Course Description and Objectives: ENGL 203 introduces English majors to the vernacular-language literature of medieval Britain as well as to significant Continental works of the medieval period, the foundation upon which modern English literature stands. In addition to presenting a number of both canonical and lesser known authors and works, the course aims to familiarize you with medieval attitudes toward authorship and textuality, with medieval modes of textual production, and with specific textual practices relevant to the interpretation of medieval literature.
By the end of the quarter, you
Preliminary Remarks: Much of what is presented in ENGL 203 will be new to most of you, and many of the readings reflect assumptions and ideas that appear strange to a 21st-century audience. For these reasons, several remarks are in order.
1) ENGL 203 requires that
you read the assigned medieval texts in the
required textbook or the .PDF
files on e-reserve, since
texts with similar titles may be very different in other
editions or translations. Note that while many assigned
readings are relatively short, they will require more
time than an analogous number of pages in a modern
2) Because literary production in the Middle Ages was largely controlled by the (Catholic) Church, many of the readings deal with Christian themes. We will approach these readings as cultural artifacts rather than as articles of faith, attempting to understand the society which produced them and the world view which they represent. While students familiar with portions of the Old and New Testaments may find this background useful, no prior knowledge of Judeo-Christian tradition is assumed or required. If something puzzles you, try the following: a) check the footnotes, introduction, or study guide to see if an explanation is provided; b) consult Wikipedia (or a print dictionary or encyclopedia); and/or c) ask about it in class or an office hour. (Chances are, someone else is just as puzzled as you are!)
3) Due to the time
constraints under which we will be working, classes will
focus on interpretation rather than description. Familiarity
with the assigned readings will be assumed, so readings
will not typically be summarized in lectures. If you
come to class without having done the assigned reading,
the lecture will be difficult to follow. More
importantly, it will not help you make sense of the
assigned readings either individually or in terms of the
understanding of medieval literature we are building
together over the course of the quarter. For these
reasons, the success of the course depends largely
on you. Please make a personal commitment
to come to class regularly, punctually, and prepared.
Without these preconditions, ENGL 203 will be of little
or no use to you -- and no fun for any of us! So,
welcome to the strange and wonderful world of Medieval
Literature! I look forward to learning with you
You are expected to have an email account and to check it regularly. Important announcements will be sent over the class email alias and may also be posted in the Announcements section of PolyLearn. The class email alias is automatically generated using the email address of each enrolled student found in the Cal Poly Directory server. If your Cal Poly email account is NOT your preferred email address, you must
Each student starts out with a 4.0 for Participation, Intellectual Engagement, and Collaboration. This component of your final grade drops by .3 for the first UNEXCUSED absence; the penalty increases by .1 for each subsequent unexcused absence (from A [4.0] to A- [3.7] to B+ [3.3], to B- [2.8], etc.). Additionally, it drops .1 for the first EXCUSED absence (4.0 to 3.9) and .2 for the second excused absence (3.9 to 3.7). Excused absences in excess of two (a full week, 10% of the class) count the same as unexcused absences.
Please note that only absences due to illness,
family or personal emergency, or circumstances which
are truly beyond your control count as excused.
Deadlines for other courses, work conflicts, and job
interviews are NOT valid reasons for missing
For an absence to be excused, please email me
promptly. On the subject line, put your course
section (ENGL 203-01) and the date(s) you missed
class; in the body of your email, repeat the course
section, indicate the date(s) when you missed class, and
provide an explanation of the circumstances leading to
Participation 2: Intellectual
Engagement, and Collaboration. In
to regular class attendance, the 35% participation
component of your final course
grade will reflect your intellectual
engagement with the material and your
willingness to collaborate with your peers as
demonstrated through participation in an online
PolyLearn discussion group and through peer editing
You will be assigned to a PolyLearn discussion group of 6-8 students to which you will post a series of five short (2-pg.), ungraded Mini-Essays (=MEs) over the course of the quarter. Each time a mini-essay ("ME") is assigned, you are expected to read the postings of the other members of your discussion group and to post a thoughtful response of at least one paragraph to TWO of their postings. These ungraded Classmate Responses (=CRs) must include additional textual evidence from the medieval text under discussion (i.e. at least one new quote that was not included in the ME to which you are responding); you must post CRs to at least two of your classmates each time an ME is assigned. Discussion group postings (both MEs and CRs) will not be assigned individual letter grades, but they will be factored into the 35% participation component of your final course grade.
EACH MISSING DISCUSSION GROUP POSTING WILL COUNT AS AN UNEXCUSED ABSENCE. NOTE: all of your MEs and CRs must be posted ON TIME in order for you to be eligible to receive credit for the GRADED essay.
A one-time Extension is available upon request to all students allowing them to submit an ungraded assignment after the deadline or to resubmit, for full credit, a revised assignment (if the original submission did not follow guidelines).
Before reading the primary texts (i.e. the
medieval literature), refer to the Study
Guides that will point you toward the most
important issues for our class. Familiarize
yourself with the study questions BEFORE you begin to
read, so you will know what to look for in the
medieval texts. Refer conscientiously to any
footnotes or definitions provided in the Norton
Anthology. I recommend that you print
out Study Guides and collect them in a course
binder that you bring with you to class.
Ideally, Online Background
Readings and the Norton Anthology
headnotes should be read before the primary readings,
since they provide the context within which primary
readings will be most meaningful. But if you are short
on time, it's most important that read through the primary
readings before class (using the Study
Guides). Much of the information in the background
readings will be covered in lecture, and you can catch
up with the background readings over the week-end and
when reviewing for exams.
You must have access to all assigned
primary readings in class. I strongly
recommend that you highlight, underline, and/or
carefully record page numbers for the
passages referred to in lecture or class
discussion. This means: you should
ALWAYS bring textbooks with you to
class. For required readings that are on e-reserve in
PolyLearn, I recommend printing them out and
putting them in your course binder, but you may
access them electronically if you have a reader that
will allow you to highlight text and add notes.
Please note: the screen on your phone is not large
enough to use as an e-reader; it will be difficult for
you to find the passages we are discussing quickly, and
you will not be able to add highlighting or notes.
Because you are expected to have read them before class, assigned primary readings will not typically be summarized in lectures, which will focus instead on helping you understand why an assigned reading is important and what it contributes to the understanding of medieval literature we are building together over the course of the quarter.
The basic text information for each primary reading --
date, author, language, genre, and form
-- is provided under the heading "text info" at
the end of each week's reading assignment on the Calendar of Assignments.
"Text info" may also include definitions of literary
terms with which you may be unfamiliar. For your
convenience, this information is compiled in a page of ENGL 203 Composite Text
Information. I recommend that you print out
this page of Composite Text Info and include it
in your course binder.
Other background information is found in Online Readings linked to
the Calendar of Assignments. I recommend that you print
out online readings and include them in your course
Some assigned background readings are found in the
Introduction to the Middle Ages in the Norton
Anthology -- a helpful overview of historical
developments during the medieval period -- or in
headnotes to individual authors and works.
Specific pages are listed on the Calendar
Please note that although background information will not
be the majority of exam points, basic text information
and background information from online readings and
assigned pages in the NA will be covered
on exams. Most of this information will be tested
in scantron format (for instance, you will be asked to
match a text with the appropriate text info, rather than
having to pull dates and other information out of your
head). If you are anxious about this
component of the class,
Each student will complete a series of written
assignments starting with lower-stakes, ungraded
assignments that help you explore the assigned texts and
which prepare you for the higher-stakes, graded
writing assignments that count for approximately one
third of your final course grade (a three- to
four-page expanded and revised paper and the essays
on the Midterm and Final Exams).
Lower-stakes (ungraded) writing: Each student will be assigned to a Polylearn Discussion Group of 6-8 students. In the assigned Discussion Group, each student will post:
Failure to submit any ungraded assignment counts
like an "Unexcused Absence"
and will impact the 35% of your course grade based on
Intellectual Engagement and Collaboration.
Both ungraded and graded writing assignments will
require close reading of the assigned medieval texts.
MINI-ESSAY RATIONALE AND POINTERS: These short,
ungraded assignments are intended to make you attentive
to details in the works under discussion and to prepare
you to do well on "higher-stakes" writing
assignments. They should be narrowly focused
on topics that can be covered within the two-page target
length. The two-page target
length will also oblige you to get to the point (lead
with your conclusion; articulate
your claims fully and explicitly; avoid broad
statements and generalities; no "hook!"); to cut out
unnecessary wordiness ("dead
wood"); and to express your ideas clearly and
MEs may be a response to a study question, an analysis
of how a specific aspect of a work helps communicate an
author or director's message or intentions, or -- with a
very precise focus -- a comparison of a specific element
with an analogous element in a previously assigned
work. Regardless of the topic you choose,
mini-essays MUST include analysis and
interpretation of carefully chosen citations
from the text. An effective ME uses close
reading of carefully
chosen textual evidence to support an interpretive claim
about the text. You will need a narrow focus
so that you can really "unpack" the language and/or
images in the scenes and passages you discuss without
exceeding the two-page target length.
Careful analysis of a single character, a specific
relationship, a key image or symbol, or an important
scene or speech is often enough to fill two pages.
MEs should present a logically
organized argument to demonstrate the validity of
an explicitly stated interpretive claim;
don't simply describe elements in the text or summarize plot.
You have freedom to explore an aspect of an assigned
text that interests you, but you must keep your focus on
the text itself, not background information or
the way in which the text speaks to you on a personal
level. You may find it helpful to begin by
brainstorming in response to a question on an online
Study Guide; to explore how a key image or theme
is presented in a limited number of passages within your
chosen text; or to analyze an author's use of a literary
device that is of interest to you. Whatever
topic you choose, your ME must be
grounded in close reading: interpretive
analysis of specific passages and scenes.
You will discover that close attention to specific imagery,
word choice, etc. in a single descriptive passage
or significant scene may be enough to fill your two-page
For fuller details, see the Mini-Essay Assignment Guidelines and the Essay Evaluation Checklist. NOTE: You should familiarize yourself with this checklist before you start to write, and take care to avoid the issues and errors that are included on the Checklist and in the Grading Codes!
lower-stakes writing assignment: the Virtual
"Field Trip." Each student
will visit the Getty Museum website and complete a Getty
Database assignment researching the medieval
images in the Getty's collections as part of our
unit on Marian devotion. This ungraded assignment
must be completed and submitted both to your discussion
group and in HARD COPY on the date indicated on the
Calendar of Assignment. It will be graded
PASS/FAIL only and will count as part of the
Participation component of your final course
grade. Failure to complete and post this
assignment to your Discussion Group and to turn in the
hard copy in class will be counted as Unexcused
Unfortunately, there can be no actual ENGL 203 field trip this quarter due to budgetary constraints -- but interested students are encouraged to make their own "pilgrimages" to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles (its collections include significant holdings in medieval manuscripts and paintings); to the Huntington Library in Pasadena (to see the magnificent Ellesmere Chaucer manuscript and other medieval manuscripts); or to the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena (housing an exceptional collection of late Medieval and early Renaissance paintings). Extra Credit may be arranged for a written assignment based on any of these excursions.
Essays: the essay component on
the midterm and the final exams
will count for a significant portion of the Exam
grade (the essay is typically worth from 1/3 to 1/2
of the exam points). There will be a broad
range of prompts to choose from. Exam Essays
are scaffolded assignments, meaning that your
lower-stakes writing (your own MEs and CRs, your
peer-edits, as well as your thoughtful consideration
of the MEs submitted by other members of your
discussion group) should prepare you to do well on
these higher-stakes exam essays.
GRADED 3-4 page Paper,
a REVISED and EXPANDED version of ME 2, 3
or 4. Depending on which ME is
revised and expanded, Papers are due on the date
indicated on the Calendar of
Assignments. Your graded essay will be submitted
to your instructor in both hard copy AND electronically
(as an emailed.docx attachment), for grading and written
feedback. (I do not
provide feedback electronically, but Cal Poly
faculty are encouraged to require Electronic
submission of assignments which allows the use of
various plagiarism-checking tools in the
unlikely event that there are questions about
academic integrity; for information on the University Plagiarism policy,
see below). Revised/expanded
papers will be accepted ONLY within the windows
indicated on the calendar of assignments. Revised
MEs must be accompanied by a carefully peer-edited hard
copy of the original ME, which must include an Essay Evaluation
Checklist filled out by
the member of your PolyLearn Discussion Group who is
acting as your Peer Reviewer; this Peer Reviewer must
include a summative comment including specific
suggestions for expansion on the back of the
checklist. Revised/expanded Essays submitted
without the peer-reviewed copy of the originally
submitted ME and the filled out Essay Evaluation
Checklist are not eligible to receive credit.
Other Graded Work:
Possibility of READING QUIZZES: In the past, I have used Reading Quizzes in ENGL 203, both to give students an incentive to keep up with course readings, and because returned quizzes can be of significant benefit as study guides when preparing for exams. However, they also take up a significant amount of class time. Rather than devoting class time to Reading Quizzes, I will distribute copies of old quizzes for you to fill out and use for exam prep. However, if I perceive that students are not keeping up with reading assignments, I reserve the right to reinstate Reading Quizzes; in that case, they will be worth 10% of your course grade. Should reading quizzes be reinstated, the final course grade will be calculated as follows: 25% Participation, Intellectual Engagement, and Collaboration; 10 % Reading Quizzes; 15% graded ME revision; 20% Midterm; 30% Final. In the event that reading quizzes are used:
A word about
Academic Integrity: because of the nature of
the material and of the assignments in this class --
and also because of the faith I have in you as
English majors familiar with the conventions of our
discipline and committed to the learning process! --
I do not anticipate encountering problems with
plagiarism in this class. Nonetheless,
Cal Poly faculty have been encouraged to explicitly
address Plagiarism issues on our syllabi. So
for the record:
Plagiarism is a serious offense. I expect that you understand what constitutes plagiarism and how to correctly use and cite information in your papers. In its most basic definition, plagiarism means taking ideas and/or words from others without properly citing them. In this class, you may refer to ideas or concepts defined in lectures and on my web pages without citing the lectures and web pages explicitly, since I consider that information and these concepts to be "yours" to use freely (provided that you do not copy language directly from my pages). The writing assignments in this class should cite ONLY the primary (medieval) texts, not secondary sources or critics. Both ungraded MEs and the graded ME revision paper should cite only the medieval works on the syllabus and offer arguments based on close reading of the primary texts. It is unlikely that students who adhere to these guidelines might inadvertently commit plagiarism in this class.
The background and interpretive information in the assigned headnotes in textbooks or provided in lectures and on my website should be sufficient context to ground your close reading of the medieval texts in the manner required for assignments in this class. I strongly recommend that you do NOT consult other online resources for "help" as you grapple with these texts, since in my experience, students using these sites have been most prone to inadvertent (and occasionally deliberate) plagiarism. If you DO consult such materials, you MUST list these resources in a "Works Consulted" section of your ME or graded Paper. Please note that a Work Consulted listing, along with the normal Work Cited listing, will cut significantly into the already limited room you have to make your argument (no more than 2 pp. for an ME or 3 pp. for the revised paper). It is to your advantage to complete the assignments as they are intended; the online resources you may find will not typically help you complete these assignments successfully, and the consequences of even inadvertent plagiarism are high.
That said, if you are unsure of how to avoid plagiarism in your papers, you should talk to me before you turn in the paper. Turning in a writing assignment completed in whole or in part by another individual, or adapted from another individual's work, is plagiarism. If you are caught plagiarizing in this course, you will fail the course and you may be expelled from the university. Finally, you may not turn in a paper you completed for another class for credit in this class; similarly, you cannot turn in work completed in this class for credit in any other class without obtaining express permission from that professor.
For your convenience, I am including below the language from Cal Poly's Academic Integrity policy (CAP 681; see <http://www.osrr.calpoly.edu/plagiarism/> ):
"Cal Poly will not tolerate academic cheating or plagiarism in any form. Academic dishonesty is addressed both as an academic issue and as a disciplinary incident under the CSU Standards for Student Conduct. [. . .] Plagiarism is defined as the act of using intentionally or unintentionally the ideas or work of another person or persons as if they were one’s own without giving proper credit to the source. Such an act is not plagiarism if it is ascertained that the ideas were arrived through independent reasoning or logic, or where the thought or idea is common knowledge. Acknowledgement of an original author or source must be made through appropriate references, i.e., quotation marks, footnotes, or commentary. Examples of plagiarism include, but are not limited to, the following: the submission of a work, either in part or in whole, completed by another; failure to give credit for ideas, statements, facts or conclusions which rightfully belong to another; failure to use quotation marks [. . .] when quoting directly from another, whether it be a paragraph, a sentence, or even a part thereof; close and lengthy paraphrasing of another’s writing without credit or originality; and use of another’s [paper], project or [. . . ] part thereof without giving credit. Submitting the same project to multiple instructors as a unique creation may also be considered plagiarism. A project produced for another class must be cited just as when citing any other source. Prior to resubmitting work from a previous course, a student must receive explicit written permission from the instructor of the current course. A project produced for another class must also be cited just as when citing any other source."
Contents of this and linked pages Copyright Debora B. Schwartz, 1999-2020 [last updated 3/8/20]