Epic, Romance, and the Love of God: Medieval France and England


All written assignments are to be typed, double-spaced, and submitted on time. Specific references to literary texts and historical facts should be used to support all opinions.

Below are suggested topics. Pick one for each paper. If you have another idea (or ideas) that you'd like to pursue, see me to discuss approaches.


  1. Describe and explain some similar key values of the cultures that produced and cultivated the Beowulf epic and the Song of Roland. Show how these values are expressed, represented, and endorsed in our versions of the stories. (You may want to treat negative values as well, but they should be secondary.)
  2. Comment on the elements (both similar and different) of poetic form and content at work in the Beowulf epic and the Song of Roland, and explain the effects of these elements in the poems. Make sure you choose specific passages to illustrate your understanding and opinions.
  3. Given that these two poems were written down centuries after the events they describe (and almost certainly a long time after they were first told) what are the recording societys' views of their pasts? How can you tell? How do these views bear on the societys' present ages? What do these views tell us about the realities of those recording eras? (All given the potentially erroneous assumption that the poems and "authors" are representative of their respective societies.)
  1. In light of Chretien's Arthurian romances, his re-telling of tales of "aventure," explain how the following elements of romance differ from or are similar to those in the epic of Beowulf and the Song of Roland: the role of the protagonist; his relationships with his peers and superiors; the roles of women; the narrative current; nature; verisimilitude; the self. (Pick at least three.)
  2. Given what you know about the composition and performance of medieval epic, what can you infer about the author(s) and audience of romance? Are the two contexts necessarily different? How can you tell? In forming your response, you might also want to consider what might be the appeal of la matiere de bretagne for the 12th- and 13th-century French.
  1. In the Wife of Bath's Tale and The Book of the Duke of True Lovers we see romance turned inside-out. Comment on these works' major deviations from the traditonal genre, and explain their effects.
  2. "In the high and later medieval France and England, how did the teachings and institutions of the Church affect both the ways people lived their lives and the ways they understood their lives?" Respond to this question using both literary and historical texts.
  3. "[There was a] general change of attitude which found expression in many different ways. Briefly, we find less talk of life as an exercise in endurance, and of death in a hopeless cause; and we hear more of life as a seeking and a journeying." (R. W. Southern, The Making of the Middle Ages [New Haven: Yale UP, 1953] 222)
    Explore this statement in the context of this course as a whole.
  4. Alternatives to essay-writing

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