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The Shock of the New: Medieval Literature - ENG00106I

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  • Department: English and Related Literature
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Holly James-Maddocks
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25

Module summary

The medieval period (1100–1500) was a time of remarkable innovation and transformation, with a legacy that endures to this day. Successive waves of immigration created a melting pot of peoples and languages in Britain. At the same time, individuals wrestled with the discovery of new worlds, both externally and within themselves. Travel, the crusades, and territorial conquest brought men and women into contact with strange and distant cultures. Advances in learning raised new questions about the nature of the self, man's relationship to the natural world, and the human capacity for love. The creative response to this dizzying series of developments is one of the most captivating, shocking, and exciting episodes in the history of English literature. Medieval authors drew deeply on the multicultural legacy of the Anglo-Saxon past and blended this with new literary, spiritual, and scientific ideas from elsewhere in Europe and beyond. Ancient texts were rediscovered and radical aesthetic experiments attempted. This module invites you to share in the shock of the new by reading a selection of major texts from the period, including romance, natural history, mystical visions, some of the earliest works of fiction, and even a medieval detective story. Along the way, you will encounter a cast of unforgettable characters, not least the legendary King Arthur, several werewolves, a runaway mystic, and a parliament of birds debating the meaning of love. The module includes visits to sites in the centre of York, one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Britain, where you will be encouraged to reflect creatively on the relationship between medieval literature and the built environment.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2024-25

Module aims

This module will introduce students to literature composed in Britain during the Middle Ages (c.1100–1500), a vibrant epoch that had a profound influence on later periods, extending up to the present day. Students will form an appreciation of the linguistic diversity, internationalism, and creativity of medieval literature.

Module learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, you will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate an informed understanding of and engagement with a range of texts and genres from the Middle Ages (c.1100–1500).

  2. Demonstrate an informed understanding of and engagement with some of the main innovations in literary culture across the medieval period, and the multilingual and international character of medieval literature.

  3. Examine key debates and critical contexts, demonstrating linguistic and critical skills in the close reading of medieval texts, both in Middle English and in translation.

  4. Develop oral and written arguments which demonstrate a proficiency in critical thinking and research skills.


Task Length % of module mark
2500 word Essay
N/A 70
Recorded Presentation
N/A 30

Special assessment rules




Module feedback

  • You will receive feedback on all assessed work within the University deadline, and will often receive it more quickly. The purpose of feedback is to inform your future work; it is designed to help you to improve your work, and the Department also offers you help in learning from your feedback. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further you can discuss it with your tutor or your supervisor, during their Open Office Hours.

  • For more information about the feedback you will receive for your work, see the department's Guide to Assessment.

Indicative reading

Key texts for this module may include:

  • The Life of Christina of Markyate,
  • The Lais of Marie de France,
  • The Book of Margery Kempe,
  • The Riverside Chaucer

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.