Current and Upcoming Modules
In this course, we will "perform" and discuss a group of medieval plays formerly known as the Wakefield cycle. These plays, which include the famous "Second Shepherds Play" are considered masterpieces of dramatic craft, designed to bring fifteenth century English audiences into raucous-yet-reverent contact with sacred history--in a time when there was as yet no "fourth wall." As we read and reenact these plays, we will practice our Middle English, talk about staging and affective piety, and learn about these plays' suppression in newly-Protestant England, as well as their rediscovery in the early twentieth century.
In this course, we'll wrestle a bit with Grendel (no sword required) and explore the murky origins of the best-known medieval monster--trying to get to the bottom of some of the most enduring questions in Beowulf-scholarship: Is Grendel a spirit, a man, or a giant? Are we meant to sympathize with him? Why doesn't he speak? And why does he have a bag? This is primarily a close-reading of relevant passages in Beowulf (translation provided), but we'll pick up clues along the way from potential sources, analogues, scholarship, and modern adaptations.
In this course, we'll read the medieval bestseller, The Book of John Mandeville, journeying with its fictitious author to Jerusalem...and beyond. We'll find ourselves in the medieval Holy Land, as well as in the fabled realm of Prester John, the territories of monstrous peoples, the garden of the trees of the sun and moon, and finally at the very doorstep of Eden. What does this very popular travel account show us about the way Western medieval Christians viewed themselves in relation to the rest of the world? And how can Mandeville's account, with its hodge-podge of facts, monster legends, and miracle stories, serve as a guide for travelers today?
This course examines novellas, stories, and myths that predated Tolkien's Ents in Lord of the Rings, ranging from Ovid's Metamorphoses to Ask and Embla of Norse myth, to Weird nineteenth- and twentieth-century works, such as George MacDonald's Phantastes and Algernon Blackwood's The Man Whom the Trees Loved. We'll explore why people ascribe human qualities to trees (and why they're often irascible). Through these myths and stories, we will reconsider both what it is to be a tree, and what it is to be human.