21L.460 | Spring 2004 | Undergraduate

Medieval Literature: Medieval Women Writers


Guidelines for Reader Responses

Reader Responses

Reader Responses should be 2 pages in length, type written in 12-point type, double-spaced with 1-inch margins on all sides, stapled together, and each page must be numbered. Each Reader Response will consist of three principal parts as described below:

  1. Identify some feature within the text (e.g., imagery, theme, incident, passage, narrative structure, framing device, style, sentence construction, message or moral, etc.) which happens to strike you as strange, unfamiliar, remarkable, or problematic, and explain what it is that you find so unusual about that particular element or how it differs from what you might have expected.

  2. Consider how that feature is operating within the text, what function or purpose it might be serving within its immediate context or within the broader narrative as a whole, and why it might have been represented in this particular manner rather than some other way.

  3. Then explain how this feature helps you to interpret the general meaning of the text as you explore the particular implications and consequences of your new understanding.

Presentation Assignment

Choose one of the following topics for a 10-minute in-class. One week later you will turn your presentation into a formal 5-page write-up. You will be required to conduct research on your topic from at least 3 published sources (one of which at least should be a full-length book, and no more than one may be from a web-site). The themes themselves are very broad and cover a long period of time, so you will need to exercise some discrimination in the information you choose to present. You should plan, therefore, on selecting information on the basis of its general significance (the important insights it provides into medieval culture, the spread of its influence, or the decisiveness of its impact and effects). In presenting your material, you should pay special attention to the consequences and implications for the lives of medieval women.

  1. The Consequences of the Fall of the Roman Empire
  2. Persecution and the Growth of the Institutional Church
  3. The Development of Monastic Communities and Religious Orders
  4. Warlord Societies and the Establishment of Feudalism
  5. Medieval Myths and Legends
  6. The Growth and Decline of the Carolingian Empire
  7. Medieval Queenship and Royal Institutions
  8. The Rise of Islam and the Christian Crusades
  9. The Gregorian Reform Movement (a.k.a. The Investiture Controversy)
  10. Changes in Marriage Arrangements and Church Legislation
  11. Eucharistic Devotion and New Traditions of Affective Piety
  12. Mysticism, Heresy, and the Institutional Church
  13. Homeopathic Medicine and Female Practitioners
  14. Town Life and Merchant Society in the Late Middle Ages
  15. Agriculture and Medieval Economies
  16. The Growth of Nations and Nationalism in the Late Middle Ages
  17. Scriptoria and Manuscript Production
  18. Medieval Music

Final Paper Assignment

Length: 8-10 typed pages, double-spaced in 12-point type, stapled, with pages numbered.

Choose one of the following topics and write a complete, well-developed, and coherent argument, which defines the significance of any key terms you apply, supplies evidence and illustrative examples from the texts to support your claims, and provides clear and consistent criteria for making judgments and drawing inferences. Your treatment should discuss in depth at least two and not more than three of the works studied this semester. (You may allude to any number of other works incidentally for the purpose of providing examples or counter-examples for your main argument). You are encouraged to do further research, and any information you receive from outside sources should be fully referenced with footnotes and bibliography.

  1. If, during the Middle Ages, women were traditionally excluded from the exercise of power on the basis of their presumed physical, moral, intellectual, and spiritual inferiority to men, consider the different strategies and tactics that individual women employed at different times to take control of their lives through the exercise of writing. Show how some were even able to convert perceived weaknesses into strengths.

  2. Consider the value of community and of a commonly shared tradition in light of the fact that most of these women writers lived in isolation from one another, were not exposed to the writings of other women, and only came into contact with the writings of men who typically did not share the same concerns as they did.

  3. In Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the Wife of Bath exclaims, “By God, if wommen hadde writen stories, / As clerkes han withinne hir oratories, / They wolde han writen of men moore wikkednesse / Than al the mark of Adam may redresse.” The truth is that women did write stories throughout the Middle Ages and that, for the most part, they did not openly castigate the male sex for its failings. Rather, they worked cooperatively with men who served as their teachers, confessors, secretaries, fathers, husbands, and lovers. Consider how these women envision gender relations and the role of gender in their writings.

  4. The Middle Ages is a period that extends for over a thousand years (ca. 450 - 1500). Most people who are unfamiliar with medieval societies and cultures would assume that nothing changed in the way people viewed the world during that time. Show how such preconceptions would be mistaken based on the evidence you adduce from three authors from three different timeperiods and/or locations.

  5. Choose a topic of your own. If you select this option, you should submit a written copy of your proposed essay question to your instructor for approval.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2004
Learning Resource Types
Presentation Assignments
Written Assignments