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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures : Common Courses (School of Lit, Lang and Cult)

Undergraduate Course: Boundaries of the Human: gender, madness and werewolves in medieval literature (CLLC10008)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Literatures, Languages and Cultures CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 4 Undergraduate) AvailabilityNot available to visiting students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course focuses on the definition of the human self in the Middle Ages and the different ways in which notions of 'selfhood' and the human are perceived and explored in medieval literary texts. Medieval literature provided a space where philosophical, ideological and medical discourses about the body, gender, and identity could be reflected, explored, or subverted, allowing insight into questions that preoccupied or troubled medieval society. The course will examine a range of medieval texts drawn from different genres in Latin, Middle English, Anglo-Norman and French literature from the 12th to the 15th century (in translation) and will primarily explore the oppositions human/animal, mind/body, masculine/feminine, addressed through the themes of metamorphosis, the supernatural, madness and gender performance.
Course description The course aims to enrich students' awareness of the diversity of medieval literary texts and how these explore issues that are still extremely pertinent today, such as how we define 'human', how our notion of gender is culturally constructed, and how human consciousness and the human sense of subjectivity and identity relate both to the mind and to the physical body.

The question of what makes a human 'human' was of particular interest in the Middle Ages, and literary texts provided an important forum for the exploration of ideas about the human/animal divide, supernatural versus natural beings, nature versus nurture in the creation of gender identity (women often being viewed as lesser, imperfect versions of men), and the cultural perception of madness and its relation to identity.

The course will focus on literary texts composed and circulated in northern France and England from the 12th to the 15th century. All texts will be studied in English translation, but editions in the original language will also be recommended. Texts will include those that explore human/animal metamorphosis in the shape of the werewolf and the supernatural 'Mélusine' who transforms into a serpent, focusing on their relation to gender stereotypes and courtly ideology.

Other texts will examine the portrayal and role of the giant as a reflection of anxieties about Otherness and chivalric ideology; gender identity through the romance of 'Silence', which questions the notion that gender identity is a natural given; the depiction of madness that goes beyond the frame of the physical, gendered body to raise the question of where human identity lies: in the body, or in the mind. In these texts the liminality and instability of identity and its cultural construction are explored.

Through the exploration of such questions, students will gain insight into the way in which medieval literary texts engage with, debate, and at times subvert contemporary ideologies and beliefs. Secondary reading will include modern critical and gender theory, enabling students to link the medieval exploration of human identity with that of modern scholarship.
The course will be taught in English.

The course will be taught through interactive seminars. Readings from a primary text and secondary sources will be set for each week and interpretation and analysis will be guided by a set of questions focusing on the main themes and ideas of each seminar in order to give a starting-point for student discussion and aid analysis. A contextualising introduction to new texts will be given at the beginning of the seminar.

Students will be required to submit a critical summary of an item of secondary reading (book chapter or article), and to describe how the secondary reading relates to their chosen text and aids textual analysis.

Students will submit a 2,000 word essay at the end of the course.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2024/25, Not available to visiting students (SS1) Quota:  21
Course Start Semester 1
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 20, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 176 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) 100% Coursework:

70%: Final Essay (1900 words, Hons and 1600 words, Ord)

20%: Group presentation as a Powerpoint with audio recording

10%: Class participation
Feedback Students receive 2 types of feedback:
Critical summary feedback and marks (written)
Coursework Essay feedback and marks (written, and verbal upon request)
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. demonstrate knowledge and understanding of a range of medieval literary texts in their socio-historical and cultural context.
  2. select and apply theoretical and methodological approaches in their critical evaluation of medieval texts.
  3. critically analyse, interpret and review primary and secondary sources on the course bibliographies, and demonstrate an ability to synthesise ideas, concepts and issues relating to the focus of the course.
  4. construct coherent arguments which engage effectively with the sources and their contexts and to present them clearly in both oral and written form.
  5. demonstrate autonomy and initiative in their activities, carry out independent research under the guidance of the tutor.
Reading List
Set texts
Extracts from:
Chrétien de Troyes, Yvain, or the Knight with the Cart in Arthurian romances, translated with an introduction and notes by William W. Kibler ; Erec and Enide translated by Carleton W. Carroll (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1991)
Anon, The Folie Tristan d'Oxford, in The Birth of Romance: an anthology; four twelfth-century Anglo-Norman romances, trans. Judith Weiss; ed. Malcolm Andrew (London: Dent, 1992), pp. 121-40
Geoffrey of Monmouth, The History of the Kings of Britain, trans. Lewis Thorpe (London: Penguin, 1966)
Heldris de Cornualle, Silence: A Thirteenth-Century Romance, ed. and trans. Sarah Roche-Mahdi (East Lansing: Colleagues Press, 1992)
Jean d'Arras, Mélusine or the Noble History of Lusignan, translated and with an introduction by Donald Maddox and Sarah Sturm-Maddox (Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania University Press, 2012)
Mandeville, Sir John, The Book of Marvels and Travels, trans. Anthony Bale, Oxford World Classics (Oxford University Press, 2012)
Marco Polo, The Travels, ed. Ronald Latham (London: Penguin, 2004)
Marie de France, Lais of Marie de France. Text and Translation, ed. and trans. Claire M. Waters (Ontario: Broadview Press, 2018)
Ovid, Metamorphoses, translated and with an introduction by Mary M. Innes (London: Penguin, 1955)

Secondary Reading:
R. Howard Bloch, The Anonymous Marie de France (Chicago: University of Chicago Press; 2003)
Burns, E. Jane, Bodytalk: When Women Speak in Old French Literature (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993).
Brownlee, Kevin, 'Mélusine's Hybrid Body and the Poetics of Metamorphosis', Yale French Studies, 86, Corps Mystique, Corps Sacré: Textual Transfigurations of the Body from the Middle Ages to the Seventeenth Century (1994): 18-38
Butler, Judith, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York and London: Routledge, 1990)
Bynum, Caroline Walker, 'Metamorphosis, or Gerald and the Werewolf', Speculum, 73 (1998): 987-1013
Bynum, Caroline Walker, Metamorphosis and Identity (New York: Zone Books, 2001)
Callahan, Christopher, 'Lyric Discourse and Female Vocality: On the Unsilencing of Silence', Arthuriana, 12, No. 1 (2002): 123-131
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome, Of Giants: Sex, Monsters, and the Middle Ages (University of Minnesota Press, 1999)
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome, Medieval Identity Machines (University of Minnesota Press, 2003)
Dunton-Downer, Leslie, 'Wolf Man', in Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Bonnie Wheeler (eds), Becoming Male in the Middle Ages (New York and London: Garland, 1997), pp. 203-18
Gaunt, Simon, Marco Polo's Le Devisement du Monde: Narrative Voice, Language and Diversity (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2013).
Griffin, Miranda, Transforming Tales: Rewriting Metamorphosis in Medieval French Literature (OUP, 2015)
Huot, Sylvia, Madness in Medieval French Literature: Identities Found and Lost (OUP, 2003)
Huot, Sylvia, Outsiders: The Humanity and Inhumanity of Giants in Medieval French Prose Romance (University of Notre Dame Press, 2016)
Jewers, Caroline A., 'The Non-Existent Knight: Adventure in Le Roman de Silence', Arthuriana, Vol. 7, No. 2 (1997): 87-110
Kinoshita, Sharon, 'Cherchez la femme: feminist criticism and Marie de France's Lai de Lanval', Romance Notes, 34 (1994): 263-273
Kinoshita, Sharon, Heldris de Cornuälle's Roman de Silence and the Feudal Politics of Lineage', PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 110 (1995), 397-409
Léglu, Catherine, 'Nourishing Lineage in the earliest French versions of the Roman de Mélusine', Medium Ævum, 74 (2005), 71-85
Salisbury, Joyce E., The Beast Within: Animals in the Middle Ages (London, New York: Routledge, 1994)
Nichols, Stephen G., 'Deflections of the Body in the Old French Lay', Stanford French Review, 14 (1990), 27-50
Waters, Elizabeth A., 'The Third Path: Alternative Sex, Alternative Gender in Le Roman de Silence', Arthuriana, 7, (1997), 35-46
Yamamoto, Dorothy, The Boundaries of the Human in Medieval English Literature (Oxford University Press, 2000)
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills By the end of the course, students will have further developed their skills in the areas of research and enquiry, personal and intellectual autonomy, communication, and personal effectiveness. For further specification of these skills see the university's graduate and employability skills framework at
KeywordsMedieval literature,gender,definition of the human
Course organiserDr Fionnuala Sinclair
Tel: (0131 6)50 8423
Course secretaryMr Callum Lennie
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