Medieval Studies

Mary E Blockley

ProfessorPh.D., 1984, Yale University

Associate Professor
Mary E Blockley



Language and Linguistics, Renaissance Literature, Old English language and literature, History of the English language, Medieval manuscripts, Germanic philology


MDV 392M • Old English

40255 • Fall 2015
Meets MWF 100pm-200pm PAR 210
(also listed as E 364P, E 395N)

E 364P  l  Old English

Instructor:  Blockley, M

Unique #:  34595

Semester:  Fall 2015

Cross-lists:  E 395N, MDV 392M

Flags:  n/a

Restrictions:  n/a

Computer Instruction:  No

Prerequisites: Nine semester hours of coursework in English or rhetoric and writing.

Description: The earliest vernacular compositions in English, dating from the seventh century to some decades beyond the Norman Conquest in the eleventh, are our sources for Old English, a.k.a. Anglo-Saxon. In this course we will learn how to read them with healthy skepticism and an on-line concordance. We will begin with the prose and read extracts from travelogues, chronicles, translations from Latin, and saints' lives. We will do some transcription from facsimiles of manuscripts to discover what editors put in and leave out in producing texts. We will spend most of the course reading the most-studied verse compositions, including The Wanderer and possibly The Seafarer, heroic poems like The Battle of Brunanburh, The Battle of Maldon, and The Dream of the Rood, possibly some riddles and Biblical epic. Daily translation, homework exercises, grammar quizzes as necessary, a midterm exam covering the grammar of prepared translations, and a final exam.

Texts: J. C. Pope and R. D. Fulk, Eight Old English Poems (Norton, 2001); P. S. Baker, Introduction to Old English, 3rd ed. (Wiley Blackwell, 2012) and online; J. Clark-Hall Concise Dictionary of Anglo-Saxon (Toronto 1984); Dictionary of Old English online corpus.

Requirements & Grading: Daily translation, quizzes, exercises, 55%; Midterm, 25%; Final exam, 20%.

No makeup quizzes, no more than two unexcused absences without penalty.

MDV 392M • Renaissance English

40260 • Fall 2015
Meets MW 1100am-1230pm PAR 214
(also listed as E 395N)

In this course we examine what lies linguistically between Middle English and our own. Though speakers of Modern English have little trouble reading Renaissance texts, Renaissance English (or, to give it its linguistic name, Early Modern English) differs from Modern English in its sounds, its grammar, and even its sentence structure.   We will study changes in the sounds, spellings, inflectional systems, word order, punctuation, slang and register, syntax, and semantics as they affect the textuality of English between the rise of printing and the beginning of the eighteenth century, or , as a  20th century collection put it, 1476-1776.  Topics include the change from thou to (singular) you, the spread and functions of auxiliary do (contrasted with contemporary German tun), the rise of the passive progressive and other expansions of the auxiliary system for verbs, including the shift from deontic to epistemic modal verbs, the systematization of adverbial meaning and adverbial position in the clause, the coexistence of –s, -th, and other present-tense inflections, the Great Vowel Shift, the spelling of function words in early texts and what cultural or graphic features might influence such regularization, and, generally, the (re)birth of prescriptive grammar in early Modern English.

In the past fifteen years there has been an explosion of research, still mostly European, facilitated by the availability and sophistication of databases for texts from this period. We will look at ordinary prose as well as dramatic and other sorts of literary texts.  We may look at linguistic methods of determining criteria for authorship (Don Foster, Brian Vickers), and will look at some shameless forgeries by the likes of Chatterton, Collier, and Ireland in the HRC.

There will be exercises, a midterm, and a final exam.  A substantive paper, developed over the course of the semester and negotiated with the instructor, may substitute for the final exam.


Cusack, Bridget  Everyday English 1500-1700: A Reader (1998)

Görlach, Manfred Introduction to Early Modern English (trans. 1991)

Nevalainen, Terttu Introduction to Early Modern English (2006)

Whigham and Rebhorn, eds.  Puttenham The Art of English Poesy: A Critical Edition [1598](2007)

additions include:

Mel Evans, The Language of Queen Elizabeth I: A Sociolinguistic Perspective on Royal Style and Identity (2013)

[Evans lectures at Birmingham]




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