A Syllabus for English 203.002, Fall 2001

An Exploration of Traditional Communal Myths (the Matter of Troy, the Matter of Arthur) and the Emergence of Individualism
Lecturer: Dr. Ellen Moody

The semester begins August 27th; the last day for all classes is December 8th.
Section 203.002, meets Thursday evenings, 7:20 - 10:00 pm, Robinson Hall A249
The Final Journal-Essay for 203.002 is due on December 13th;
The Final Essay-Exam for 203.002 will occur on December 13th
My preferred e-mail address is: Ellen2@JimandEllen.org,
My website address is: http://mason.gmu.edu/~emoody
You can also reach me at emoody@osf1.gmu.edu

Description of Course

The online catalogue of the GMU English Department describes English 203 and 204, as courses in which students will study "great works of Western civilization." English 203 is conceived of as "the first half" of an enormous survey course, one whose goal is to study important writers from the ancient Greek and Roman world, European medieval society, and the European Renaissance up to the middle of the seventeenth century when modern science had its first successes and in England there was a civil war which adumbrated the kinds of class, religious, political, and ethnic conflicts which have transparently dominated twentieth-century thought and public experience.

In this class we will study a group of authors whose works will enable us to survey this period through an overarching theme which will focus on an significant change. For much of our period, literature was not seen as the product of an individual mind. Authors were not asked to invent new or original stories. The commonly understood view of society did not present it as something subject to radical change; its cultural values and religions were not treated as something relative, open to question, up to an individual; the personalities of individuals were not treated as the result of a particular group of inculculated habits and surrounding particular circumstances which could be changed.

The Greek and Roman world and medieval Europe expected their poets to re-order mythic material in ways that would explore and effectively dramatize in an ultimately cathartic or uplifting fashion aspects of human nature regarded as eternal. They expected to see the myths of their era re-enacted before them, dramatized, pictured, or sung in ways that could give them new insight into these myths and would elaborate them in intriguingly perceptive ways. In medieval Europe, these myths were seen as large bodies of connected stories and recognized as matters: the matter of Troy found in the work of Homer and Virgil to which many of the other ancient Greek and Roman legends could be connected; the matter of Arthur or Britain; the matter of Charlemagne or France. There was the Greek and Roman 'mythology', history, and ritual plays regarded as 'high' and treated hieratically: out of this matter tragedies could be written. There were also 'low' fables, fabliau of coarse tricks and stories of everyday life whose plots were variations on one another: out of this matter came comedy. Before the Renaissance genre controls what mood a literary work takes and what happens it after; during the Renaissance an ideal of probability or realism and notion that works are intended to have an psychological effect on an audience and spring from an individual psychology begins to dissolve these controlling patterns.

The notions that literature should question fundamental values, that societies can change, and that works of art are the product of an individual mind slowly emerged from around the fifteenth- through the seventeenth-century in Europe; that is, during the break-up of the feudal order which had been dominated by one church. In the case of individual authors, it is not true that all of them saw their works as communal and all of them wrote in ways that upheld the world view and structures of their societies; but it is true that those who wrote out of an individual questioning or radical perspective were not publically praised for this, and the perspective emerges hiddenly, through the use of irony, the nature of the story which contradicts its explicit moralising, and a way of presenting characters which is true to their individual psychological life, one not taken into account or de-emphasized as secondary in the mores of our period.

The texts of our seven authors (Euripides, Virgil, Chrétien de Troyes, Geoffrey Chaucer, Gaspara Stampa, Thomas More, and Marie-Madeleine de Lafayette) and content of our three films (a BBC Production of Sophocles's Antigone, John Boorman's film adaptation of the Arthurian legends, Excalibur and Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons) will exemplify the slow shift in public outlook and private understanding of the source and function of literature in Western society.

Required Books (in the order we will read them)

Required Films (in the order we will see them)

Recommended Books

Suggested Outside Reading: A Brief Bibliography


In this class you will be asked to read and to demonstrate you have read and thought about all eight required books by writing three journal essays and seen all three films by writing at home three journal-essays, giving one short talk or presentation to the class, and by passing an open-book exam taken from all the required texts.

Three Journal-Essays

You are asked to write three journal-essays outside class.

For the first you must choose between writing about three of the eight plays by Euripides which we read in class, or about Virgil's Aeneid.

For the second you must choose between writing about two of the four romances by Chrétien de Troyes which we read in class, or about any three of fourteen of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales which we read in class.

For the third you must choose between writing about the poetry of Gaspara Stampa, or about Thomas More's politics as exemplified in his Utopian tract and Robert Bolt's play, or about Marie-Madeleine de Lafayette's novel, The Princess de Clèves, either with or without the two accompanying short stories in the volume, "The Princess de Montpensier" and "The Comtesse de Tende".

These are our "set journals" and are to be numbered (1, 2, and 3). What is a journal-essay? See attachment entitled An Essay with Guidelines and student models. You are asked to follow the guideliness strictly. See student models. The aim of the writing component in this course is to help you learn to read better and to write analytically about what you read. If you do not adhere to the guidelines (for example, your plot summary must not be more than 1 paragraph; your analysis of text must be 2-3 pages) I will simply return your journal unread to you with an unpleasant "F."

Due dates for the set journal-essays: you are asked to hand your work in on the day specified in the calendar; if a journal or the story is a session late, I will take down the grade an element for every sessions it is late (a B+ becomes a B, then a B- and so on).

You can revise the journals if you like. Then if your grade for the second version is higher than the first, I average the two grades together to form a single grade for the particular journal-essay. If your grade on the second version is the same or lower, I ignore it. You can also write "extra credit" journals on authors you have not yet written about. If you chose to write on Euripides' plays for Journal-Essay #1, you may write an "extra credit" journal on Virgil's Aeneid (or vice versa); if you chose to write on Chaucer's Canterbury Tales for Journal-Essay #2, you may write an "extra credit" journal on Chrétien de Troyes's romances (or vice versa); if you chose to write on Gaspara Stampa's poetry for Journal-Essay #3, you may write an "extra credit" journal on either Thomas More's politics in the play and the tract or De Lafayette's novella (or, again, vice versa). You may also write "extra credit" journals on any one or all of the three required films.

One Five to Seven Minute Short Talk

You are asked to give a 5-7 minute talk either on a text that will be assigned to you in class. The talks will begin the third week of the semester. The idea is to practice inventing a clear thesis-statement which is supported by concrete details from a text or your own experience. One of the aims of this course is to guide students into leaning how to talk as well as how to write about texts in an educated way. To do a talk brings home two important truths about writing. To quote John Trimble, the "success of a communication depends solely on how the reader receives it", and thinking clearly with the ordinary language of everyday life is the basis of a readable essay. To do well in middle class occupations outside the classroom demands that you learn how to present yourself attractively and sell your point of view. By asking you to do a short talk you gain in poise and knowledge of how to present yourself to someone else in ways that gain respect and give pleasure. I have provided a model talk by a student on Chrétien.

The whole class will listen and try to respond. The ensuing dialogue and the student's own later thoughts about either what happened may teach everyone something about communication skills.

To have everyone talk on a different short piece will also make the course more enjoyable and de-center the classroom. We will get all our many points of view, begin to know one another, and decenter the classroom. Each student is responsible to do his or her talk on the day assigned; it is to be taken seriously as an individual project. The class is turned over to the student and he or she is "on".

A Final Exam

Everyone is to read all the assigned texts. We will have an exam on them all on the day set aside as our exam period. This will consist of a choice of two out of four possible essays. There may also be some short answer questions. You will be allowed to bring your books, classnotes, and any notes you have made while reading over the term.

Class Meetings

1) I ask that you attend class faithfully and see the three required movies. For most students, the less they attend, the less they learn.

2) I hope that you participate in class. To do this you have to have read most of the text due to be read for a given session. Our class is large, we meet infrequently, and the important history behind these texts is unfamiliar so I will have to use some of the time to offer historical background and traditional lectures. However, I hope we will have good class discussions after each student gives a talk and through my invitations to students for questions and comments on the reading.

The Problem of Plagiarism

In this course a number of our texts are so commonly assigned in college courses that there are Cliff and Monarch Notes available and sites on the Internet where you may copy or buy ready-made essays. This is plagiarism. If I suspect you of, or catch you at, plagiarising, I will follow the guidelines of the English department which require that I fail such a student and report him or her to the Chair of my Department:

'"Plagiarism means using words, opinions, or factual information from another person without giving that person credit. Writers give credit through accepted documentation styles, such as parenthetical citation, footnotes, or end notes; a simple listing of books and articles consulted is not sufficient. Plagiarism is the equivalent of intellectual robbery and cannot be tolerated in an academic setting."

My view is such behavior makes a mockery of the goals of this course.


Your grade will be reflect the work you have done over the course of the whole semester. By the end of this time I should have for each student a minimum of five grades, one for each of three journals, one for a short talk, and one for the final exam. These grades will be averaged together to form one final grade. If a student has done extra credit journals, he or she will have more grades to be averaged in. I then take into account your participation in class, if you came for help if you needed it; and those journals which showed that you cared, that you really thought about your subject and made an effort to find something out about, explore, and something intelligent, coherent, and complete. I recognize the value of, respect, and reward hard work when I see it.

How to Contact Me Outside Class

Without an Appointment

Write to me by e-mail: Ellen2@JimandEllen.org; you can write me 24 hours a day; I look at my mail at least twice a day, and I write back. Be sure to type the e-mail address to which you wish me to send my reply at the end of your message.
You can call the phone in the office I use (993-1176) or the English office (993-1160) or leave a message in my box in the English Office, which is in Robinson Hall on the fourth floor. I have no voice mail, and there is no way you can fax me. It is also well to remember that I am on campus only 2 afternoon and evenings each week. The secretaries don't call me; they simply place put a note in my box. Further, leaving essays in my box is a chancy business because materials get lost this way. No-one stands guard over the boxes. Give it to the secretary, watch him or her date and put it in the correct box, and then leave. The safest speediest way to get an essay to me is to bring it to class on time and give it to me warm hand to warm hand. Make a second hard-copy of everything you write. It's worth the money.

With an Appointment

Individual conferences to go over journals, and discuss reading or individual problems are available by appointment on Thursday beween 5:30 and 7:20 pm in Robinson Hall A455. Sign up on the stenography pad which will be placed on the corner of my desk every time the class meets. I encourage everyone to come and work with me on their essays individually.

Other Help Outside Class

The College of Arts and Sciences runs a University Writing Center where you will find tutors to help you with writing. Their phone number is 703-993-1200. Here is a description of the place and its services:

"The George Mason University Writing Center is a writing resource open to the entire university community, offering free tutoring in a comfortable, supportive atmosphere. During face-to-face and online sessions, trained graduate and undergraduate tutors form a variety of disciplines assist writers at all stage of the writing process. Tutors emphasize positive attitudes and stratgies that help writers at any level learn to evaluate and revise their work in order to be more confident and effective writers."

To find out more and to start to use the services offered, go to http://writingcenter.gmu.edu and http://writingcenter.gmu.edu/resources/index.html/


Week 1: Thursday, August 30th

In Class: Course introduction: Laying Out Groundwork. We will see the BBC production of Sophocles' Antigone.

Outside Class: for next Thursday have gone over syllabus, Directed Journal-Essay guidelines, and Student Models on the Net. Bring any and all questions you might have. Read Euripides' The Bacchae and Alcestis; and Book I of The Aeneid. Also, if you have it, read the entries in Feder's Handbook under Euripides, Tragedy, Alcestis, The Bacchae; Virgil, Aeneid, Epic, Homer. Browse all the books and pick three choices for a short talk of which you will do one; the short talks begin Week 3.

Week 2: Thursday, September 6th

In Class: Give out short talks. How to write an essay with guidelines; how to do short talks. Lecture on ancient world. Introduction of Euripides and Virgil, and their texts. Class discussion of Alcestis, The Bacchae, and Book I of The Aeneid.

Outside class: for next Thursday read Euripides' Hippolytus, Ion, and Medea

Week 3: Thursday, September 13th

In Class: Short Talk 1: Euripides' Hippolytus; Short Talk 2: Euripides Ion; Short Talk 3: Euripides' Medea

Outside Class: for next Thursday read Euripides' Iphigenia at Aulis, Trojan Women, and Electra (in this order).

Week 4: Thursday, September 20th

In Class: Short Talk 4: Euripides' Iphigenia at Aulis; Short Talk 5: Euripides' Trojan Women;Short Talk 6: Euripides' Electra.

Outside Class: for next Thursday read Aeneid, Books 2-6. Also write and bring to class an outline for Journal-Essay #1.

Week 5: Thursday, September 27

In Class: OUTLINE FOR #1 DUE. Short Talk 7: Virgil's Aeneid, Book 2: How They Took The City; Short Talk 8: Virgil's Aeneid, Book 4: The Passion of the Queen; Short Talk 9: Virgil's Aeneid, Book 6: The World Below.

Outside Class: for next Thursday read Aeneid, Books 7-12 and William Kibler and Carleton W. Carroll's "Introduction" to their translation of Chrétien de Troyes's Arthurian Romances. You should begin working on Journal-Essay #1 which is due October 11th. If you have it, read also Lacy, Ashe and Mancoff's handbook, the entries for "Origins" and "Early Arthurian Literature" through the entry on Chrétien.

Week 6: Thursday, October 4th

In Class: Short Talk 10: Virgil's Aeneid, Book 8: Arcadian Allies; Short Talk 11: Virgil's Aeneid, Book 9: A Night Sortie, A Day Assault; Short Talk 12: Virgil's Aeneid, Book 12: The Fortunes of War. Introduction of Arthurian myth. Lecture on medieval world. We will begin Boorman's film adaptation, Excalibur and see as much of it as time allows.

Outside Class: Write final version of Journal-Essay #1. There are various versions (drafts, parts of the shooting script) of the screenplay of Excalibur which you could browse as they are online. If you have it, read also Lacy, Ashe and Mancoff's handbook, "Arthur in the Arts".

Week 7: Thursday, October 11th

In Class: JOURNAL ESSAY #1 DUE. We will finish watching Excalibur.

Outside class: for next Thursday read Chrétien de Troyes's Arthurian Romances, Erec and Enide, The Knight of the Cart (Lancelot) , and The Knight with the Lion (Ivain).

Week 8: Thursday, October 18th

In Class: Return and Discussion of Journal-Essay #1. Short Talk 13: Chrétien de Troyes's Erec and Enide; Short Talk 14: Chrétien de Troyes's The Knight of the Cart (Lancelot); Short Talk 15: Chrétien de Troyes's The Knight with the Lion (Ivain)

Outside class: for next Thursday read Chrétien de Troyes's The Story of the Grail (Perceval) ; Nevill Coghill's "Introduction" to his translation of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, and Chaucer's "Prologue", "The Knight's Tale", "The Miller's, Reeve's, Cook's and Shipman's Tales"

Week 9: Thursday, October 25th

In Class: Short Talk 16: Chrétien de Troyes's The Story of the Grail (Perceval). Introduction to Chaucer's life and work. The class will then discuss "The Prologue" together and then we'll have Short Talk 16: Chaucer's "The Knight's Tale"; and Short Talk 17: Chaucer's "The Miller and the Shipman's Tales".

Outside Class: for next Thursday read Chaucer's "Nun's Priest's Tale", "The Pardoner's Prologue and Tale", "The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale", and "The Friar and the Summoner's Tales". Also write and bring to class an outline for Journal-Essay #2.

Week 10: Thursday, November 1st

In Class: OUTLINE FOR #2 DUE. Short Talk 18: Chaucer's "The Nun's Priest's Tale"; Short Talk 19: Chaucer's "The Pardoner's Prologue and Tale"; Short Talk 20: Chaucer's "The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale"

Outside Class: for next Thursday read "The Physician, the Clerk's, the Squire's, and the Franklyn's Tales". You should be working on Journal-Essay #2 which is due November 15th.

Week 11: Thursday, November 8th

In Class: Short Talk 21: Chaucer's "The Friar and the Summoner's Tales"; Short Talk 22: Chaucer's "The Physician and the Clerk's Tales"; Short Talk 23: Chaucer's "The Squire's and the Franklyn's Tales".

Outside class: Write final version of Journal-Essay #2. Read Chaucer's "Merchant's and Manciple's Tales" and his "Retraction"; if possible, read also the play by Bolt, A Man for All Seasons.

Week 12: Thursday, November 15th

In Class: JOURNAL ESSAY #2 DUE. Short Talk 24: The Merchant's and Manciple's Tales". The class will discuss the "Retraction" together. A Lecture on Renaissance. Then we'll watch the film adaptation of Bolt's play, A Man for All Seasons.

Outside Class: for next Thursday read Thomas More's Utopia, Laura Anna Stortoni's "Introduction" to her translation of a selection of Gaspara Stampa's poetry and all the poems that are included.

Week 13: Thanksgiving Holiday.

Week 14: Thursday, November 29th

In Class: Return and discussion of #2. The class will discuss the play and we'll have Short Talk 25: Thomas More's Utopia, Book I: The Criticism of Real Society then and now; Short Talk 26: Thomas More's Utopia, Book II: Discuss the Ideals that are Presented; Short Talk 27: Gaspara Stampa: Selected Poems, ed. trans. L. A. Stortini and M. P. Lille: The Poetry of Gaspara Stampa.

Outside class: for next Thursday read Terence Cave's "Introduction" to his translation and Marie-Madeleine de Lafayette's nouvelle historique, The Princess de Cléves. Also write and bring to class an outline for Journal- Essay #3.

Week 15: Thursday, December 6th

In Class: OUTLINE FOR #3 DUE. Short Talk 28: Marie-Madeleine de Lafayette's The Princess de Clèves. Possible Extra Short Talk 29: Marie-Madeleine de Lafayette's "The Princess de Montpensier" and "The Comtesse de Tense". The outlook of women; the birth of the novel and other modern forms of literature (the memoir, autobiography, biography, history, the essay, literary criticism). We will also review for the in-class essays on the day of the exam.

Outside Class: for next Thursday write final version of journal-essay #3 and prepare for exam. Complete any late, revised or compensatory work.

Week 16: Thursday, December 13th

The Final Exam begins at 7:30 and lasts until 10:15. JOURNAL-ESSAY #3 IS DUE.

Ellen Moody.
Pagemaster: Jim Moody.
Page Last Updated 14 August 2001.