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

Postgraduate Course: Boundaries of the human: gender, madness and werewolves in medieval literature (CLLC11189)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Literatures, Languages and Cultures CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all 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 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, madness and gender performance.
Course description 1) Academic 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.

2) Outline Content

The course will focus on Anglo-Norman and French 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 Marie de France's lays (late 12th century), which introduce the concept of human/animal metamorphosis in the shape of the male werewolf, Bisclavret, and the role of the supernatural and the Otherworld as a counter to the masculine hegemony of the royal court and aristocratic marriage system in 'Lanval' and 'Yonec'. The romance-chronicle of 'Mélusine' (early 15th century) will explore metamorphosis, gender roles and the supernatural from a different perspective, through the tale of the female half-fairy being who transforms into a serpent every Saturday, yet who is also the venerated founder of a historical dynasty.

The romance of 'Silence' questions the notion that gender identity is a natural given and pits a personified Nature against a personified Nurture in a debate over the gender identity of Silence, born a girl but raised as a boy. This text crucially explores the idea of gender performance in an era where women were often depicted in religious and medical discourse as inferior versions of men, physically, mentally and emotionally, to the extent that they were viewed as beings closer to the animal than to the divine.

The depiction of madness in 'Tristan and Iseut' and in Chrétien de Troyes' 'Yvain' goes beyond the depiction 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 madman inhabits the liminal space of the forest, beyond culture and civilisation, in a space linked with the animal and the supernatural.

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.

3) Student Learning Experience

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 each be required to give a short presentation on one of the texts and its secondary reading, and to describe how the secondary reading relates to the text and aids textual analysis.

Students will be required to submit an essay plan for formative assessment.

Students will submit a 4,000 word essay at the end of the course.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2024/25, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  3
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% course work:

60%: Final essay (3,000 words)

20%: participation in discussion boards

20%: Oral presentation in group of 2-3: either in situ or PP+ audio recording (embedded in PP or separate file)
Feedback Formative feedback:
Students will receive oral feedback from the tutor and fellow students on their in-class presentation.
Students will receive written and oral feedback on their essay plan, to be submitted 4 weeks before the final essay deadline. They will each meet individually with the tutor to discuss their essay plan.
Written feedback will be given on the final essay, and oral feedback if requested.
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:
Jean d'Arras, Mélusine, or, The noble history of Lusignan, translated and with an introduction by Donald Maddox and Sara Sturm-Maddox (Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2012)
Heldris de Cornuaïlle, Le Roman de Silence. Published as: Silence: A Thirteenth-Century Romance, ed. and trans. by Sarah Roche-Mahdi (East Lansing: Colleagues Press, 1992)
Lais of Marie de France, translated with an introduction by Glyn S. Burgess and Keith Busby (London: Penguin Books, 1999)
Chrétien de Troyes, The knight with the lion, or, Yvain = Le chevalier au lion, edited and translated by William W. Kibler (New York; London: Garland,1985)
La Folie Tristan d'Oxford/The Madness of Tristan, in Early French Tristan Poems. Volume 1, ed. by Norris J. Lacy, (Woodbridge: D.S. Brewer, 1998), pp. 259-302
Guillaume de Palerne: an English translation of the 12th century French verse romance, ed. and trans by Leslie A. Sconduto (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2004)

Secondary Reading:
R. Howard Bloch, The Anonymous Marie de France (Chicago: University of Chicago Press; 2003)
Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York and London: Routledge, 1990)
E. Jane Burns, Bodytalk: When Women Speak in Old French Literature (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993).
Caroline Walker Bynum, Metamorphosis and Identity (New York: Zone Books, 2001)
Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Of Giants: Sex, Monsters, and the Middle Ages (University of Minnesota Press, 1999)
-- Medieval Identity Machines (University of Minnesota Press, 2003)
Leslie Dunton-Downer, '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.
Sylvia Huot, Madness in Medieval French Literature: Identities Found and Lost (OUP, 2003)
Linda Lomperis and Sarah Stanbury (eds), Feminist Approaches to the Body in Medieval Literature (Philadelphia, 1993)
Joyce E. Salisbury, The beast within: animals in the Middle Ages (London, New York: Routledge, 1994)
Dorothy Yamamoto, 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
Course organiserDr Fionnuala Sinclair
Tel: (0131 6)50 8423
Course secretaryMr Callum Lennie
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