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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures : English Literature

Undergraduate Course: Death and Dying in Late Medieval Literature (ENLI10387)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Literatures, Languages and Cultures CollegeCollege of Humanities and Social Science
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 4 Undergraduate) AvailabilityNot available to visiting students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryWhat is death? Who am I when I am dead? Death is an experience of central importance both to individuals and the cultures in which they live. This course introduces students to some of the key ways in which late medieval writing has depicted and explored the nature of dying and death, and allows them to examine conceptions of identity, illness, faith, memory and emotion. Fear of death and what would come afterwards haunted writers throughout the Middle Ages. The idea of perpetual torment in hell was a real fear during the period, confirmed through sermons, artwork and literature. The Fourth Lateran Council's insistence on confession made the emphasis on sinfulness and repentance particularly notable but death was not only experienced and vocalised in theological terms. Death was also an intensely human experience of pain, loss and consolation, which raised questions about being remembered, forgotten, or misremembered as much as it probed the nature of the relationship between earthly and the divine. In negotiating this relationship between life and death, late medieval literature and culture appropriated death and dying as a means to affirm artistic, social, and political identities. This course considers the ways in which literary depictions of death, dying and the dead are used to explore problems relating to life, problems political, social, ethical and philosophical.
Course description There is a large quantity of writing on medieval death, ranging from practical ars moriendi (the art of dying) texts to more 'literary' interpretations. This course will allow students to explore a variety of ways in which medieval writers and readers thought about death, dying and the place of the dead in the culture of the living. It will ask them to read and analyse a range of texts of the late-medieval period, covering a range of key areas: the personification of death; visual representations of death; grief, bereavement and consolation; the afterlife; the performance of death; the art of dying.
Using the analytical training gained from previous courses, students will practise and develop their independent and collaborative critical reading of literary and critical texts.On the basis of students' preparatory reading of the set literary texts and other writing drawn from medieval and modern theory, seminars will be used to discuss the literary, cultural, historical, theological and social implications of writing about death and dying.
Students will be asked to prepare for seminar discussions by meeting in advance in smaller 'autonomous learning groups' to produce material which will be presented to the class in a variety of forms (class presentation, written reports posted to the course VLE, informal contributions to class discussions). Active preparation for, and participation in, class discussion is required, and will be assessed as part of the student's overall participation on the course.
The course is assessed by two essays, one to be completed by Week 9 of the course and one to be written during the exam period, and an assessment of student's participation in class and their autonomous learning groups. Self-assessment will form part of the student's final class participation grade. Written feedback will be provided in each element of assessment, and further oral follow-up feedback from the tutor will be available for anyone who would like it.

Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Independently analyse and respond critically to a variety of medieval texts and genres
  2. Construct clear, coherent arguments about medieval literature¿s representations of death within its wider contemporary cultural and historical contexts
  3. Evaluate and assess ideas from a range of literary and non-literary sources to substantiate those arguments
  4. Present the results of research undertaken individually and as part of a small group in both written and oral formats, respond judiciously to research undertaken by others, and critically evaluate the importance of such material for an understanding of the chief aims of the course
Reading List
Audley, John. Three Dead Kings. Poems and Carols (Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Douce 302). Ed. S.G. Fein. TEAMS. Medieval Institute Publications, 2009.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Riverside Chaucer, Ed. F.N. Robinson. 3rd edition. Oxford UP, 2008.
Complaint for the death of Margaret, Princess of Scotland. Six Scottish Pieces: Courtly and Chivalric Poems Including Lyndsay's 'Squyer Meldrum'. Ed. R. Purdie and E. Wingfield. Medieval Institute Publications, 2018.
Dunbar, William. The Poems of William Dunbar. Ed. P. Bawcutt. 2 vols. ASLS, 1999.
Everyman. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vol. A: The Middle Ages. Gen. Ed. S. Greenblatt. Norton,
Gower, John. Confessio Amantis. Ed. R.A. Peck. Trans. A. Galloway. 2 vols. TEAMS. Medieval Institute Publications, 2006.
Hary. The Wallace: Selections. Ed. Anne McKim. TEAMS. Medieval Institute Publications, 2003.
Henryson, Robert. Robert Henryson: The Complete Works. Ed. David Parkinson. TEAMS. Medieval Institute Publications, 2010.
The Lanercost Chronicle. Trans. H.E. Maxwell. Maclehose and Sons, 1913.
Pearl. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Cleanness, Patience. Ed. J. J. Anderson. Everyman, 1996.
E.E. Foster. Ed. Three Purgatory Poems: The Gast of Gy, Sir Owain, The Vision of Tundale. TEAMS. Medieval Institute Publications, 2004.
The Talis of the Fyve Bestis. The Asloan Manuscript: A Miscellany in Prose and Verse. Ed. W.A. Craigie. 2 vols. STS new. ser. 14, 16. Blackwood and Sons, 1923-25.

Appleford, A. Learning to Die in London, 1380-1540. U Pennsylvania P, 2014.
Brown, E. A. R., 'Death and the Human Body in the Later Middle Ages: The Legislation of Boniface VIII on the Division of the Corpse', Viator 12 (1981): 221-270.
Butler, S. M. 'Degrees of Culpability: Suicide Verdicts, Mercy, and the Jury in Medieval England', Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 36 (2006): 263-290.
Daniell, C. Death and Burial in Medieval England, 1066-1550. Routledge, 1997.
Du Bruck, E. E. and B. I. Guskick. Eds. Death and Dying in the Middle Ages. Peter Lang, 1999.
Duffy, Eamon. The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400-1580. Second Edition. Yale UP, 2005.
Grmek, M. D., 'The Concept of Disease'. Western Medical Thought from Antiquity to the Middle Ages. Ed. M. D. Grmek. Harvard UP, 1998, 241-258.
Kinch, A. Imago Mortis: Mediating Images of Death in Late Medieval Culture. Brill, 2013.
McNamara, R. F. 'The Sorrow of Soreness: Infirmity and Suicide in Medieval England'. Parergon 31.2 (2014): 11-34.
Marsland, R. 'Lament for the Dead in Fifteenth-Century Scotland'. Premodern Scotland: Literature and Governance 1420-1587. Eds. J. Martin and E. Wingfield. Oxford UP, 2017, 45-56
Murray, Alexander. Suicide in the Middle Ages: The Violent against Themselves. Oxford UP, 1998.
Rosenwein, Barbara. Emotional Communities in the Middle Ages. Cornell UP, 2006.
Shinners, J. Ed. Medieval Popular Religion, 1000-1500: A Reader. U Toronto P, 2009.
Spinrad, P. S. The Summons of Death on the Medieval and Renaissance English Stage. Ohio State UP, 1987.
Zimmerman, S., 'Leprosy in the Medieval Imaginary', Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 38 (2008): 559-587.

Bernau, A., 'Bodies and the Supernatural'. A Cultural History of the Human Body in the Medieval Age. Ed. L. Kalof. Berg, 2010, 99-120.
Binski, P. Medieval Death: Ritual and Representation. British Museum, 1996.
Blair, J., 'The Dangerous Dead in Medieval England'. Early Medieval Studies in Memory of Patrick Wormald. Ed. S. Baxter. Ashgate, 2009, 539-559.
Bloch, M. and J. Parry. Eds. Death and the Regeneration of Life.Cambridge UP, 1982.
Boitani, P. The Tragic and the Sublime in Medieval Literature. Cambridge UP, 1989.
Briggs, Katherine. 'The Fairies and the Realms of the Dead'. Folklore 81 (1970): 81-96.
Butler, Judith. Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. Verso, 2004.
Bynum, Caroline Walker. 'Fast, Feast, and Flesh: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women'. Representations 11 (1985): 1-25.
Clark, J. M., The Dance of Death in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Jackson, Son & Company, 1950.
Gordon, B. and P. Marshall. Eds. The Place of the Dead: Death and Remembrance in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Cambridge UP, 2000.
Metcalf, Peter and Richard Huntington. Celebrations of Death: The Anthropology of Mortuary Ritual. Cambridge UP, 1991.
Murray, A. Suicide in the Middle Ages, vol. 3: The Curse on Self-Murder. Oxford UP, 2000.
Rosenwein, Barbara,. Ed. Anger's Past: The Social Uses of an Emotion in the Middle Ages. Cornell UP, 1998.
Tolmie, J. and M. J. Toswell. Eds. Laments for the Lost in Medieval Literature. Brepols, 2010.
Westerhof, D. Death and the Noble Body in Medieval England. Boydell , 2008.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills As an outcome of having studied this course, students will benefit from having developed a range of personal and professional skills commensurate with the range of SCQF Level 10 characteristics:
Knowledge and Understanding: students will have the opportunity to develop their critical understanding of a range of the principal theories and concepts of literary analysis in relation to their reading and discussion of the course material;
Applied Knowledge, Skills and Understanding: in their work for class discussion, presentations and formal assessment tasks, students will have been able to practice the application of these theories and concepts in their construction of arguments about the course material;
Generic Cognitive Skills: in completing assessed essays and class presentations, students will have practised identifying, defining, conceptualising and analysing complex problems and issues germane to the discipline;
Communication: through participating in these tasks students will also have demonstrated the ability to communicate ideas and information about specialised topics in the discipline to an informed audience of their peers and subject specialists;
Autonomy and Working With Others: students will also have shown the capacity to work autonomously and in small groups on designated tasks, develop new thinking with their peers, and take responsibility for the reporting, analysis and defence of these ideas to a larger group.
KeywordsDeath and dying,mourning,commemoration,medieval literature
Course organiserDr Kate Ash-Irisarri
Tel: (0131 6)50 8930
Course secretaryMrs Anne Mason
Tel: (0131 6)50 3618
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