Medieval Literature


Medieval Literature: The Queer Premodern

Instructor:       Dr. Derrick Higginbotham

Time:               9.30 – 10.20am, Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays

Location:         307 KUY


Office Hours:  TBA

Location:         617 KUY


Course Description

Queer theory tends to focus on modern texts, perhaps because of the philosopher Michel Foucault’s (in)famous declaration that in the West, ‘homosexuality’, as an identity, is a nineteenth-century invention.  If we accept Foucault’s premise, then what might queerness look like in the long medieval period, before the emergence of this form of identity?  In this seminar, we will discover that sexuality in the premodern period is an unstable concept, which most often emerges as it intersects in unexpected ways with other categories, including racial, national, religious, class, and gender identities.

We will make this discovery by reading a variety of texts dating from the tenth to fifteenth centuries that crisscross genres, whether prose or poetry, including Hrotsvit of Gandersheim’s version of St. Pelagius, the thirteenth-century romance Silence, portions of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, and The Book of Margery Kempe for example.  By studying a wide range of literary texts, we will see that ‘queering’ texts can serve as a deconstructive tool, enriching our understanding of early literature.  In turn, depictions of premodern sexualities challenge us to reexamine some of our own, along with queer theory and gender studies’, assumptions about sexuality, gender, and history.


Book List (They are available at the campus book store)

Chaucer, Geoffrey.  The Canterbury Tales.  Jill Mann, ed.  New York:  Penguin Classics, 2005.

Foucault, Michel.  The History of Sexuality.  Volume One:  An Introduction.  Robert Hurley, trans. New York: Vintage, 1978.

Cleanness. Kevin Gustafson, editor and translator.  Ontario:  Broadview Press, 2010.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.  James Winny, editor and translator. Ontario:  Broadview Press, 1995.

Silence:  A Thirteenth-Century French Romance.  Sarah Roche-Madhi, ed. and trans.           Michigan:  Michigan University Press, 1999.

Staley, Lynn, ed.  The Book of Margery Kempe.  New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000.


Student Learning Outcomes:

In this course, students will:

  • Practice reading texts critically and appreciate how genre shapes content
  • Acquire an understanding of the history of sexuality and queer theory
  • Strengthen their knowledge of the Middle Ages as a literary and historical period
  • Gain an understanding of literature’s potential and limits as a source for cultural history
  • Improve their skills in incorporating and documenting secondary scholarship when crafting an argumentative essay



Attendance/Participation                                                           10%

Response Paper 1 (650 – 700 words)                                       10%

Response Paper 2 (650 – 700 words)                                      15%

Clog Responses (5 x 50 words)                                                  10%

Research Essay (2000 words)                                                   40%

Final Exam (1200 words)                                                           15%