2018-2019 Catalog

ENGL 311 Premodern Romance

Akin to the novel in modernity, romance was one of the most important genres of imaginative literature in medieval and early modern England (and Europe, more generally), and yet it was also the one that provoked the most profound moral and aesthetic concern. Hugely popular, romance was often condemned for its endless attention to pleasure, pain, and error, for its perverse magical stories of quest and exploration, for its unseemly analysis of chivalric duty and obsession - and even for its capacity to corrupt its readers beyond repair. Whether viewed as a genre of utopian dreaming or of lurid and dangerous narrative failure, romance is a vexed concept. By examining pre-modern and modern genre theory, this class will explore the formation of the category of romance across medieval and Renaissance England (with some attention paid to France, Italy, and Spain), thus giving students an opportunity to consider how genre can enable and constrain understanding of particular works of literature. We will focus the majority of our attention on two of the most anomalous expressions of the genre: Geoffrey Chaucer's Troilus and Crisyede and several books of Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene. These poems relentlessly reflect on their own status as romances; their examinations of story-telling and power, gender and sexuality, spectacle and violence are acute. At the end of the semester, we may turn to more recent speculative fictions (such as Samuel R. Delany's Nova) to get a sense of how pre-modern romance remains an archive for some of the most exciting cultural production today.


4 units


Any 100- or 200-level English course, or junior or senior standing

Core Requirements Met

  • Regional Focus
  • Pre-1800