Germanic Languages | Chivalry: Medieval Visions of Good and Evil
E103 | 0057 | Professor Stephen Wailes


E103	"Chivalry: Medieval visions of good and evil" (3 cr.)	
		

The course and its goals.   Everyone is familiar with the stock
characters of chivalry: knights in shining armor, damsels in
distress, wicked noblemen, cruel giants. In the culture of the
European Middle Ages, which gave them birth,  they were not just
entertaining, but also profoundly meaningful. Chivalry, as presented
in medieval literature, envisions the best and the worst of human
beings and human life. To do so, it creates a fantastic mixture of
real and imaginary creatures and adventures, drawing on history,
myth, religion, and political thought. Chivalric adventures can
bewilder a modern reader, who is often unable to find the vital human
experience within stories that are, on the surface, unrealistic,
unlikely, even impossible.

In this course students will learn the kinds of questions to ask of
chivalric literature in order to loosen its tongue. For example, when
a knight wandering alone in the forest finds a lion and a serpent
locked in mortal combat, why does he promptly add his strength to
that of the lion, though fearful that the lion may attack him once
victorious?  When the same knight later agrees to fight two villains
with his lion tied up on the sidelines, but the lion breaks loose and
rescues the man from sure defeat, is the victory tarnished by the
broken agreement?

The lyrics of the troubadours, composers and performers of love songs
for the chivalric nobility, take us into the mystique of Acourtly
love,@ which calls for the man to subordinate himself completely to
the woman he loves. This is one example of the provocative set of
gender roles within chivalry; another is the domineering activity of
the man, and mute passivity of the woman, in stories of arms and
warfare. Were relations between men and women really as unbalanced as
the literature suggests?

The purposes of the course are (1) to develop skills of critical
reading through analysis of stories and poetry about medieval knights
and ladies, and (2) to investigate the systems of values that are
transmitted to us from the Middle Ages as Achivalry.@
Requirements and grading:  weekly quizzes (20% of course grade);
biweekly "microthemes" (one-page essays, 20%; an essay of about 1,750
words (20%); the final exam (20%); and active participation in
discussions (20%).

Required books (all paperbacks):  The Mabinogion (Penguin); The Song
of Roland Penguin); Chrétien de Troyes, The Complete Romances
(Everyman); Gottfried von Strassburg, Tristan (Penguin); Sir Gawain
and the Green Knight (Penguin); and a course reader.