center for women and gender studies
logo for center for women and gender studies

Marjorie Curry Woods

Associate FacultyPh.D., U. of Toronto

Blumberg Centennial Professor of English and University Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Department of English, College of Liberal Arts
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.


WGS 393 • Boys Being Women:the Classroom

47975 • Fall 2013
Meets MW 900am-1030am CAL 419
(also listed as E 392M, MDV 392M)

Boys Being Women:

Rhetoric, Gender, and Emotion in the Classroom

Women’s emotions in Virgil’s Aeneid were an important part of the school experiences of St. Augustine. As he tells us in the Confessions, he “grieved for Dido, slain as she sought by the sword an end to her woe,” and one of his school assignments was to rewrite in prose and perform his version of Juno’s speech expressing her “grief and rage that she could not keep the Trojan prince [Aeneas] from coming to Italy…” (Conf. 1.13 and 17). Augustine was not alone in this experience. Many schoolboys in the ancient, late antique, medieval, and early modern periods performed and composed speeches by very emotional literary (and, in the byzantine tradition, biblical) characters, often women, as an integral part of their study of rhetoric. These speeches and the pedagogical tradition to which they belong will be the object of our study this semester.

From the point of view of the history of creativity, the most important aspect of this tradition is the element of fantasy and projection on the part of the students. We will examine the psychological implications and pedagogical usefulness of such training both in historical terms and also with regard to how some of these exercises might be modified for our own classrooms, where we encounter some surprisingly similar issues. Recent research on memory, empathy, and emotion will form part of our discussions.

Emotion filtered through the lens of gender was a key component of the internalization of texts, with profound effects both in the classroom and on female characterization by adult writers like Chaucer, and as Lynn Enterline’s recent Shakespeare’s Schoolroom suggests. Centuries earlier, Statius’s unfinished Achilleid presented a young Achilles whose gender- (and species-)bending adolescence was found so useful by medieval teachers that they completed the work and made hundreds of copies of it. New translations and recent scholarship reveal a rich and textured history of experimentation in crossing boundaries for pedagogical purposes. We will add to this scholarship even as we investigate what insights into the modern classroom knowledge about this tradition may give us.

The course is open to graduate students at all levels and should be useful for and accessible to those in a number of disciplines. It functions as both as an approach to premodern texts via a thematic core and also a survey of a significant part of the western rhetorical, literary, and pedagogical tradition rarely studied as a whole.

All required readings will be in English, but a number of surviving student exercises from the earlier periods are still untranslated. Thus, translation projects as well as analyses from any historical, methodological, or theoretical approach will be welcome as topics for the research paper required of each student.

Written assignments will include a short paper (either creative or analytical) at the beginning of the semester, followed by a research paper submitted in two drafts. I like to have as wide a variety of students in my classes as possible, and those focusing on later periods will be allowed to write their research papers on material relating to their own areas of study. Each student’s topic will be worked out in consultation with the professor. Students will make two informal presentations, one on the readings for a particular class and another at the end on the research paper.

Preliminary list of readings:

Several books of Virgil’s Aeneid and selections from Augustine’s Confessions.

Statius, Achilleid in a new translation now in preparation; selections from recent critical studies Transvestite Achilles and Achilles in Love.

Libanius, Exercises in a Speech in Character.

Aphthonius, Progymnasmata (graded rhetorical exercises); selections on emotional speeches from other rhetorical handbooks.

Chaucer, selected short texts or Troilus and Criseyde.

Shakespeare, As You Like It and/or Marlowe, Dido, Queen of Carthage.

Enterline, Shakespeare’s Schoolroom.

McGaugh, Memory and Emotion.

Essays by Suzanne Keen, Jeffrey Walker, Raffaella Cribiore, Manfred Kraus, Eugenio Amato and Gianluca Ventrella, Federica Ciccolella, Vessela Valiavitcharska, Jan Ziolkowski, and Marjorie Curry Woods.

[The final list of readings will be determined by the interests and strengths 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

Profile Pages

External Links

  •   Map
  • Center for Women's & Gender Studies

    The University of Texas at Austin
    Burdine Hall 536
    2505 University Avenue, A4900
    Austin, Texas 78712