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May 21, 2010

Good luck for the exam!

Tuesday 1st June 2010 (week 6)

9:10am, Butterworth Hall

Best of luck to you all!

May 18, 2010

Optional sample commentary

This is an optional sample exercise, designed to give you practice on the commentary section of the exam. If you'd like to practice, please do e-mail me sample commentaries.

Comment briefly (approximately one side) on the following passage, taking into account points of interest in the passage itself, and its relation to the work as a whole.

'Lo, lord,' quoth the lede and the lace hondeled,
'This is the bende of this blame I bere in my nek;
This is the lothe and the losse that I laght have
Of cowardise and covetyse that I have caght thare;
This is the token of untrauthe that I am tan inne,
And I mot nedes it were whil I may last.
For none may hyden his harme bot unhap ne may hitte,
For ther hit ones is tached twynne wil hit never.

tached: attached
twynne: be separated

From Sir Gawain and The Green Knight, Fitt 4

May 12, 2010

Last Two Sample Translations

I'm posting these now so they're available for anyone who wants them. Here are the last two optional passages for translation, which gives you four in all to practice on. As ever, do feel free to e-mail me with your versions and I'll be happy to give you feedback. If you complete all four and want more (!), let me know.


"Nay, frayst I no fyght, in fayth I the telle.
Hit are aboute on this bench bot berdles childer.
If I were hasped in armes on a high stede,
Here is no mon me to mach, for myghtes so wayke.
Forthy I crave in this court a Cristmasse game,
For hit is Yol and Newe Yere and here are yep mony.
If any so hardy in this house holdes himselven,
Be so bold in his blode, brayn in his hed,
That dar stifly strike a stroke for an other,
I schal gif him of my gift this giserne rich,
This axe, that is hevy innogh, to hondele as him likes."

yep: young men
brayn: rash
giserne: axe

The Wife of Bath's Prologue

Wher can ye seye, in any manere age,
That hye God defended mariage
By expres word? I pray yow, telleth me.
Or where comanded he virginitee?
I woot as wel as ye, it is no drede,
Th'apostel, whan he speketh of maydenhede,
He seyde that precept therof hadde he noon.
Men may conseille a womman to been oon,
But conseillyng is no comandement.
He putte it in oure owene juggement;
For hadde God comanded maydenhede,
Thanne hadde he dampned weddyng with the dede.

expres: explicit
drede: doubt

April 30, 2010

Translation test and sample answers

Here are the two extracts from this week's translation test, and some sample answers. First, though, a couple of general tips/reminders.

1) Translate into PROSE, not verse. The reason I keep emphasising this is because it will allow you to see much better the grammar and syntax of your translated version. If you translate into verse, you run the risk of seeing each line as a self-contained unit, and not linking it correctly to the next.

2) Make sure it is MODERN English prose. Read it back to yourself afterwards - if you've let constructions like "It it be so" or "From me turn their hearts away" or "this grace I desire", say it back to yourself and ask yourself if that is really modern English, or if you're preserving archaic forms. This is a judgement call, but it will help you enormously with the next point.

3) Don't just modernise the words. If there's an easy line where all the words are obvious, too many of you are simply modernising the words and leaving them all in the same order. We're asking you to translate; if you just modernise, that's too mechanical, and has a habit of leaving you with archaic-sounding constructions, or sometimes simple nonsense. Even if it looks easy, we still want to see you creating something out of it that shows us you're engaging with the meaning as well as the words.

GAWAIN 2091-2109:

'For I have wonnen yow hider, wye, at this tyme,
And now nare ye not fer fro that note place
That ye han spied and spured so specially after.
Bot I schal say yow for sothe, sithen I yow know
And ye are a lede upon live that I wel lovie;
Wolde ye worch by my wyt, ye worthed the better.
The place that ye prese to ful perelous is holden.
There wones a wye in that waste the worst upon erthe,
For he is stif and sturn and to strike lovies.'

For I have brought you here, sir, at this time and you are now not far from that well-known place which you have sought and asked after so particularly. But I shall tell you truthfully, since I know you and since you are a living man whom I love well, that if you would act according to my suggestion you would fare better. The place that you are hurrying towards is considered to be very dangerous. A man lives there in that waste land who is the worst on earth, because is he strong and grim and loves to strike.

There are several possible variations. Note 'holden', which many people missed: the place is "held to be", "considered" to be very dangerous - that ambiguity, of course, is deliberate in terms of the (unknown) test Gawain is facing.

KNIGHT'S TALE: 2314-2325

And Palamon, that hath swich love to me,
And eek Arcite, that loveth me so soore,
This grace I preye thee withoute moore,
As sende love and pees bitwixe hem two,
And fro me turne awey hir hertes so
That al hire hoote love and hir desir,
And al hir bisy torment, and hir fir
Be queynt, or turned in another place.
And if so be thou wolt nat do me grace,
Or if my destynee be shapen so
That I shal nedes have oon of hem two,
As sende me hym that moost desireth me.

And as far as concerns Palamon, who has such love for me, and also Arcite who loves me so deeply, I pray you for this favour above anything else, that you should send love and peace between the two of them, and so turn their hearts away from me that all their hot love and desire, and their continual torment and fire should be quenched or directed in another direction. And if it happens that you do not wish to do me this favour or if my fate has been so organised that I must necessarily have one of the two of them, please give me the one who desires me the most.

The passage demanded something at the start to link the first two lines into the construction that follows: I suggested "as regards" to everyone, while the sample suggests "as far as concerns" - this is an example of needing to look at the whole in order to make sense of the individual lines. It's also worth making the distinction between "grace" and "favour" - obviously the passage uses the word "grace", but in modern English the context carries the sense of 'favour', 'reward' or 'request' far more strongly than the kind of 'grace' we discussed in relation to The Faerie Queene.

March 19, 2010

Re–reading suggestions

Here are some suggestions, questions and discussion points which you might like to bear in mind as you revisit our key texts over the next few weeks in your own time. They're obviously not exhaustive of the points of interest in each one, but this selection specifically tries to prompt some of the important debates and ideas that transcend individual texts and tie the Med/Ren module together.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

In the Everyman tradition of morality dramas, a “blank” human figure is manipulated on a spiritual journey by opposing forces of good and evil. How far is Gawain an “Everyman” figure? Can his spiritual journey be related to that of Redcrosse?

What do Gawain’s armour and arms signify? Think about the other armed knights we meet: Redcrosse, Britomart, Arthur. What happens when armour is removed? What kinds of spiritual, physical and moral protection do the knights depend on?

Gawain journeys from court through wild forests. There is a marked contrast between civilised and untamed spaces throughout our work: Faerie Queene, The Knight’s Tale, The Franklin’s Tale, Wyatt’s translations of Petrarch. How are these figures affected by their environments? What do they mean?

Hunting and love-making are closely linked in Fitt 3, and the figures of Cupid the archer and the chaste huntress Diana pervade Renaissance literature; how are love and violence associated throughout the course?

Honour and chivalric reputation are central to Gawain. What are we meant to understand by these concepts? Compare Gawain with his counterpart in The Wife of Bath’s Tale or the knights of Faerie Queene. How does honour develop?

Canterbury Tales

Cuckoldry and fears over women’s chastity pervade the Tales. How far are women active in seduction (cf Bertilak’s wife), and how far are they objectified (cf Florimell)?

What is a virtuous woman? The Wife of Bath, Dorigern and Emelye have some views. Compare them with the women of Faerie Queene Book III.

How does Fate pervade The Knight’s Tale and The Nun’s Priest’s Tale? Where does man fit into the universe? How much control do we have over our own destinies? Shakespeare and Sidney are preoccupied with this too, while Spenser creates his own mythology about how the universe perpetuates itself in the Garden of Adonis.

How do Chaucer and Spenser utilise fabliau motifs for educational/entertainment value? How does this fit in with Sidney’s theories on the power of poetry in Defence of Poesy? How cruel is their treatment of mankind?

Do the images of Eden in The Merchant’s Tale and Faerie Queene I.xi-xii have anything in common?

How much attention do we need to pay to the narrators of the Tales and their influence on the stories they tell? Can this be usefully compared to the strategies employed by the poets of Gawain and Faerie Queene, or the speakers of the sonnets? How artful are our poets?

Lyric Poetry

How painful is unrequited love? It’s described as an illness, a wound, an act of violence. Compare this to the masque of Cupid in the House of Busirane, or to the contrasting attitudes of Timias, the Witch’s son, Britomart herself, Aurelius (Franklin’s Tale), Palamon and Arcite or Damian (Merchant’s Tale), to name just a few.

How far is unrequited love about the object of love, and how far is it about the lover?

The importance of procreation is a major theme in the first seventeen sonnets of Shakespeare, as well as elsewhere. How far is this a wooing device? Or is there a genuine concern with the continuation of lines? See the importance of Britomart’s lineage and the contemporary concerns over Elizabeth’s heir. How, in all these, is procreation positioned in the ongoing war against time? Think about the Garden of Adonis.

What is the nature of “truth” in lyric poetry? What does Sidney argue is the value of poetic truth? Is truth, in fiction, even important (particularly if you’re trying to teach something)?

Spend some time looking at form and sound. How do the music of the lines and words impact on meaning? How does the formal, rhetorical construction of the whole piece (often built around a ‘volta’ or turn) turn each song or sonnet into an argument?

Faerie Queene

The allegory of Faerie Queene shifts and changes, like a “dream narrative”. How does this allegory compare to earlier stories such as The Knight’s Tale? How can these allegorical reading strategies help you interpret the sonnets? For example, Britomart’s entrance into the castle of Busirane plays on conventional ideas of what “fire” represents.

The formal complaints (rhetorical bemoaning of loss/unhappiness) of Una and Britomart are part of a formal tradition. How do they compare to those of Dorigern, Emelye or the speaker of Howard’s “O Happy Dames”?

How do the “tests” suffered by Redcrosse compare to the Green Knight’s challenging of Gawain?

Faerie Queene Book I is usefully read in light of the Reformation and anti-Catholic discourse. How do these political sentiments translate to the more political sonnets and songs we have looked at? What are the fears and anxieties that underpin the writing of the period?

How does Gloriana, Arthur’s (seemingly) unreachable goal, link to the striving of Petrarch, Sidney and Wyatt after their “loves”?

What are the greatest challenges facing good Christians? How do these challenges relate to those facing Gawain and Dorigern?

January 22, 2010

Sample Translations

Well done for all getting through the translation test. Here are some sample translations of the pieces you worked on. Note they're in prose - this is how we prefer you to format your answers. Any questions, as ever, come and see me.


'For were I worth all the won of wymmen alyve
And all the wele of the worlde were in my hande,
And I schulde chepen and chose to cheve me a lord,
For the costes that I have knowen upon the, knyght, here
Of bewty and debonerty and blithe semblaunt -
And that I have ere herkened and holde hit here true-
There schulde no freke upon folde before yow be chosen.'
'Iwis, worthy', quoth the wye, 'ye have waled wel better;
Bot I am proud of the pris that ye put on me
And, soberly your servaunt, my soverayn I holde yow
And your knight I becom and Cryst yow foryelde.'

"For if I was equal in merit to all the many women alive, and if I possessed all the wealth in the world and I were in a position to bargain and choose to get myself a husband, because of the qualities that I have seen you show here, sir, in beauty and courtesy and joyeous behaviour, which I had heard about before and consider to be correct, no man on earth should be chosen before you."

"Indeed, worthy lady," said the man, "you have chosen much better; but I am proud of the value that you set on me, and seriously as your servant I consider you to be my ruler, and I have become your knight, and may Christ recompense you."

Canterbury Tales

Out of the ground a furie infernal sterte,
From Pluto sent at requeste of Saturne,
For which his hors for fere gan to turne,
And leep aside, and foundred as he leep;
And er that Arcite may taken keep,
He pighte hym on the pomel of his heed,
That in the place he lay as he were deed,
His brest tobrosten with his sadel-bowe.
As blak he lay as any cole or crowe,
So was the blood yronnen in his face.
Anon he was yborn out of the place.

A fury from hell rose out of the ground, sent by Pluto in response to Saturn's request. Because of this his horse turned away in fear and jumped to the side and stumbled as it jumped. And before Arcite could react he banged his head on the pommel so that he lay there in that place as if he were dead, with his breast shattered by his saddle. The blood had run into his head so much that he lay there as black as any coal or crow. He was carried out of the place at once.

November 06, 2009

Gawain: Wrapping up

Now that we have finished Gawain, here are a few thoughts and resources which might be useful to you when you're coming back to revise or write essays. I'll add to this as more occur to me.

Gawain arrives home
Gawain is greeted by Arthur and Guinevere on his return to Camelot: illustration from the original MS.

1) Amanda Hopkins's website. This is an impressive set of links and resources on all things medieval, which Amanda has built up over her years of teaching Med/Ren.

2) Simon Armitage documentary. Armitage is the most recent translator of the poem, and his documentary was broadcast on BBC4 in the summer. It's not brilliantly academic, but there are some interesting nuggets in it. As he traces Gawain's "journey" around Britain, I would recommend it as a starting point if you were interested in writing about the poem's engagement with nature. The link is to an article on the project, but I have a copy of the DVD - just ask if you'd like to see it.

The temptation of Gawain by Lady Bertilak, from the original MS. (Notice how he's closing his eyes pretending to sleep!).

November 04, 2009

Essay Questions

For those of you who may have already lost the essay questions (or weren't in the lecture to collect them), here's a full list of the titles for your first unassessed essay.

These are to be submitted in the seminar on FRIDAY WEEK 10. Please write 2000 words on any ONE of the following questions.

If you are an Honours student (2nd or 3rd year), the essay must be 3000 words, and be submitted in duplicate to the English Department office by FRIDAY WEEK 10, and an electronic copy also submitted online. Details for doing this are on the department website.

The Questions:

1. What is the nature of Gawain's fault? What was the poet's purpose in writing about it?

2. What is the effect of the poet's detailed descriptions of three hunts in fitt 3? How should we relate the hunts to the bedroom scenes which they interrupt?

3. What does Sir Gawain and the Green Knight teach us about the character of Arthurian chivalry?

4. Examine the poet's use of patterning and symmetry in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

5. Discuss the relationships between the Tales that make up Fragment 1 of The Canterbury Tales (Knight's, Miller's, Reeve's).

6. Discuss the nature of the relationship between the tellers and their tales in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, referring to at least TWO tales in your answer.

7. How does Chaucer alter inherited stories and inherited genres in The Canterbury Tales? Refer to at least THREE tales.

8. Does it make sense to talk about a "marriage debate" in The Canterbury Tales? What is the conclusion, if any? You should refer to three of The Clerk's Tale, The Wife of Bath's Tale, The Merchant's Tale and The Franklin's Tale.

October 30, 2009

Gawain Fitt Four: Questions for Week Five seminar

For Week Five, read Fitt Four and celebrate reaching the end of the poem!

I have asked you to do some advance preparation in small groups. Here is a reminder of what you are looking at:

Aranya, Holly and Leisha (10am group); Lucy P, Jack and Heather (11am group)

Lines 2103-2125: The servant's speech to Gawain

How does the servant's strategy to make Gawain flee relate to the values elsewhere in the poem?

George and James (10am group); Lucy F and Rebecca (11am group)

Lines 2280-2283, 2299-2301, 2315-2330: Gawain's reactions to the three blows.

How does Gawain's emotional journey in these passages relate to his character elsewhere in the poem?

Charissa, Sam and Catherine (10am group); Zoe, Charlotte and Daniel (11am group)

Lines 2369-2388: Gawain's reaction to the Green Knight's explanation.

How does Gawain judge himself, in relation to the values elsewhere in the poem?

Hattie, Raj and Kieran (10am group); Bruno, Inga and Kate (11am group)

Lines 2411-2428: Gawain's discourse on women.

How does what Gawain says here fit with his character and the values upheld elsewhere in the poem? You may also find it helpful to look up the Bible stories he invokes.

In the seminar, you will all be introducing your section to members of other groups, so bring your thoughts, ideas and questions about what you've read.

Don't forget, also, that you need to hand in your commentary exercise in the seminar.

Gawain's motivations

As a reminder of the starting points for the debates in today's seminars, here's the complete list of motivations that you came up with for Gawain's various actions and choices in Fitt 3. The excellent debates in both seminars ranged far beyond these and came up with some impressively sophisticated networks of values and conduct, but here's what you started with:



Aspiration to Honour



Fear of God




Aspiration to Honour

Fear of Death

Loyalty to Mary






Nobility (Honour)




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