A Syllabus for English 203.002, Fall 2002

The Matters of Troy and Arthur, and the Renaissance as it affected Women

Lecturer: Dr. Ellen Moody

The semester begins August 26th; the last day of classes is December 7th.
Section 203.002, meets Monday evenings, 7:20 - 10:00 pm, East Hall 121
The Final Essay With Guidelines is due, and the Final Essay-Exam will occur, on Monday, Dec 16th
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 and early modern period.

In this particular class we will study a group of authors whose works enable us to survey this vast reach of time and space through a single overarching theme. In the Greek and Roman world and most of the medieval period in Europe, literature was not treated as the product of an individual mind. Unlike in modern Western societies today, authors were not asked to invent new or original stories. Most people did not see society as susceptible to radical change; cultural values and religions were in public not treated as relative and open to question; and an individual's "character" was not understood to be partly the result of inculculated habits and of the particular circumstances in which a child-, and young adulthood are passed. 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: their texts dramatized, pictured, or were sung and read aloud in ways that could give an audience new insight into these myths by elaborating upon them in intriguingly perceptive ways. Throughout the medieval period in Europe (the 11th through 15th centuries), these myths were seen as large bodies of connected stories called matters which were referred to as the matter of Troy and the matter of Arthur. We will read "the matter of Troy" as dramatized by Euripides and turned into heroic verse by Virgil; we will also read "the matter of Arthur" as narrated in verse by Chrétien de Troyes and in prose by Joseph Bédier. This will take up about 2/3s of our course.

The late medieval period and Renaissance saw some important changes occur in the economic and political bases of society which led to truly significant changes in social structuring and new goals in education. As a result, the way in which people thought about and the content and outlook of artworks altered -- and radically: by the sixteenth century all over western Europe art forms begin centrally to reflect educated people's new dominating interest in the real historical past and present, much clearer and non-religious ideas about probability, a turning to experience as a standard by which to come to conclusions about life, and the perception that individual works must and indeed should spring from an individual psychology. It is also in the later medieval period and Renaissance that women begin to write in significant numbers. We will concentrate on the changes in outlook that occurred in the works of three women writers, Christine de Pizan, Gaspara Stampa and Marie-Madeleine de Lafayette: Christine will bring before us for the first time real details of real people's lives in early modern Europe; Stampa is one of the greatest Italian women poets, and Lafayette's historical novel has been strongly influential on novels; The Princess of Clèves is one of three candidates for the first psychologically realistic novel in Europe (the others are Cervantes's Don Quixote and Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe). It was also a period when the stage flourished and became a central platform for dramatizing issues of intense concern to people then and still, and we will read one of the greatest tragedies of the period, John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi, which focuses on a woman's experience of in the powerful worlds of court life of the era.

We will see four films: modern adaptations of Sophocles's Antigone; of the Arthurian legends, Excalibur and Lancelot du Lak; and of another great Renaissance tragedy, Thomas Middleton's The Changeling (produced 8 years after The Duchess of Malfi). We will listen to parts of Virgil's Aeneid in our translation as dramatically read aloud by a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Christopher Ravenscroft.

Required Books (in the order we will read them)

Required Films

Optional Books

Online texts

Suggested Further Reading and Source Material: A Brief Bibliography


In this class you will be asked to read and to demonstrate you have read all the assigned texts and to see and demonstrate you have seen all assigned films -- as well as thought about them -- by 1) writing three essay with guideliness at home; 2) giving one short talk or presentation to the class; and 3) passing three open book in class exams: a first-third, second-third and final.

Three Essays following Guidelines

You are asked to write three essays following guidelines (or essay with guideliness) outside class.

For the first you must choose between writing about two or three of the six plays by Euripides which we read in class; or about a single aspect of Books 1 - 9 and 12 of 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 one of Chrétien's romances and Bédier's The Romance of Tristan & Iseult.

For the third you must choose between writing about the life, poetry and prose of Christine de Pizan or Gaspara Stampa; or about Madeleine de Lafayette's novel, The Princess of Clèves (with or without the two short stories included in Cave's edition) or about Webster's Duchess of Malfi.

These are our "set journals" and are to be numbered (1, 2, and 3). What is a essay with guidelines? See attachment entitled An Essay with Guidelines and student models. You are required to adhere to the guideliness strictly, e.g., your plot summary must not be more than 1 paragraph; your analysis of text must be 2-3 pages. See student models. The aim of this exercise in pre-structured self-conscious process writing is to help you learn to read better and to write analytically about what you read.

Due dates for the set essay with guideliness: 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. If your grade for the second version is higher than the your grade for the first, I average the two grades together to form a single grade for the particular essay with guidelines. 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. The subject for these should be one of any of the four films we see: Sophocles' Antigone, Boorman's Excalibur, Bresson's Lancelot du Lac, and Curtis's The Changeling.

One Five to Seven Minute Short Talk

You are asked to give a 5-7 minute talk on a text that will be assigned to you in class. The talks will begin the third meeting 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 learning 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 and your point of view attractively. By asking everyone to do a short talk we can learn from one another ways of presenting the self in a poised manner that can gain respect and charm. 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. It is another opportunity for a student to practice the techniques and conventions of literary interpretation. We will get all our many points of view and become something like friends. 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".

I have provided a model talk by a student on Chrétien for each student to use.

Three Open-Book Exams

There will be two open book exams during the term and one on the day of the final. They will consist of two short essay questions on the texts you are supposed to have read and the films we have seen during that part of the term; there will also be ten short answer questions. You will be allowed to bring your books, classnotes, and any notes you have made while reading over the term. You will not allowed to bring the handbooks (Feder or Lacey) or any of the recommended secondary material you may have taken out of the library or bought.

Class Meetings

1) I ask that you attend class faithfully, read what is required in the books, and see the movies. For most students, the less frequently 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 meeting. 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.

The Problem of Plagiarism

In this course several of our texts are so commonly assigned in college courses that there are Cliff and Monarch Notes available and many printed essays on these texts; there are also sites on the Internet where you may copy or buy ready-made essays. To copy and to hand in as your own work any of such texts in whole or part is plagiarism. If I suspect anyone of, or catch anyone 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 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 seven grades, one for each of three journals, one for a short talk, and three for the exams. 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.

The English Department has also formulated a policy concerning midterm grades (which are due in by October 22nd), which I will also follow:

In English 100, 101 and English 200s, students receive a midterm letter grade based on the work of the first seven weeks of the course. The purpose of this grade is to help students find out how well they are doing in the first half of the course in order to make any adjustments necessary for success in the course as a whole. Instructors calculate letter grades based on the completed course assignments as weighted on the syllabus through the seventh week. The work in the second half of the semester may be weighted more heavily, and so the midterm grade is not meant to predict the final course grade. Students may view their grade online at WebGMU.

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 afternoons 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 Mondays beween 6:00 and 7:10 pm in Robinson Hall A455 and after class. 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/


Meeting 1: Monday, August 26th

In Class: Course introduction: We will watch Sophocles's Antigone and go over the syllabus.

Outside Class: for 2nd meeting (we have a two week break) read over syllabus, Directed Essay With Guidelines guidelines, and Student Models on the Net. Bring any and all questions you might have. Read Euripides' Alcestis and Iphigenia at Aulis; and Books I - 3 of The Aeneid. Also, if you have Feder's Handbook of Classical Literature, read the entries for "Tragedy," "Euripides," "Alcestis," "Iphigenia at Aulis," "Epic," "Homer," "Virgil," and begin entry "The Aeneid." Browse all the books and pick three choices for a short talk of which you will do one; the short talks begin on the 3rd week.

Meeting 2: Monday, September 9th

In Class: Give out short talks. How to write an essay with guidelines; how to do short talks. Euripides and Virgil, and their texts. Class discussion of film adaptation of Sophocles' Antigone, Euripides and Greek world and Virgil and Roman, of Euripides Alcestis and Book I of The Aeneid.

Outside class: for 3rd meeting read Euripides'' Trojan Woman, and Books 4 - 5 of the Aeneid Read relevant entries in Feder's Handbook.

Meeting 3: Monday, September 16th

In Class: Short Talk 1: Euripides' Iphigenia at Aulis: The Position of Women; Short Talk 2: Virgil's Aeneid : Book 2, How they took the city: The Roles of Betrayal and Loyalty; Short Talk 3: Euripides' Trojan Women: Euripides on War and Treachery; Short Talk 4: Virgil's Aeneid, Book 3: Sea Wanderings and Strange Meetings.

Outside Class: for 4th meeting read Euripides' Electra and Medea and Books 6 - 7 of The Aeneid. Read relevant entries in Feder's Handbook.

Meeting 4: Monday, September 23rd

In Class: Short Talk 5: Aeneid, Book 4, The Passion of the Queen: Virgil's Treatment of Love; Short Talk 6: Euripides' Electra: The Treatment of Matricide; Short Talk 7: Virgil's Aeneid, Book 6, The World Below: The Uses of Allegory; Short Talk 8: Euripides' Medea: The Dangers of Loving Without Limit;

Outside Class: for 5th meeting read Euripides' Bacchae and Books 8 - 9 and 12 of The Aeneid. Read relevant entries in Feder's Handbook. Write and bring to class a plan for Essay With Guidelines #1

Meeting 5: Monday, September 30th

In Class: PLAN FOR #1 DUE. Short Talk 9: Virgil's Aeneid, Book 8, Arcadian Allies: The Love of Peace, Friendship and Civilization in Virgil; Short Talk 10: Virgil's Aeneid: Book 9: A Night Sortie, A Day Assault: Violence in The Aeneid; Short Talk 11: Euripides's Bacchae: As A Summation of Greek Attitudes towards Passion and Self-Control

Outside Class: If I receive any outlines that propose unacceptable topics I will email the students concerned. prepare for exam and work on Essay With Guidelines #1.

Meeting 6: Monday, October 7th

In Class: First Third open-book exam on the BBC film adaptation of Sophocles's Antigone, six plays by Euripides and Books 1 - 9 & 12 of the Aeneid.

Outside Class: For 7th meeting, write final version of Essay With Guidelines #1. If you have Arthurian Handbook, read Chapters 1 & 2 ("Origins" and "Early Arthurian Literature").

Meeting 7: Monday, October 15th

In Class: ESSAY WITH GUIDELINES #1 DUE. We will watch Boorman's film adaptation, Excalibur.

Outside class: for 8th meeting, read Donald Staines's "Introduction" to his translation of Chrétien de Troyes's Arthurian Romances, and Chrétien's Erec and Enide and The Knight of the Cart (Lancelot).

Meeting 8: Tuesday, October 21st

In Class: Return and Discussion of Essay With Guidelines #1. Short Talk 12: John Boorman's Excalibur: The Allegory and Imagery; Short Talk 13: Chrétien's Erec and Enide: the quest from Erec's point of view; Short Talk 14: Chrétien's Erec and Enide: the quest from Enide's point of view. We'll see the first two-thirds of Bresson's Lancelot du Lak

Outside class: for 9th meeting, read Chrétien's The Knight of the Cart and The Knight with the Lion (Ivain); and in Arthurian Handbook, Chapter 2 ("English Arthurian Literature", pp. 121- 135).

Meeting 9: Monday, October 28th

In Class: Short Talk 15: Chrétien's The Knight of the Cart (Lancelot) self-abnegation and melancholy in Lancelot. Short Talk 16: Chrétien's The Knight of the Cart (Lancelot): courtly love from Guenevere and the other (mostly unnamed) ladies' perspectives; Short Talk 17: Chrétien's The Knight with the Lion (Ivain): chivalry from the point of view of Laudine and Lunette. Short Talk 18: The Knight with the Lion (Ivain): The Role of the Lion. We'll see the last third of Bresson's Lancelot du Lac

Outside Class: for 10th meeting, read The Story of the Grail (Perceval), pp. 339 - 397, 414 - 418 (that is, read only the story of Perceval, do not read the secondary story of Gawain in this tale); and all of Joseph Bédier's The Romance of Tristan and Iseult

Meeting 10: Monday, November 4th

In Class: PLAN FOR #2 DUE. Short Talk 19: The Story of the Grail (Perceval): Complicated Moral Lessons; Short Talk 20: Joseph Bédier's The Romance of Tristan and Iseut: Love Versus Society (as an argument against marriage and for adultery); Short Talk 21: Joseph Bédier's The Romance of Tristan and Iseut: Its Haunting Beauty Short Talk 22: Robert Bresson's Lancelot du Lac: Reality Versus Myth.

Outside Class: If I receive any outlines that propose unacceptable topics I will email the students concerned.. For 11th meeting, write Essay With Guidelines #2.

Meeting 11: Monday, November 11th

In Class: Second third open-book exam on the romances of Chrétien read in class, on Bédier's Tristran and Iseult, and on Boorman's Excalibur and Bresson's Lancelot du Lac .

Outside class: for 12th meeting, write final version of Essay With Guidelines #2

Meeting 12: Monday, November 18th

In Class: ESSAY WITH GUIDELINES #2 DUE. We will watch The Changeling.

Outside Class: for 13th meeting, read the Norton Anthology of Christine de Pizan's poetry as follows: from "One Hundred and One Ballads," "God of Love's Letter," the Prologue from "The Letter fro Othea," "The Tale of the Shepherdess," from "The Path of Long Study" (pp. 59-75), from "The Book of Fortune's Transformation", Part 3, Nos 3- 19 from "Christine's Vision", fromk "One Hundred Ballads of a Lover and a Lady," and in the back of the book, Beatrice Gottlieb's "The Problem of Feminism in the Fifteenth Century" and Sheila Delancy's "Mothers to Think Back Through". Read also Stortoni's "Introduction" to Gaspara Stampa's poems and all the poems.

Meeting 13: Monday, November 25th

In class: Short Talk 23: The film version of The Changeling: The Acting and the Message; Short Talk 24: The Poetry and Prose of Christine de Pizan: A Learned Gentlewoman's Life in the Medieval Period; Short 25: The Life and Poetry of Gaspara Stampa: The Effect of Status and Gender on the Two Participants. Short Talk 26: Two modern feminist scholars debate the realities of early modern women's writing: Beatrice Gottlieb's "The Problem of Feminism in the Fifteenth Century" and Sheila Delancy's "Mothers to Think Back Through".

Outside Class: for 14th and last meeting read Webster's "Introduction" and John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi; read also Terence Cave's "Introduction" and Marie- Madeleine de Lafayette's The Princess of Cleves and two short stories, "The Princess de Montpensier" and "The Comtesse de Tende".

Meeting 14: Monday, December 2nd

In Class: PLAN FOR #3 DUE. Short Talk 27: Moral Vision in Jacobean Tragedy: the characters of DeFlores and Bosola Compared; Short Talk 28: Women in Jacobean Tragedy: Beatrice and the Duchess of Malfi compared; Short Talk 29: The Princess of Cleves: The Attitude towards Love and Marriage as Power Politics; Short Talk 30: The Princess of Cleves, The Princess de Montpensier and The Comtesse de Tende: Women's Tragedies.

Outside class: If I receive any outlines that propose unacceptable topics I will email the students concerned. For Final Exam Period, prepare for final and write Essay With Guidelines #3; also write any extra credit, large or compensatory essay with guideliness.

Final Exam: Monday, December 16th

The Final Exam begins at 7:30 and lasts until 10:15. This will be an open book exam on the film adaptation of The Changeling and what we've read and discussed by Christine de Pizan, Gaspara Stampa, Marie-Madeleine de Lafayette, and Webster's The Duchess of Malfi. ESSAY WITH GUIDELINES #3 IS DUE.

Ellen Moody.
Pagemaster: Jim Moody.
Page Last Updated 21 August 2002.