Langland & the Pearl Poet

English 331S.01

TuTh 10:05AM - 11:20AM
David Aers

This course brings together the greatest Christian poet (who happens to be a medieval one) with an extraordinarily inventive writer of very wide scope, the anonymous poet known as the Pearl-poet (so-called after one of his poems). Langland’s Piers Plowman is a complex, demanding poem in which the poet interweaves politics, satire, ethics, theology, visions, prayer and intense argument over a wide range of issues. We will spend the first half of the semester on a careful reading of this work. Because it is a long poem I want students to have read the whole poem in translation before the first class: Piers Plowman: The C Version, translated by G. Economou (University of Pennsylvania Press, paperback). The best introduction I know to the relevant form of Christian tradition in which these writers participate is by Thomas Joseph White, The Light of Christ: An Introduction to Catholicism (Catholic University of America Press, 2017, paperback). I also want students to know something about medieval Christianity and for meeting this expectation please read the first part of Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars (second edition, Yale University Press, paperback). The Pearl-poet’s work ranges from romance, to elegy to Biblical narratives. The set text here includes a very accurate translation in a CD-ROM included with the print edition of the medieval English: The Pearl Poet, edited by Malcolm Andrew and Ron Waldron (Exeter University Press). For this text, make sure you get the copy with the modern translation. Anyone wishing to move from the translation to the Middle English of Piers Plowman should get hold of the edition by Derek Pearsall: Piers Plowman: A New Annotated Edition of the C-Text (Exeter University Press; rpt. Liverpool Univ. Press). Pearsall’s edition includes a fine introduction and copious annotations.

Note on grades, class format, and expectations

This is a seminar and attendance/participation is mandatory. Unwarranted absences will result in failing the course. The grade comes from two essays (8-10 pages) which must be submitted by the given deadline to count. There will be no exams.

Please also note well: laptops and other electronic devices are not to be used in class. A seminar is a dialogic form of learning, very different to a lecture class. In my experience, laptops act as an impediment to the kinds of attention and communication I consider essential to a flourishing seminar. Also, since we will have more than enough to chew on already, please refrain from eating during class.