21L.460 | Spring 2015 | Undergraduate

Medieval Literature: Love, Sex, and Marriage


Course Meeting Times

Sessions: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


One previous course in Literature

Course Description

It is easy to think of love as a “universal language” - but do ideas about love translate easily across history, culture, and identity? In this course, we will encounter some surprising, even disturbing ideas about love and sex from medieval writers and characters: For instance, that married people can never be in love, that the most satisfying romantic love incorporates pain and violence, and that intense erotic pleasure can be found in celibate service to God. Through Arthurian romances, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, love letters, mystical visions, and more, we will explore medieval attitudes toward marriage, sexuality, and gender roles. What can these perspectives teach us about the uniqueness of the Middle Ages—and how do medieval ideas about love continue to influence the beliefs and fantasies of our own culture?

Course Texts

Some of our readings for this course are now available online. Whenever our readings are not in book form, please print them out so that you can take good notes while you read and when we discuss them in class. To avoid unnecessary expense, I ask that you purchase only our longer texts, which are listed under Readings, or those for which the editor’s notes are especially important.

Assignments and Grading

You will be given a range of assignments in this course, including a short paper, two longer papers, and an oral presentation on a topic that interests you. There will be regular quizzes to help you stay on top of the readings and the challenges of Middle English. I will also ask you to participate in an online forum in which we record our personal responses to the texts we read, questions for class discussion, ideas for future writing, etc. While these entries will not receive a letter grade, they are designed to lay useful groundwork for your two major papers and are an important part of your class participation.

Paper 1 10%
Paper 2 (10% draft, 15% revision) 25%
Paper 3 30%
Reading quizzes 15%
Presentation 10%
MIT online forum / Class participation 10%

Attendance and Participation

Because this course is a seminar that thrives on the full group’s questions and conversations, your regular attendance and participation are essential both to your own learning and to your classmates’ learning. Please do not use laptops or other electronic devices in class; print your readings when applicable and take notes on paper. (If you feel you need to use a laptop or other electronic device during class for a specific reason, please speak with me and I will consider making an exception.)

Multiple unexcused absences and instances of lateness will lower your participation grade substantially, and will also have a serious impact on your reading quiz performance. Excused absences include illness, emergency, and possibly other circumstances discussed with me on a case-by-case basis. Please let me know of illness or emergency in advance whenever possible. Unexcused absences include unexplained absences, meetings or appointments scheduled over our class, and all other elective absences unless otherwise indicated by me.

Late Paper Policy

If hardship hinders your turning work in on time, speak with me about your situation in advance: I never grant extensions on or after due dates. Communication is key. Late papers will be penalized by one third of a letter grade per day late, starting after class on the due date. (In other words, an A paper turned in within 24 hours after class becomes an A-; within 24–48 hours, a B+; and so on.)

MIT Literature Statement on Plagiarism

Plagiarism—use of another’s intellectual work without acknowledgement—is a serious offense. It is the policy of the Literature Faculty that students who plagiarize will receive an F in the subject, and that the instructor will forward the case to the Committee on Discipline. Full acknowledgement for all information obtained from sources outside the classroom must be clearly stated in all written work submitted. All ideas, arguments, and direct phrasings taken from someone else’s work must be identified and properly footnoted. Quotations from other sources must be clearly marked as distinct from the student’s own work. For further guidance on the proper forms of attribution, consult the style guides available in the MIT Writing and Communication Center, and the MIT Website on Plagiarism

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2015
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments
Presentation Assignments
Activity Assignments