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Home > English home > Information for current students > Undergraduate > EN3222 Violence, Sex, and Magic in Medieval Literature
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EN3222 Violence, Sex, and Magic in Medieval Literature

Summer Reading List 2017-18

The Middle Ages are often characterised in the popular imagination as barbarous, incredulous, prudish, and naïve.  In this course we will address the presentation and function of violence, sex, and magic in a range of medieval literature, from the Old English Riddles to Arthurian romance.  In so doing, we will aim to understand the sophisticated but sometimes alien world views that lie behind them as well as the literary achievements of the works that contain them.  We will study texts from a variety of different genres in both Old and Middle English.


Links to electronic editions for most of the primary texts on this course can be found on Moodle.  We will contact you when the Moodle site is available.  The works that we will study include:

  • The Siege of Jerusalem
  • The Alliterative Morte Arthure
  • Beowulf
  • The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
  • Andreas
  • The Canons of Theodore
  • Wulf and Eadwacer
  • The Exeter Book Riddles
  • Chaucer’s Merchant’s Tale
  • The Book of Margery Kempe
  • Anglo-Saxon Charms
  • Medea Narratives (John Gower; Christine de Pizan)
  • Malory’s Morte Darthur

Structure of the Course:

We will meet for twenty 2-hour seminars, one per week. 


  • short seminar presentations
  • one unassessed commentary of 1500-2000 words


  • one essay of 7,000-8,000 words due in the summer term

Samples: Texts about Sex

Riddle 45

Ic on wincle gefrægn   weaxan nathwæt,

þindan ond þunian,   þecene hebban;

on þæt banlease   bryd grapode,

hygewlonc hondum,   hrægle þeahte

þrindende þing   þeodnes dohtor.  


I heard that something grew in a corner—swelled, stuck up, raised up its covering.  A lusty woman grabbed that boneless thing with her hands.  The prince’s daughter covered the swelling thing with a garment.

Riddle 54

Hyse cwom gangan,   þær he hie wisse

stondan in wincsele,   stop feorran to,

hror hægstealdmon,   hof his agen

hrægl hondum up,   hrand under gyrdels

hyre stondendre   stiþes nathwæt,   5

worhte his willan;   wagedan buta.

Þegn onnette,   wæs þragum nyt

tillic esne,   teorode hwæþre

æt stunda gehwam   strong ær þon hio,

werig þæs weorces.   Hyre weaxan ongon  

under gyrdelse   þæt oft gode men

ferðþum freogað   ond mid feo bicgað.


 A young man came walking to where he knew she was standing in a corner.  The vigorous bachelor marched there from afar.  He lifted up his own garment with his hands and thrust something stiff under her girdle as she stood there and worked his will.  Both of them shook.  The man hastened, and for a while the good servant was useful, but, although he was previously stronger than she, he always grew tired, weary from his work.  Under her girdle something that good men cherish in their hearts and buy with money began to grow.


Chaucer, The Merchant’s Tale


The bryde was broght abedde as stille as stoon;

And whan the bed was with the preest yblessed,

Out of the chambre hath every wight hym dressed;

And Januarie hath faste in armes take

His fresshe May, his paradys, his make.

He lulleth hire, he kisseth hire ful ofte;

With thikke brustles of his berd unsofte,

Lyk to the skyn of houndfyssh, sharp as brere -

For he was shave al newe in his manere -

He rubbeth hire aboute hir tendre face,

And seyde thus, ‘Allas! I moot trespace

To yow, my spouse, and yow greetly offende,

Er tyme come that I wil doun descende.

But nathelees, considereth this,’ quod he,

‘Ther nys no werkman, whatsoevere he be,

That may bothe werke wel and hastily;

This wol be doon at leyser parfitly.

It is no fors how longe that we pleye;

In trewe wedlok coupled be we tweye;

And blessed be the yok that we been inne,

For in oure actes we mowe do no synne.

A man may do no synne with his wyf,

Ne hurte hymselven with his owene knyf;

RochefoucaultGrailGawainInBattle FranksCasketWeland




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