English 9153A

The Works of the Gawain-Poet

Instructor: Professor Anne Schuurman
Fall Half Course.

This course will be an in-depth study of the four alliterative Middle English poems contained in British Library manuscript Cotton Nero A.x. Most scholars believe that the same author wrote Pearl, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Cleanness, and Patience, but we know very little about who this author might have been. Linguistic analysis of the poems suggests that both the author and the scribe who copied the manuscript were from the West Midlands of England, and lived and worked during the second half of the fourteenth century. The poems themselves are brilliant works of literary art, displaying detailed knowledge of courtly culture, aristocratic pastimes, and literary and folklore traditions in French, Celtic, and Anglo-Saxon; the author was also trained in the Latin theological, penitential, and homiletic traditions of the Church. The language is more difficult than Chaucer’s English, but accessible for a diligent and careful reader. Through our study of these poems, we will explore matters of authorship, scribal culture, and textuality. We will also immerse ourselves in the late medieval genres represented in the poems—romance, homily or Biblical paraphrase, and dream vision allegory—and the particular historical and political phenomena that shaped these genres, such as the rise of lay piety and vernacular theologies and the development of an English national identity.

View the course syllabus here: English 9153A. PDF download