21H.007J | Fall 2012 | Undergraduate

Empire: Introduction to Ancient and Medieval Studies


Paper 3

Topic One

First, conduct a detailed assessment of the similarities and differences between the battles of Crécy and Poitiers: what Froissart claims happened at each, his tone regarding the activities and participants, the amount of space devoted to those activities and participants (and, equally interesting, what doesn’t get addressed).

Then, use the data that you have assembled to construct an argument about what Froissart’s narration of these battles suggests about his perspective on any one of the larger themes that this unit has addressed: different ways of interpreting “history,” the contested definitions of “chivalry,” or any other comparably large, meaty concept.

To succeed, your essay must use close, detailed textual analysis of the battle narratives—not just what Froissart says, but how he says it—to advance a broader argument about one of the major themes of this unit.

Topic Two

First, do a detailed close reading of the first two paragraphs of the introduction to our translation of Froissart’s _Chronicle_s (page 9 of my edition), in which Geoffrey Brereton articulates what he takes to be some of Froissart’s most salient characteristics as a writer—and in so doing, makes a lot of arguments both implicit and explicit about the nature of “the literary” and “the historical.” Decide what you think those arguments are; the close readings that substantiate your views should form a considerable portion of the body of your essay.

Then, use specific passages from the portions of the Chronicles that we have read to decide how fully you agree with Brereton. Where does Froissart sound most “literary” or “artistic,” and what aspects of those passages create that impression? Are the Chronicles a work of art as well as a source of data? Does the answer to that question matter in any concrete way?

To succeed, your essay must unite incisive close readings of modern scholars (Brereton’s introduction) with those of medieval texts (the Chronicles themselves), and then use those close readings in the service of a broader argument about the relationship between literature and history, art and fact.

Topic Three

Write an essay that compares how Froissart and the anonymous author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight grapple with the problem of interpretation, namely determining what a given event, object, or character “means.” What do these authors invest with interpretive potential? How and to what effect(s) do they do so? Where do they, by contrast, insist that a given event (or object, or character, etc.) in fact has no broader significance? How believable is that insistence, and what are its effects?

This is a very broad topic, and your essay is relatively short, so you will need to narrow it down pretty sharply; the questions above are ways of getting started but you cannot and should not try to answer all of them, or indeed any of them without close attention to specifics. I strongly encourage you to pick one, or at most two, passages from each of our two texts to use as case studies to help ground your broader argument about the meaning of meaning, as it were, in these two late-medieval texts.

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Written Assignments