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2018/19 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

ENGL2203 Medieval Poetry: Translation and Creative Rewriting

20 creditsClass Size: 12


Module manager: Dr Catherine Batt

Taught: Semester 2 (Jan to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2018/19

Pre-requisite qualifications

Grade B at A-level English (Language or Literature) or in a modern language (or the overseas equivalent), or an achieved mark of 56 or above in a Level 1 module in English / IMS, as a tender of ability to work with the Middle English.

This module is not approved as a discovery module

Module summary

In his great love poem, Troilus and Criseyde, Geoffrey Chaucer (pinching an idea from Horace) observes that language inevitably changes across time, and that words once considered eloquent and weighty may to later minds appear just plain weird. How then can poetry remote in time and space mean something in the twenty-first century? On the face of it, the task of engaging with such words may seem daunting; anyone approaching medieval poetry has to be a translator in all senses, from interpreting a half-alien language to understanding the cultural work the poetry is doing. But medieval poets are translators too, of course, and in this module (in which there will be full support for reading the Middle English) we will explore the work of two of the most important fourteenth-century writers, the Gawain-Poet and Chaucer, through the lens of translation and of modern creative responses. We focus on two poems; Chaucer’s finest work, drawing on classical and Italian models, is about the ill-fated love between Criseyde, a politically vulnerable young widow, and Troilus the Trojan prince, which blossoms during the siege of Troy. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, meanwhile, is an Arthurian romance written in an alliterative form that harks back to the earliest poetry in English. Its timeless insights into human psychology and sexuality, its virtuoso evocations of nature, and its extraordinary poetic form, have moved many modern writers, including J. R. R. Tolkien and Simon Armitage, to translate it into new poetry for post-medieval times. We shall consider recent work on translation practice, and in particular, Lawrence Venuti’s arguments about the translator’s ‘invisibility’, as we read these modern re-workings. But what better way to understand how these poems work than to do some translation of our own? In addition to seminars, lectures will supply cultural background to our texts, and in workshops we will see how our poetic responses can stand excitingly at the interface of creativity and literary analysis. [Note that you may submit creative work for assessment, but it is not a mandatory element of assessment for this module.]


This module gives participants access to the language and canonical literature of late fourteenth-century England by way of translation studies and critical appreciation of and practice in post-medieval creative re-workings of the texts studied.

Learning outcomes
Candidates will gain insight into the nature and structure of medieval and modern poetry through both critical analysis and creative engagement. They will gain an understanding of translation as a creative act and a creative process, and will have the opportunity to appreciate in practical terms, through their own creativity, how poetry grows out of its relation with medieval practice and achievement. In more general terms, the module develops critical thinking, problem-solving by creative means, creative ability, flexibility of thought, linguistic and literary analytical skills and translation skills. It supports and develops: the ability to work both in a team and independently; initiative; planning and organisational skills.

Skills outcomes
Literary analysis; translation skills; poetry appreciation and composition; Middle English Language training.
The module will develop: skills for effective communication, oral and written; capacity to analyse and critically examine diverse forms of discourse; ability to acquire quantities of complex information of diverse kinds in a structured and systematic way; capacity for independent thought and judgement; critical reasoning; research skills, including information retrieval skills, the organisation of material, and the evaluation of its importance; IT skills; Time management and organisational skills; independent learning.


Teaching will be organised around analysis of the poetic and creative strategies of two major poems of the late fourteenth century, Geoffrey Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde and the anonymous Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and modern poetic responses to them. Seminars will consider the multilingual background of these poems’ composition, and the cultural importance of medieval translation as a context for examining Chaucer’s translation techniques and the Gawain-Poet’s use of sources. While the earlier part of the module will also engage with modern re-writing of Chaucer, in later weeks students will explore SGGK with particular attention to a sample of its many modern translations (for example, by J. R. R. Tolkien and Simon Armitage).
Lectures will supply background to the central subjects and themes of the module, while in two workshops (in which a critical writing colleague will be invited to participate) students will experiment with their own creative responses to medieval poetry.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours185.00
Total Contact hours15.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay1700 Word Essay35.00
EssayEssay OR Creative Assignment total 2750 words65.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 30/04/2018


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