Narrow escapes, displays of prowess, and confrontations that end in triumph tend to typify the heroic in popular culture, whether in action films or graphic novels. Although some contributions to these genres may at times complicate this portrayal, one needs only to mention films like Die Hard or the Matrix to convey popular expectations of the hero. The subject of this course is fourteenth-century poetry with its display of, as some have put it, the unheroic; that is, besides lacking depictions of heroic action, this poetry creates the image of a humbled and weakened man. As we read the poetry from this period, we will consider this unheroic image in some of the following ways: Does this poetry depict an unheroic man, or is the heroic ideal significantly altered from classical literature? How do we approach questions of morality in an “unheroic” literary milieu? What does this image reveal about the goals and challenges of the protagonists in this literature?
We will begin this discussion by looking at examples of the hero in classical literature before moving into late fourteenth-century English poetry. These literary works will form the basis for your practice in critical reading, and they will also form the subject of your papers. Although much of our class discussion will revolve around the books we are reading, a significant portion of the course will focus on your writing. Building from a series of short reading responses, drafts, and peer editing responses, you will compose 3 five-page essays. Each of these essays will require you to craft and support a central argument as you use close literary analysis to explore the texts we will read.