course description (with Eric Weiskott):
Organized around the theme of the distant past, this course makes a study of selected works of medieval, early modern, and modern literature. We read four pairs of texts, selected to illustrate contrasting approaches to the long ago. We begin with two medieval works of Arthurian Romance, Malory’s Morte Arthure and the anonymous poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Next, remaining within the middle ages, we read two tales of the conversion of the English to Christianity: the anonymous St. Erkenwald and Geoffrey Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale. In our third unit, we consider how the medieval was imagined in the early modern period, reading Shakespeare’s 1 Henry IV and King Lear. Finally, we contrast Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe with Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Primary texts are supplemented with critical essays. Throughout, we consider the ways in which historical and legendary motifs—for instance, the Arthurian cycle–are used and re-used by generations of writers. A secondary aim is to discuss the phenomenon of medievalism, whereby the Middle Ages, which produced nostalgic literature of its own, became the object of modern nostalgia.