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SEL3090 : Chaucer, Chivalry, and Heresy in the Middle Ages

  • Offered for Year: 2020/21
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Aditi Nafde
  • Owning School: English Lit, Language & Linguistics
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


This module explores the writing of the late Middle Ages. It covers a long period of literature, 1350-1500, and as such encompasses a huge variety of genres and texts (such as dream visions, court fictions, political satire, romance, fabliau, autobiography, and didactic literature), written in diverse historical circumstances (during the Black Death, wars, the fall of the Plantagenets and the rise of the Tudors, the growth of political and religious dissent, the introduction of print and the expansion of literacy). The literature of the period exerted incalculable influence on everything that came after and testifies to the energy and innovation as well as the enduring significance of the literary culture of the long fifteenth century.

Outline Of Syllabus

This module examines Middle English literature through three major themes: writing, chivalry, and heresy. English was slowly establishing itself as the dominant literary and political language of the period. Late medieval literature itself is grounded in classical works, especially those of Virgil and Ovid, and the Bible. Writers, in particular Chaucer, responded creatively to influences and produced self-conscious reworking of older modes, which challenged ideas of literary authority. Notions of chivalry, courtliness, and knighthood pervaded within the framework of self-conscious writing, and this module will examine Arthurian narratives including Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Gawain narratives, Malory’s Le Morte Darthur, and Chaucer’s ‘The Knight’s Tale’. Taking a heretical turn in response to the political and religious controversies that pervaded the period, the module also examines Piers Plowman, texts of the Piers Plowman tradition, and the gender politics of Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion170:0070:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading185:0085:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching112:0022:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops81:3012:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyStudent-led group activity91:009:00Study Groups
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery21:002:00Group sessions or one-to-one tutorials
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Small group teaching seminars introduce students to knowledge outcomes and provide support for the guided reading of Middle English. Small group teaching seminars also develop this knowledge and enable the practice of skills, namely close textual analysis, critical thinking, literacy, oral, written, and interpersonal communication, and the synthesis and presentation of material. Workshops and surgeries offer students guidance and support for assessment completion. Study groups give students a chance to develop independent study and prepare for the seminars in terms that give them genuine ownership over the material.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Description Length Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written Examination902M25N/A
Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay2A753,000-word essay
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The mid-module exam will ask students to choose from a selection of passages of text in Middle English and to write a close commentary on their chosen passage.

The end of module essay will ask students to write a comparative essay comparing two different texts.

Offering a mix of modes of assessment (close reading, comparative/contextual analysis, and a reading of a single text) and ensuring good coverage of the texts on the module, the assessment will focus students upon detailed aspects of the material in terms that connect their ideas with the module’s broader thematic content.

Reading Lists