Before House Stark and House Lannister came the House of York and the House of Lancaster. The fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries in England witnessed a series of social and political upheavals, from the Black Death to the Wars of the Roses and the Reformation. English poetry responds to and intervenes in these events. Political writing influenced the decisions of kings, shaped public perception of national politics, and landed people in prison (or worse). This course makes a survey of the genre, 1300-1600, with special focus on William Langland’s Piers Plowman. We read canonical authors such as Chaucer and Langland alongside little-known texts from print and manuscript archives. Topics include periodization, multilingualism, the relationship between literature and politics, and the histories of poetic forms. No prior knowledge of Middle English required.


Singing and/or working (complaint and manorialism)
Crisis (Chaucer, ballads, and Westminster)
Politics in the future tense (prophecy, alliterative meter, and the Wars of the Roses)
An imaginary bomb with real shrapnel (Piers Plowman and the Peasants’ Revolt)
Grammar, the ground of all (Piers Plowman and institutions of education)
Antique modernity (satire, prophecy, prosody, and the Tudors)

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