so will get a zero for participation for that class meeting.  

On Canvas: Our class portal will be the predominate way in which you’ll keep up to date on course announcements, and is also where you will gain access to supplementary course materials. All secondary readings will be found there, as well as additional resources on Middle English pronunciation and the like. All assignment prompts will be posted there as well, and unless otherwise stated, all formal written assignments will be submitted to Canvas, and all feedback from me will be found there as well.

Email and Student/Office hours: If you have a question that can be answered in 1-2 sentences, please feel free to send an email, and I will respond as soon as possible (if you email me over the weekend, expect a response no earlier than noon on Monday). If your questions require a lengthy response, please bring them to me during office hours. If my office hours conflict with your class schedule, contact me and we will find an alternate time/way to meet. Please note that I am committed to checking email at least once a day on weekdays, and ask that all of you make the same commitment.

On Plagiarism: The Student Conduct Code defines plagiarism as follows:

“Plagiarism, . . .  is the submission or presentation of someone else’s words, composition, research, or expressed ideas, whether published or unpublished, without attribution. Plagiarism includes, but is not limited to:

  1. The use, by paraphrase or direct quotation, of the published or unpublished work of another person without full and clear acknowledgment; or
  2. The unacknowledged use of materials prepared by another person or acquired from an entity engaging in the selling of term papers or other academic materials.”

If plagiarism is suspected, a student will be asked to meet with me, and the following general rules/procedures will apply:

  • For minor infractions (1-2 missing citations, failure to use quotation marks in 1-2 instances, clear evidence that plagiarism was accidental, etc):
    • Option either to revise and earn up to 75% for the assignment in question; or to abandon the assignment. Final grade will be an average of the rest of the assignments in the course.
    • Possible reporting of said student to the Dean’s Representative for Academic Conduct
  • For major infractions (i.e. numerous plagiarized passages, clear evidence that the essay was written by someone else and/or stolen or purchased wholesale)
    • Automatic zero for the assignment.
    • No option for revision of said assignment.
    • Automatic reporting of said student to the Dean’s Representative for Academic Conduct.

The bottom line: Do not plagiarize! It is never, ever worth it, and it is shockingly easy to detect. I take plagiarism very seriously because I believe strongly in the value of the work I’ve assigned you. I want you to learn and grow through the work that I’m asking you to do in this class, and that learning and growth will not happen if you take the work of another person and pass it off as your own. 

Access and Accommodations: It is very important to me that all students are able to thrive in this classroom environment. If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please communicate your approved accommodations to me at your earliest convenience so we can discuss your needs in this course.

If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to: mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), you are welcome to contact DRS at 206-543-8924 or or  (Links to an external site.)DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or temporary health conditions.  Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process between you, your instructor(s) and DRS. It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law.


On DACA: The University of Washington strives to provide a safe, secure, and welcoming environment that protects the privacy and human rights of everyone in our community. UW’s longstanding policies do not permit immigration officials to enter UW classrooms or residence halls without a court order, and I will not share any information about a student’s immigration status. For guidance regarding immigration status, please consult the following resource through Leadership Across Borders ( and the following through the Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity ( You can also email with questions and concerns. 



On Religious Accomodations: “Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy ( Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form (”


On Our Classroom Environment: Our classroom will be radically inclusive, open to ideas, questions, and debates born out of genuine curiosity and rooted in a desire for knowledge and intellectual growth. It will be a space for rigorous and deep discourse, and it will be a space that actively resists any and all racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, religious intolerance, and misogyny. 

























March 30th


Introduction to the Course

The syllabus! 


Commonplace book instructions


Mid-quarter essay instructions

By Friday of this week, create your google doc Commonplace Book and share the link in the relevant Canvas forum. Remember to grant Dr. Norako edit access so that she can leave comments, and bear in mind that you will periodically be asked to grant said access to your peers in order to engage with their entries (this will always occur in class). 





April 4th


Intro to Early Medieval English Literature and Culture

Introduction to the Exeter Book Elegies

“The Wanderer”

“The Wife’s Lament”

“The Dream of the Rood” (CANVAS)


Greenblatt’s essay “Culture” (CANVAS)

Commonplace Book Entry 1



April 6th





Discussion of 1st Essay

Beowulf, pgs 49-87


Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, 

“Seven Theses” (from Monster Culture) (CANVAS)





Commonplace Book Entry 2 





April 11th


Beowulf, Part II


Discussion of 1st Essay

Beowulf, 87-145


UNC Writing Center: Argument


Commonplace Book Entry 3


Commonplace Book Entry 4: Write a paragraph (5-7 sentences) that describes your paper topic and working argument for Essay 1. (Bring a copy of this to class)


April 13th

Beowulf in Context


The Risala of Ahmad Ibn Fadlan

Beowulf (review)

Toni Morrison, “Grendel and His Mother” 

The Risala, Ibn Fadlan (tbd excerpts)

 Commonplace Entry 5


























April 18th


The Old English Judith



The Poetry of Wallada

Review Arab Chronicler accounts and Beowulf (will continue discussion for first bit of class)




Excerpts from Wallada’s poetry (CANVAS)

Commonplace Entry 6

April 20th

On Monsters, Men, and Women in Medieval Romance

“Wulf and Eadwacer” (CANVAS)


Bisclavret (CANVAS)


Victoria Blud’s article “Wolves’ Heads and Wolves’ Tales” (CANVAS)



Commonplace Book Entry 7: Focus this entry on Blud’s article. Identify her Thesis/central argument, and comment on the structure and approach that she takes. What kinds of things does she use to support her claims? How does the structure of her article (the order in which she discusses each sub-topic) help make her argument and its stakes clear? 


Commonplace Book entry 8: in one paragraph (5-10 sentences), reflect on your essay writing for midquarter. What is your thesis? What has gone well? What do you need to work on? 





April 25th


Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

 (Fitts 1 and 2)

Commonplace Book Entry 9


April 27th



Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Fitt 3) 

Commonplace Book Entry 10 



April 29th




Mid-Term Essay due to Canvas by 9pm.






May 2nd


SGGK in Context



Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 

(Fitt 4)


Excerpts from Cleanness



If you are reading this, you’ve found the easter egg. Please send Dr. Norako an email ( with a picture of your favorite animal by Friday, September 27th. 

Commonplace Book Entry 11 (special instructions): 


Go to the UW library website and search for a scholarly article on SGGK. Search not only for the text but for keywords that are relevant to your interests (i.e. ecocriticism, gender, women, masculinity, monsters, Otherness etc.). 


Read the article, and identify both its central claim and the main ways in which it supports that claim. 

Write and reflect on this article and its relation to your own reading of the text. Do you agree/disagree? Has this article made you reassess certain aspects of the text?


Commonplace Book Entry 12: Write a list of 3-5 potential topics for your final essay. Have these ready to discuss in class.

May 4th

Women Mystics and Saints:

Margery Kempe in Context  

Broadview Excerpts of the Booke of Margery Kempe and The Shewings of Julian of Norwich (CANVAS) 


Poems by Laldyada (CANVAS)

Commonplace Book Entry 13





May 9th

Chaucer’s Wife of Bath

The Wife of Bath’s General Prologue description, “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue,” ; Emma Lipton’s “Love and Marriage in The Wife of Bath’s Prologue” (CANVAS)


Excerpts from The Tale of Genji


Commonplace Book Entry 14

May 11th


 “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” (CANVAS); Carissa Harris’ “Rape and Justice in the Wife of Bath’s Tale” (CANVAS)


Debate Preparation: Instructions TBD

Commonplace Book Entry 15


Additional Homework for in class debate: Come to class with any/all evidence in support of your “team’s” argument 


Prospectus and annotated bibliography for final essay due to canvas by 11:59pm





May 16th

Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale; Chaucer, Prioress’s Tale

The Man of Law’s Prologue + Tale


Excerpts from the Kebra Nagast.




Optional but strongly recommended: 

Cord Whitaker “Race and Racism in The Man of Law’s Tale” (CANVAS)


Commonplace Entry 16: Man of Law/Kebra Nagast


Commonplace Entry 17:

Prioress’s Tale/Medieval Hebrew Literature



May 18th

The Early Modern Pamphlet Wars: Jane Anger an Rachel Speight

Early Modern Reader I (CANVAS)

Commonplace Entry 18

May 20th



Submit a COMPLETE draft to Canvas no later than 9pm. 





May 23rd




Macbeth, Acts I-III

Commonplace Book Entry 19



May 25th

Macbeth, cont’d


Macbeth Act IV and V


Peer Review I

Commonplace entry 20 


Bring copies of your peers’ marked-up drafts AND your completed peer review forms for both peers to class.






May 30th


Memorial Day 






June 1st

Early Modern Poetry


Course Conclusions


Course Evaluations

Early Modern Reader III (CANVAS)

Commonplace Book 22: Reflect on what you have learned this quarter, both in terms of course content and in terms of writing/reading skills. What do you think you will take from this class and apply to future endeavors? 

June 3rd



Final Essay portfolio, and completed CP book due to Canvas by 9pm on December 9th. 



Catalog Description: 
Introduces literature from the Middle Ages and the Age of Shakespeare, focusing on major works that have shaped the development of literary and intellectual traditions of these periods. Offered: AWSp.
GE Requirements: 
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
January 19, 2022 - 2:55am