English | Middle English Literature
L613 | 14455 | Gayk

L613  14455 GAYK (#1)
Middle English Literature

5:30p – 8:30p T


The last decade has seen the fifteenth century emerge as an
increasingly defined period of literary study. Recent work on this
period has brought new perspectives along with challenges to notions
of the English medieval canon, authorship, and traditions of
literary authority. The fifteenth century has emerged, in short, as
both a new field and as a testing ground for rethinking
periodization and theorizing the relations between form and history.

Yet even while the fifteenth century has attracted a new critical
momentum, the majority of work has concentrated on only the opening
years of the 1500s.  Figures like John Lydgate and Thomas Hoccleve
tend to stand in for broader claims about both the century as a
whole and “post-Chaucerian” writing.  While we will consider these
writers in L613, we will read them in their fifteenth-century
context, paying special attention to the middle and later years of
the century. Writers from these years, like Audelay, Capgrave, and
Caxton, but also Skelton, Medwall and the early English humanists,
have been only lightly treated, and often through literary
historiography; the few studies of these figures primarily consider
questions of heresy, censorship, the market, emerging literacy,
shifting patronage models, and the role of the courtier.

In this course, we will extend the critical chronology of the
fifteenth century and also explore how the century's writers speak
to the categories of "literary" and "history" that inform our sense
of the changes that took place over this period – from incunabula to
print, from Catholic to reformist, from Middle Ages to Renaissance.
Over the course of the semester, we will consistently interrogate
the period's engagements with formal innovations and historical

We will read widely in early English literature, beginning with John
Gower’s Confessio Amantis at the end of the fourteenth century and
concluding with John Skelton’s poetry at the beginning of the
sixteenth.  Other authors will include: Thomas Hoccleve, John
Lydgate, John Capgrave, and William Caxton.  Over the summer I will
e-mail PDFs of introductory readings to those registered for the
class, but all participants would benefit from reading James
Simpson’s Reform and Cultural Revolution (Oxford, 2002) in

Course requirements include a book review, the construction of an
undergraduate syllabus, an in-class presentation on one author
and/or text, a conference proposal, and conference-length paper. The
class will conclude with a mock conference in which participants
present their papers.