Program in Comparative Literature

Marjorie Curry Woods

ProfessorPh.D., U. of Toronto

Blumberg Centennial Professor of English and University Distinguished Teaching Professor
Marjorie Curry Woods



medieval literature; medieval and renaissance rhetoric and pedagogy; composition exercises in the premodern classroom; modern use of premodern compostion exercises


Professor Marjorie (Jorie) Woods grew up in the military and moved almost every year. Changing schools so often generated her interest in teaching, and she studies both how students were taught to write in medieval schools, and the use of premodern classroom exercises in the modern classroom. In 2010 she published her decades-long study of the teachers' notes in margins of the manuscripts of a medieval rhetorical treatise, entitled Classroom Commentaries: Teaching the Poetria nova across Medieval and Renaissance Europe. Currently she is working on how female characters from classical texts were studied and performed in the classroom by boys during the Middle Ages.

At UT she has received a Humanites Research Award, the Harry Ransom Award for Teaching Excellence, the University President's Associates' Teaching Excellence Award, and the Chad Oliver Plan II Teaching Award. Jorie Woods is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Humanities Center, and the Center for Epigraphical and Palaeographical Studies at The Ohio State University, as well as research grants from the American Council of Learned Societies and the American Philosophical Society. An Early Commentary on the Poetria nova of Geoffrey of Vinsauf (1985) received Honorable Mention for the John Nicholas Brown Award of the Medieval Academy of America. Her latest book, Classroom Commentaries: Teaching the Poetria nova across Medieval and Renaissance Europe, has been awarded the 2010 Rhetoric Society of America Book Award. She received the Rome Prize in Renaissance and Early Modern Studies from the American Academy in Rome, where she spent 2007-2008 working on her next book project, Weeping for Dido: The Teaching of the Classics in the Middle Ages.  She continued working on this project as a Member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton during 2011-2012. During 2014-15 she presented the results as the Gombrich Lectures at the Warburg Institute in London and conducted further manuscript research at the American Academy in Berlin; All Souls College, Oxford; and the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel.



C L 381 • Medieval Rhetoric And Poetics

33590 • Fall 2016
Meets TTH 200pm-330pm CAL 323
(also listed as E 387R, MDV 392M)

This course will explore the development of key medieval theoretical and practical ideas about writing, whether in verse or prose, through close readings of rhetorical treatises, arts of poetry, manuals of letter-writing and preaching, and a significant literary text. Medieval composition theory and practice were based on a pedagogy that focused on craft and effect (including affect), and that began with poetry, moving to prose later in the curriculum. While some of the most well-known medieval rhetorical treatises focus on religious issues, most of the work of the writing classroom drew heavily on classical models and treatises.

We will examine the rhetorical uses of poetry as well as the aesthetic considerations of rhetoric. The assigned readings will introduce you to various ways that rhetoric was interpreted and used during the Middle Ages, especially in its intersection with literature and overlap with poetics. (The most popular and influential medieval rhetorical treatise was written in verse and based in part on a classical art of poetry, while the medieval theory and practice of literary characterization was based on Ciceronian rhetorical doctrine.) We will experiment with several medieval composition exercises in class to help us determine the impact of the practice, as well as the theories, of medieval rhetoric and poetics. As a means of deepening our consideration of how such issues were framed during the Middle Ages, we will also look at modern theoretical treatments of similar questions to establish a fruitful dialogue between the articulation of such concerns in medieval and modern discourses.

The direction of the course in the last weeks of the semester will be determined by the particular interests of the students in the class. Students in Creative Writing and those focusing on other historical periods are welcome, and I will work out a relevant research topic with each student individually. Written assignment includes a short analytical or creative assignment, an annotated bibliography covering the reading for class as well as research interests, and a research paper to be turned in both in rough draft and final form. There will be no extensions, and class attendance is required. Each student will present a short oral report based on the reading assignments in a particular class, as well as a longer oral presentation of his or her research project.


C L 381 • Medieval And Early Mod Curric

32875 • Fall 2015
Meets TTH 200pm-330pm UTC 4.120
(also listed as E 387R, MDV 392M)

This course will encompass three overlapping sets of texts taught at schools and some universities during the medieval, late medieval, and early modern periods, particularly in England--although most were also taught on the continent, sometimes for much longer.  A number of these texts were also taught in American schools and colleges (and formed the basis of libraries of British and American novelists and poets well into the nineteenth century). The works include collections of proverbs, fables, short verse narratives (classical as well as Christian), and prose works, including histories and speeches. We will end with Nicholas Orme’s English School Exercises, 1420-1530 and perhaps part of Quentin Skinner’s Forensic Shakespeare.

Although some histories of education will be consulted, the emphasis of the course will be on actually reading the texts known to most educated men (and some women) of the periods. Almost all the works were originally written for adults and in Latin, although all required reading for the course will be in English. The emphasis in choosing among the many possible readings will be the works most widely taught. A number of Latin printed editions of the works are in the HRC’s collections.

Students of all periods are welcome in the course, and research projects (and some of the material on the syllabus) will be worked out individually for each student.

The written requirements are one short paper due near the beginning of the semester on a secondary source, and a research paper due in both rough draft and final form. Students will be required to introduce the discussion on the readings for one class and to present an oral report with annotated bibliography on the research project.

Preliminary reading list of primary sources:

Building Blocks:

            The Distichs of Cato (proverbs)

            Eclogue of Theodulus (debate poem between a Jewish girl and a Pagan boy)

            Fables of Avianus

Troy Books for Boys:

            Achilleid of Statius

            Ilias Latina (“Latin Homer”)

Memories of Sexual Exploits;

            The Elegies of Maximian

The Auctor:

            Virgil, Aeneid, Books 1-6

Classroom dramas:



A New Slant:

On Contempt for the World   

Tobias of Matthew of Vendôme

Back to Antiquity:

            Sallust, Catiline or Jugurtha

            Cicero, Selected Letters

Nicholas Orme, English School Exercises, 1420-1530

Other primary readings may be added, and the secondary readings chosen, according to the research interests of the students.


For a complete publications listing, please download the full CV.

"Rhetoric, Gender, and the Literary Arts: Classical Speeches in the Schoolroom." New Medieval Literature 11 (2009).

"You May Have Changed My Life." English Language Notes 4 (2009). Special Issue on Experimental Literary Pedagogy.

"A Medieval Rhetorical Manual in the 17th Century: The Case of Christian Daum and the Poetria nova." Classica et Beneventana: Essays Presented to Virginia Brown on the Occasion of Her 65th Birthday. 2008.

''Using the Poetria nova to Teach Dictamen in Italy and Central Europe.'' Papers on Rhetoric V. 2003.

''Weeping for Dido: Epilogue on a Premodern Rhetorical Exercise in the Postmodern Classroom,'' Latin Grammar and Rhetoric: From Classical Theory to Medieval Practice. 2002.

''La retórica en el aula medieval, con algunas aplicationes modernas.'' Lecturas retóricas de la sociedad. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2002.

''Boys Will Be Women: Musings on Classroom Nostalgia and the Chaucerian Audience(s).'' Speaking Images: Essays in Honor of V.A. Kolve. 2001.

''The Teaching of Poetic Composition in the Later Middle Ages.'' A Short History of Writing Instruction: From Ancient Greece to Modern America. 2001.

Awards & Honors

Awards & Honors

(last ten years; for complete list please download CV)

  • Fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study, 2011-201
  • Phi Beta Kappa Alpha of Texas Award for Distinction in Teaching, 2011
  • 2011 Book Award from the Rhetoric Society of America (for Classroom Commentaries, 2010)
  • Paul W. Mellon Rome Prize in Renaissance and Early Modern Studies, American Academy in Rome, 2007-2008
  • Chad Oliver Teaching Award, Plan II Honors Program, 2007
  • Harry H. Ransom Teaching Award, College of Liberal Arts, 2006
  • University of Texas Special Research Grant, 2004-2005
  • Virginia Brown Fellowship, The Center for Epigraphical and Palaeographical Studies, The Ohio State University, November 2005
  • C. B. Smith, Sr., Nash Phillips, Clyde Copus Centennial Chair Honoring Harry Huntt Ransom Fellowship, University of Texas, 2005-2006
  • Dean’s Fellowship, College of Liberal Arts, Fall 2005
  • President’s Associates’ Teaching Award, University of Texas, 2004


Curriculum Vitae

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