Welcome to SPACE, our adult continuing education program which offers interactive monthly courses for personal enrichment! Learn more here.

Dr. Liam Daley

Signum MA FacultySPACE Preceptor

Medieval and Renaissance Literature

Liam earned his PhD in English at the University of Maryland, College Park, focusing on literature of the Middle Ages and Renaissance – in particular, how the difference between “history” and “literature” changes from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, and what happens when Renaissance playwrights put medieval history on stage. [see full bio...]

All Modules

Boccaccio’s The Decameron

Boccaccio’s fourteenth-century masterpiece shows ten young Florentine nobles fleeing a city devastated by plague, retiring to a country villa to divert themselves with the telling of tales—one tale each for ten days. Populated by gullible merchants, wily apprentices, self-possessed daughters, and libidinous nuns, these tales feature a series of practical jokes, remarkable journeys, love, deception, and family drama—all with a blend of wit, wonderment, and buffoonery. From this hundredfold collection, our class will look at just a decimal selection—a curated “top ten” tales from this set of ten tens. We conclude the course by watching the 2017 film adaptation of two of these tales, The Little Hours.

Chrétien de Troyes: "Lancelot, Knight of the Cart" and "Erec & Enide"

Discussion-based Format
This course explores two works by Arthurian legend-maker, Chrétien de Troyes. In the first-ever tale of Sir Lancelot, "The Knight of the Cart," Chretien invents the hero who loves Queen Guinevere beyond all bounds of reason—so much that he will face deadly and (even worse) socially humiliating perils to prove his devotion. In the early work, "Erec and Enide," Chretien perhaps invents the tradition of Arthurian courtly romance itself. With Camelot as its background, the knight Erec and maiden Enide pass through a series of trials testing their bravery and love for each other. Told with a mixture of heroic panache, comic irony, and relish for entertaining detail, these foundational works of Arthurian romance show the genius of master story-teller of the high Middle Ages.

Chretien de Troyes: “Yvain, Knight of the Lion” and “Cliges”

Discussion-based Format
It’s twelfth-century France, and on the battlefield, knights are fighting in deadly earnest—but around the fireside, courtly men and ladies can read about knightly deeds of arms and feats of love in safety and comfort. And today, we still can as well! This course explores two Arthurian romances of the master-romancer, Chretien de Troyes. In “Yvain, Knight of the Lion,” held by many to be Chretien’s masterpiece, Yvain learns that rash attempts at heroism sometimes have unexpected and disastrous consequences—but then again, sometimes earn the friendship of a heroic, feline beast. The story of “Cliges” (what medievalist Derek Pearsall calls Chretien’s most “lavishly plotted” romance) follows, first, the career of a knight, Alexander, and then years later, that of his son, Cliges—two men whose choices in both love and war prove that history doesn’t always repeat itself.

Cinema Club: Shakespeare's "Macbeth"

Discussion-based Format
In this course, we’ll watch and discuss three different cinematic adaptations of Shakespeare’s "Macbeth": Roman Polanski’s classic take on this tragedy (1971); Akira Kurosawa’s acclaimed Japanese adaptation, Kumonosu-jō (English title: Throne of Blood , 1957); and the recent innovated interpretation by Joel Cohen (2021), starring Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand. We will also consult reviews and scholarly articles on Shakespeare cinema generally and these films in particular.

This module is structured so that 3 of the 8 meetings will serve as “movie nights” where the class will watch the films together as group. Admittedly, these meetings will be longer than an hour, so attendance beyond the hour is optional, of course. After a General Introduction (Meeting 1), Meeting 2 will serve as the “movie night” for Polanski's adaptation, followed by discussion of the film in Meeting 3. We follow this pattern for the Kurosawa version (Meetings 4 & 5) and the Cohen version (Meetings 6 & 7), before ending with a look back at all three versions (Meeting 8).

Creative Writing: Intro to Scriptwriting (10-Minute Scenes)

Discussion-based Format
Learn the fundamentals of dialogue, action, and dramatic structure in this introduction to writing for performance. Working within the limits of one set, three actors, and ten minutes, participants in this class will learn the basic building blocks of script-writing by crafting short, stand-alone narratives for the stage. Though we will be looking at a few contemporary short plays as examples, the bulk of this class will focus on writing and workshopping your own original scripts.

Gothic Doubles: Dr Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and The Picture of Dorian Gray

Two classics of Gothic literature wrestle with the problem of good and evil: Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890). The former, a work of early science fiction, and the latter, a Faustian fantasy, both imagine a human psyche divided in two. In Stevenson’s tale, Dr. Jekyll attempts to isolate and contain the evil side of his nature, but creates a monster he cannot control. In Wilde’s “poisonous book,” Dorian enjoys seemingly eternal youth while his portrait suffers the physical and moral consequences of his wickedness—only to learn that (as the saying goes), sooner or later, we all get the face we deserve.

In examining this sinister pair of pairs, this course looks first at the text of each novel. Next, we survey the shock and alarm these books inspired among the Victorian public, as captured by a range of early reader responses. In their contrasting approach to the same theme, both works reveal insights into the fragility of human identity, the limits of scientific understanding, and the dark power of artistic creation.

Le Morte Darthur

This series explores Sir Thomas Malory’s masterpiece of Arthurian literature, Le Morte Darthur—one course for each of the work’s eight books or tales. This fifteenth-century retelling is for many the consummate version of the Arthur legend, combining notable elements of prior versions in a form that would influence later retellings for centuries. Context will also be provided on Malory’s life and times, the first printing of his writings by William Caxton in 1485, and the remarkable twentieth-century discovery of the now-standard but then-unknown version of Le Morte Darthur in the form of the Winchester Manuscript.

Le Morte Darthur: Arthur's Origins in Malory's "The Tale of King Arthur"

This module explores Sir Thomas Malory’s masterpiece of Arthurian literature,Le Morte Darthur. This fifteenth-century retelling is for many the consummate version of the Arthur legend, combining notable elements of prior versions in a form that would influence later retellings for centuries. The first book of Mallory’s complete work, “The Tale of King Arthur,” includes such crucial Arthurian elements as the Sword in the Stone, the bestowal of Excalibur by the Lady of the Lake, and the founding of the Round Table. Interspersed among these are Arthur’s first encounter with the Questing Beast, an attempted usurpation by Morgan Le Fay, the tragic tale of the two brothers, Sir Balin and Sir Balan, and numerous other episodes and adventures. Context will also be provided on Malory’s life and times, the first printing of his writings by William Caxton in 1485, and the remarkable twentieth-century discovery of the now-standard but then-unknown version of Le Morte Darthur in the form of the Winchester Manuscript.

Le Morte Darthur: Knighthood and Chivalry in Malory's Tales of Sir Lancelot, Sir Gareth, and the War with Rome

This module explores Books II, III, and IV of Le Morte Darthur, offering three short, stand-alone tales of Arthur, his knights, and the wider world they inhabit.

Book II, “The Tale of the Noble King Arthur that was Emperor,” shows Malory’s version of King Arthur as military leader and conqueror of Rome. Adapted from the late Middle English alliterative tradition, this tale was not included in Caxton’s original 15th century printing, but only discovered in 1934 with the finding of the lost Winchester Manuscript.

Book III, “A Noble Tale of Sir Launcelot du Lake,” shows Lancelot’s kidnapping by Morgan Le Fay, with the political and amatory complications that arise.

And finally, Book IV, “The Tale of Sir Gareth,” (evidently the only tale that Malory invented himself) follows Gawain’s younger brother Gareth from seemingly-lowly origins, through trials and mockery, to eventual triumph as full-fledged knight. With a mixture of the chivalry, comedy, and romance, these three tales make essential reading for any fan of the Arthurian cannon.

Note: Students may participate in this series in any month even if they did not take a previous class in the series.

Le Morte Darthur: Looking for Love in Malory's "Tristram and Isolde"

Before it captured the imagination of Wagner and Tennyson, the doomed love affair between Tristan (or Tristram) and the Belle Isolde was recorded by England’s most prolific Arthurian chronicler, Sir Thomas Malory. Included within his sprawling Morte Darthur, Malory’s version of this narrative combines the best elements of the versions that came before and would influence all those that followed.

Placing Malory's version within the broader Arthurian context, this course begins with a brief look at some of Malory’s English and continental predecessors. From there, we read Tristram’s narrative from his anguished origins, through the love-triangle between himself, Isolde, and the scoundrelly King Marc (Tristram’s uncle and Isolde’s husband), to it's tragic conclusion. Amidst war, sorcery, political intrigue, and rancorous family conflicts, the two lovers attempt to snatch what happiness they can before it all comes crashing down.

The story also features the often-poignant and (for medieval audiences) hugely popular adventures of the Saracen knight, Sir Palomides—including his friendship and rivalry with Tristram, his unrequited love for Isolde, and his taking up of the hunt for the Questing Beast. All in all, The Tale of Sir Tristram contains in microcosm all of the major themes and relationship found throughout Le Morte Darthur and Arthurian literature as a whole.

Le Morte Darthur: Seeking the Holy Grail in Malory and Monty Python

Mixed Lecture/Discussion Format
To achieve the Holy Grail, Sir Lancelot, Sir Galahad and others must face formidable Black Knights, alluring temptresses, inscrutable hermits, and untold supernatural perils—in two works created five-hundred-and-five years apart.

“The Tale of the Sankgreal,” disseminated as part of Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur (1470) and the incontestable masterpiece of modern Arthurian cinema, Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) are arguably the most popular and influential versions of this story from a twenty-first century standpoint. These contrasting visions of the Grail Quest also share striking and unexpected similarities in terms of plot, form, and tone. This course looks closely at Malory’s text and the Pythons’ oddly-faithful film reinterpretation, side by side. In so doing, we explore what Arthur, the Grail, and the Middle Ages mean to modern audiences, and how changes in form and context radically shape how stories are told and understood.

Le Morte Darthur: Sir Thomas Malory's "The Death of King Arthur"

Discussion-based Format
“Yet some men say in many parts of England that King Arthur is not dead… and men say that he shall come again…”

Is Arthur dead? Or was he taken to Avalon to be healed? And will he indeed come again one day? Written within the confines of a common prison, Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte Darthur (c. 1470) addresses these very questions—trying to make sense of Arthur's legendary reign and “piteous” death for a war-torn England at the very close of the Middle Ages. In reading Malory's widely beloved and arguably definitive retelling of the death of the Arthur, this course examines the final dissolution of the Round Table, from the doomed love affair of Lancelot and Guinevere to Arthur's fatal (or near-fatal) wounding by Mordred—a continuous narrative contained within the last two books of Malory's sprawling chronicle, “The Book of Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere” and the titular “The Most Piteous Tale of the Morte Arthur.” Told with a both poignant sense of loss and an undisguised enthusiasm for chivalric adventure, this lively and idiosyncratic tale of Arthur's death combines the best of all the Arthurian epics that preceded it, and would influence all those that would follow after.

Inventing King Arthur: Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain

This course offers an in-depth look at the first complete “historical” narrative of the reign of King Arthur, Geoffrey’s Historia Regum Britanniae – as well as the centuries-long controversy this book generated. Comprising almost a quarter of Geoffrey’s History (Books 4 – 11), this crucial first account of the king includes the arrival of the Saxons in England, a battle of dragons, the boy Merlin’s prophetic visions, Arthur’s magically-contrived conception, his conquest of Rome, and his overthrown and death at the hands of his nephew Mordred. This course will also look at the battle of books that ensued following the appearance of Geoffrey’s work, with some contemporary chroniclers alleging that Geoffrey had simply made the whole thing up, and others rallying to Geoffrey’s (and Arthur’s) defense.

Inventing the Holy Grail: Chretien de Troyes's complete “Perceval"

Discussion-based Format
The story of the Holy Grail that was sought by King Arthur’s knights begins with this tale: Chretien de Troyes’s “Perceval, or the Story of the Grail.” This coming-of-age story follows the adventures of Perceval, as he moves from rustic ignorance of his own identity into full-fledged knighthood. As series of mistakes, triumphs, and misadventures leads him almost (but not quite) to the discovery of that most holy of relics. His journey of spiritual understanding, like the quest for the Holy Grail itself, remains incomplete as Chretien’s unfinished romance breaks off in mid-sentence. This course, however, continues Perceval’s story through the numerous continuations of additions by which different authors brought to the tale within a century of its first appearance.

Note on Text: While most of Prof. Daley’s courses are flexible with regard to edition, in this case there is only one English translation that provides the complete text of Chretien’s “Perceval,” and all of the surviving translations: Nigel Bryant’s The Complete Story of the Grail, listed below.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: Text, Translation, Film

Can Sir Gawain keep his honor without losing his head? This short classic of Middle English chivalric romance follows Gawain on a quest testing his heroism, social etiquette, sexual virtue, and existential sense of self. This course explores: first, the extraordinary history of the single, unique manuscript which preserves this poem (as it “slept” on a library shelf for 400 years, escaped destruction by fire, and was eventually rediscovered in the 19th century); second, the translations which brought this poem to a twentieth century readership – focusing in particular on J.R.R. Tolkien’s; and finally, the 2021 film by David Lowery.

Medieval Drama: Staging the English Bible

Late medieval English drama brought episodes from The Bible to life in days-long festivals of pomp and pageantry—but what these plays really show us is the day-to-day lives of ordinary men and women of the fifteenth century. With a mixture of lavish spectacle, slapstick comedy, and intimate poignancy, these plays populate the biblical world with familiar figures of the medieval city-life: shrewd workmen and cunning criminals; disgruntled wives and worried husbands; the friends, family, and neighbors of plays’ writers and performers.

This course looks at a sampling of plays from the great civic drama cycles of York, Chester, Coventry, and elsewhere, including Noah’s Flood, The Second Shepherd’s Play, Herod’s Slaughter of the Innocents, The Crucifixion, The Harrowing of Hell, and The Last Judgement. The works presented here offer both a grand history of the world from Creation to Doomsday, and locally-rooted, vernacular versions of a text then otherwise available only in Latin. Knowledge of Middle English is not required since this course will use the modern-spelling edition by Prof. A. C. Cawley. Scholarly online Middle English versions, however, will also be made available for students wishing to practice their skills in that area.

Reading Middle English: An introduction to Middle English Language and Literature

Discussion-based Format
This course introduces the basics of Middle English language and literature, including grammar, syntax, and pronunciation. Designed for students new to reading Middle English texts in their original form, the course focuses mainly on the English of London and the south of England in the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries—the language of Chaucer, Gower, Langland and others.

As a language-learning course as well as a literature course, the first half of each meeting will be devoted to reading Middle English aloud and answering questions about pronunciation and comprehension; the second half will focus on the reading’s content, from basics of plot and conventions of genre to the historical context of each text. Course readings include: a selection of lyric poetry, two short poems by Chaucer, the chivalric romance Sir Orfeo, the Chester play of “Noah’s Flood,” a chronicle of the reign of King Henry V, Chaucer’s “Treatise on the Astrolabe,” and selections from the Paston Letters (noble family during the Wars of the Roses).

Shakespeare's Epic Fairy Tales: Pericles and Cymbeline

This module looks at two late plays frequently overlooked in Shakespeare studies: Pericles, Prince of Tyre and Cymbeline. In Pericles, Shakespeare and collaborator George Wilkins present a medievalist fairy-tale of adventure on the high seas, set in the ancient Mediterranean and narrated by Middle English poet, John Gower. In Cymbeline, a princess’s attempt to rid herself of the suitor she loathes and reunite with the man she loves leads to a tangle of escapes, pursuits, and mistaken identities. Decried by some critics for their eccentric and eclectic plots, both plays feature grand voyages across land and sea, benevolent magic, and the loss and recovery of true love.

Shakespeare's Epic Fairy Tales: "The Winter's Tale" and "The Two Noble Kinsmen"

Discussion-based Format
This module continues the examination of Shakespeare’s late work with two baffling and beautiful plays. "The Winter’s Tale" begs the question: where does art end and magic begin? Containing the bard’s most famous stage direction—“Exit, pursued by a bear”—this tale of jealousy and forgiveness transforms from domestic tragedy into pastoral comedy, before finally arriving Shakespeare’s strangest endings. "The Two Noble Kinsmen", Shakespeare’s final work, gives Chaucer’s Middle English "The Knight’s Tale" a Renaissance rewrite. Co-authored with rising start of the Jacobean stage, John Fletcher, this tragicomedy expands the scope of Chaucer’s female characters while hinting at range of suppressed, taboo romantic desires. Blending the poignant and the absurd, the playwrights claim they only hope their “modern” adaptation won’t raise Chaucer’s angry ghost!

Shakespeare’s Forgotten Plays: The English Histories

This module examines two English history plays frequently overlooked in Shakespeare studies: King Henry VI, Part 1 and King John. The rollicking wartime melodrama, King Henry VI, Part 1, shows Joan of Arc from the English perspective as a foul-mouthed, lascivious witch. The virtuous milksop King Henry VI is all but overshadowed in his own play as Joan bedevils the English forces in France again and again—until her own downfall and death. Shakespeare’s most satirically comical history, King John, by contrast, shows a monarch neither competent nor virtuous! Between John’s corrupt and cowardly bungling of a war France, a war with the Pope, and rebellion at home, England’s only hope is the play’s unlikely (and ahistorical) hero—the wily and charming bastard son of the late King Richard the Lionheart. Unlike most of Shakespeare’s English histories, both of these plays are comfortably stand-alone; no prior knowledge of Shakespeare’s other history plays required.

Shakespeare’s Forgotten Plays: The “Problem” Comedies

This module looks at two of Shakespeare’s darkest comedies (often described as “Problem Plays” and frequently overlooked in Shakespeare studies): Troilus and Cressida and Measure for Measure. Half an adaptation of Chaucer’s tragic romance, and half a reworking of Homer’s Iliad, Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida presents both the lovers and the warriors with a mixture of biting satire, comic buffoonery, and genuine pathos. Likely never staged in Shakespeare’s lifetime, this comedy-history-tragedy has puzzled readers since its first appearance in print. In Measure for Measure, a duke’s attempt to clean up his city’s seedy night-life quickly leads to the attempted sexual blackmail of a nun by duke’s chief deputy. In the chaos of bed-swapping and (threatened) head-chopping that follows, the play narrowly avoids outright tragedy, but whether the final ending could be called “happy” has been debated for centuries. These may actually be the strangest two play Shakespeare ever wrote.

Shakespeare’s Forgotten Plays: The Tragedies

This module looks at two tragedies frequently overlooked in Shakespeare studies: Titus Andronicus and Timon of Athens. Shakespeare’s earliest tragedy, Titus Andronicus, is also his bloodiest—a rollicking schoolboy burlesque of Roman history, Ovidian poetry, and Elizabethan revenge tragedy that eventually devolves into gory slapstick. Shakespeare’s late tragedy, Timon of Athens, by contrast, offers a scathingly misanthropic view of humanity in the financial and psychological ruin of Timon—an eccentric socialite turned embittered philosopher-hermit. With the first a box-office hit in its own day and the second never staged in Shakespeare lifetime, both plays have stood as two of the bard’s most challenging and provocative works to editors, directors, and readers ever since.

Shakespeare's King Lear

This module looks at arguably the greatest of Shakespeare's Tragedies--King Lear. Resolving to divide his kingdom between his daughters, the aged king banishes his closest allies from court, leaving himself and his realm prey to the self-interest and cruelty of those who remain. The course examines this tragedy of betrayal, madness, and family grudges act by act but also supplements these close studies of Shakespeare's text with discussions of the two variant early editions (in Quarto and Folio formats), a brief overview of Shakespeare's sources (Geoffrey of Monmoth's History of the Kings of Britain and Holinshed's Chronicles), and an examination of Nahum Tate's infamous happy-ending adaptation (the only version of the play staged for next 150 years). Expected weekly reading/listening: approx. 50-70 pages (spread across two hours of class).

The Making of a King: Shakespeare’s “Henriad"

"What art thou that counterfeit’st the person of a king?” This is the question asked (in more ways than one) by Shakespeare’s coming-of-age trilogy about England’s most popular medieval monarch—King Henry V. Beginning with his youth in King Henry IV, Part 1, we see the riotous Prince Hal grow from wastrel, drunkard, and companion of highway robbers into the royal figure his war-torn country needs. After relapsing in Part 2, to the great consternation of his dying father King Henry IV, we finally see Hal lead his subjects on the battlefields of France as the mature king in Henry V. Charting his course between the demands of his kingly father, the peculiar philosophy of his friend and mentor, the exuberant Sir John Falstaff, and the dangers posed by a series of political and military rivals, Prince Hal becomes King Henry V by learning what it means to “act” the part of a king in the ways that matter most.

The (Other) Canterbury Tales

Discussion-based Format
If you’ve read some of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales , you probably encountered the chivalric grandeur of “The Knight’s Tale,” the irrepressible vitality of “The Wife of Bath’s Tale,” or the sinister irony of “The Pardoner’s Tale.” But what of the other pilgrims and their tales? This course looks at some of The Canterbury Tales that are less well-known but equally deserving of study: the beauty of the Squire’s unfinished orientalist fairy tale; the rancorous one-upsmanship of the Friar and Summoner’s exchange of tales on clerical abuses, Satanic bargains, and flatulence; or the pilgrims’ run in with an aspiring alchemist, the Canon, and the satirical tale of alchemy gone wrong offered by his servant, the Yeoman. This course will look at these tales and more in their original Middle English spelling.

The Wars of the Roses: Shakespeare’s "King Henry VI"

Discussion-based Format
King Henry V is dead. His son, Henry VI, is young, weak, and will later prove insane. As war with France escalates, in-fighting between fractious and power-hungry English nobles sparks a new war at home: the War of the Roses. Shakespeare’s "King Henry V", Parts 1, 2, and 3 depict this decades-long civil war between the houses of York and Lancaster with a mixture of tragedy, thwarted romance, and dark comedy, ending in the rise of the house of his own reigning queen—the Tudors!

Wild Beasts at the Tea Table: The Unnerving Tales of Saki

Something dangerous is lurking on the periphery of polite Edwardian society. Master of dark social comedy H. H. Munro (pen name “Saki”) offers a world populated by duchesses, vicars, and idle London playboys—but also escaped hyaenas, talking cats, werewolves, and malevolent pageant gods. When these wild, menacing forces intrude into a world of decorous familiarity and boredom, the results are shockingly funny (or sometimes just shocking). This course will examine a selection of Saki’s short fiction, along with a brief look at his biography and historical context. Marked by a combination of acid wit, sudden terrible reversals, and a knack for precisely conveying the unmentionable, Saki’s stories are essential reading for anyone interested in the gothic tale, the comic anecdote, or the craft of short fiction writing.
If you have any questions about the SPACE program, please reach out to [email protected].