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Middle English Language & Literature

Course Details

Course Number
Section Number
Fall 2012
Dillard College of Business Administration
Classroom Number
Days & Times

MWF 11:00-11:50 AM

Dr. Peter Fields (view Profile)


The Canterbury Tales: 15 Tales & GP
Kolve & Olson 2nd Norton Critical Edition
The Canterbury Tales
Modern Prose Translation by R. M. Lumiansky
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Ed. & Trans. James Winny/Middle English w. facing modern trans.
Course Objectives

English Department Goals

GOAL 1. Critical Inquiry

Objective 1.1:  Student engages in an increasingly sophisticated discourse and demonstrates aesthetic and critical discernment through close textual analysis.

Objective 1.2:  Student evaluates secondary sources and applies skills in information gathering and management, and document design, using traditional sources and emerging technologies.

GOAL 2.  Knowledge of Language and Literature

Objective 2.1:  Student understands the usage and structure of the English language.

Objective 2.2:  Student recognizes the stylistic techniques that distinguish key literary texts relevant to subject and genre.

Objective 2.3:  Student is familiar with the legacy of important ideas and contexts associated with literary periods.

Objective 2.4:  Student is introduced to academic and professional publications in the field.

GOAL 3.  Writing as Process

Objective 3.1:  Student reflects on his or her arguments over multiple stages of development.

Objective 3.2:  Using traditional resources and emerging technologies, the student references and formats primary and secondary sources in MLA style.

GOAL 4.  Engagement

Objective 4.1:  Student is aware of a cultural context for his or her own values and those of his or her sources.

 Bullet point summary of the course requirements for Middle English with Dr. Fields:

  • Participate in discussion by choosing and presenting a key passage from one of our primary texts.
  • Write four seven paragraph essays (the fourth is the Blue Book Final).
  • For a seven paragraph essay, you start by picking a Block Quote (a sustained verbatim passage) from the primary text.
  • Write the second paragraph first which mines the Block Quote for ideas.
  • Paragraph three is in regard to character and utilizes 4 Short Quotes.
  • Paragraph four is in regard to irony and utilizes 4 more Short Quotes.
  • Both seven paragraphs essays require a critical review (pars. 5-6).
  • Paragraph five utilizes ideas and quotes from the supplemental material in our required critical edition (see model below).
  • Paragraph six utilizes an outside source: either a scholarly article found on a Moffett-supported database or a book from the Moffett stacks. A printout of the article or a photocopy of the book chapter should be in the pocket of the folder.
  • Paragraph seven should review the key points of the essay and offer some final insights.
  • The first paragraph is best attempted last, after writing paragraph seven.
  • The first paragraph is in two parts: first, a clear argument (thesis and sub-points); second, it provides context for the Block Quote which immediately follows the first paragraph. This context summarizes the relevant plot points and anticipates a key idea in the Block Quote.
  • The essay requires a separate Works Cited page (cross-reference model).
  • The Blue Book Final follows the same seven paragraph model. But students may have a bullet point outline on the inside covers of the Blue Book—students may consult their critical edition and (if they choose) the outside source(s) they have chosen for the critical review.
  • Students must write clearly with standard punctuation and grammar. Grammar and phrasing problems will affect the grade.

Proper Format for the SEVEN paragraph essay (with sample paragraphs & quotes):

The first paragraph is the introduction. It should start with the paper’s thesis and supporting points. The first paragraph is followed by a Block Quote. Therefore, the second half of the first paragraph should provide a context for the Block Quote—this context summarizes what is happening in the story (in regard to plot and character) as pertaining to the Block Quote which will follow. 

Each essay features a Block Quote (BQ), a long passage which is cited word for word exactly the way it appears in our book (don’t turn poetry into prose)—the BQ follows the introductory paragraph which ends on a colon. Instead of quotation marks, students set the BQ off an extra 10 spaces on the left all the way down. A good length for a BQ would be approximately EIGHT to TEN lines: 

‘Good morning, sir Gawain,’ said that fair lady,

‘You are an unwary sleeper, that one can steal in here:

Now you are caught in a moment! Unless we agree on a truce,

I shall imprison you in your bed, be certain of that!’

Laughing merrily the lady uttered this jest,

‘Good morning, dear lady,’ said Gawain gaily,

‘You shall do with me as you wish, and that pleases me much,

For I surrender at once, and beg for your mercy,

And that is best, in my judgement, for I simply must.’ (1208-16)


The second paragraph comes AFTER the BQ and mines the BQ for ideas. The second paragraph does NOT have any quotes, either from the Block Quote or from elsewhere in the poem or story.


Gawain and Lady Bertilak seem to be engaged in a light-hearted frolic. We might even mistakenly assume Gawain is capitulating to her overtures and actively wants to engage the woman physically. However, the surface jocularity belies a much more serious situation. Gawain’s chivalric virtues are being put to the test, and he is determined to avoid failure. Yes, purity is a chivalric value, but courtesy dictates that he cannot rebuke or reprimand a lady. As a knight, he is duty-bound to obey and honor the Lady of the manor even if what she wants is contrary to the courtesy he owes her husband. If he were to accuse her of something immoral, he would be—very discourteously—implying he was her moral superior. He would be taking moral charge of her. Courtesy dictates that he subordinate himself, which would seem to leave him no choice but to give her what she wants. But he has a strategy to both disobey her and oblige her at the same time. If he plays his cards right, he can ramp up the role of abject servant and thereby ratchet back the sexual play—especially if he takes literally her claim of total victory over him. Right now, her flirtatious, merry tone allows him to play along with her game of capture and cast himself as someone wholly dependent on her will—not his own. She wants him to take the sexual initiative. His goal is to take advantage of the happy-go-lucky word-play of prisoner-conqueror and insist that she is the one in charge. Therefore, he should not do anything that would imply that he had a will of his own. By stressing his status as captive, he can retreat strategically into just lying there on the bed—all the time agreeing that indeed he has no choice but to obey her.


The third paragraph—which begins In regard to character—addresses the motivation of an important character in the primary text. Par. three utilizes four Short Quotes (SQs) that were not part of the BQ.


In regard to character, Gawain never loses sight of courtesy’s basic agenda which is to subordinate the knight to someone he owes service and devotion. In the bedroom temptations, Gawain is at pains to avoid going too far physically with Lady Bertilak, which would violate the chivalric (and Marian) virtue of chastity. Light-hearted jesting is part of his strategy: “But he defended himself so skillfully that no fault appeared, / Nor evil on either side, nor anything did they feel / but delight” (1551-53). He remains chaste (for Mary’s sake), respectful of Lady Bertilak, and (so far) exempt from any obligation to give Lord Bertilak anything more than a kiss. The strain though becomes evident in the third temptation when he must beat back his own desire: “Hot passionate feeling welled up in his heart” (1762). He is losing his train of thought if for no other reason than his dread of his rendezvous with the Green Knight that is looming ever closer. Into his preoccupied mind looms the vivacious lady and he seems flustered: “For that noble lady so constantly pressed, / Pushed him so close to the verge, that either he must / Take her love there and then or churlishly reject it” (1771-72). He suddenly envisions what he would then owe Lord Bertilak and says to himself, “God forbid!” (1776). The sudden vision of complying with Lord Bertilak’s wager—of sharing whatever they win in the field or in the castle—beyond that of kissing drives home the seriousness of avoiding sex with the lord’s wife: “That shall not come about!” (1776) he declares emphatically—again, to himself, not to her. He cannot rebuke her to her face.


Notice that we use a forward slash between lines of poetry if we’re citing longer SQs.  If you’re citing Short Quotes (SQs), integrate them surgically in your language. Make sure you lead with your own words—never lead with a quote. Make sure longer SQs are fully anticipated by your own thought. The line numbers are in parentheses immediately following the quotes:


The fourth paragraph—which begins In regard to irony—address irony in the primary text (when the opposite of what we expect proves to be true) and utilizes four more (never before used) SQs.


The fifth paragraph begins In regard to my critical review. Here students express a sustained idea and quote at least once from their critical edition’s editorial or supplemental material. Connect the editorial or supplemental point back to the primary text we’re studying (and quote from it as well):


In regard to my critical review, I want to cite an analogue work, The Knight of the Sword, which offers the reader a Gawain whose idea of courtesy is much more flexible. This version of Gawain is unable to resist sexual temptation even as the woman herself warns him that his life depends on not going any further than hugs and kisses (166). In this scenario the lord in question is the woman’s father who very badly wants Gawain to share his daughter’s bed. But the man is murderous, perhaps even psychotic, and has arranged for an enchanted sword to hover over the bed and to inflict damage upon any perpetrating knight (167). Gawain, rather daringly, endures partial blows from the sword, even as the woman urges him not to risk his life. She genuinely loves him and does not want him flayed alive by the sword. Here Gawain remarks that his reputation actually requires that he persevere: “If God granted that he should return to his land again, this affair could never be concealed, and it would be known everywhere that he had lain all alone at night with such a beautiful and charming girl, and yet had never done anything to her” (168). Contrast this notion of what is proper with the motivation of our Gawain in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, who is at pains to be the perfect knight and passes the test of purity with flying colors. Our Gawain, however, is more than inclined to cast aspersions on the lady who tempted him: “My good name is marred” (2386), he complains to her husband. Gawain casts himself as yet another victim of “womanly wiles” (2415). His insistence on then wearing the sash as a badge of dishonor seems to miss the point as James Winny remarks in his notes to our edition: “But wearing the belt for the rest of his life may be an inverted form of pride” (153).

The sixth paragraph (which continues the critical review) introduces an outside source not found in our critical editions (either a scholarly article from the Moffett-supported database Academic Search Complete or a serious title from the Moffett book stacks). The idea is to offer a sustained discussion of a thought in your outside source—and to quote from it—and then come back again to the primary text that we’re all examining (and quote from the primary text as well). NOTE: We never just quote—we anticipate the quote with the idea and context in our own words (proper acknowledgement is highlighted in bold):

According to Kathryn Walls, in her article “The Axe in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” for ANQ, the Gawain-poet is illustrating the role of grace in human penance. If God is just, he must put the axe to any tree that does not bear fruit. Walls remarks that Christ’s coming was supposed to inaugurate the cutting down of such trees as John the Baptist prophesied in the gospels (14). However, as Walls points out, Christ’s coming inaugurates a much different scenario, not one of judgment but of self-sacrifice and mercy upon sinners (15). The expected role of Christ—like that of axe—was the end of human injustice and the beginning of divine justice. But justice is a terrible thing for sinners. Mercy, Walls observes, transforms the idea of the axe into one of escaping justice rather than succumbing to it. St. Augustine is the theologian who made this point about John and the axe. The axe thereby becomes an ironic emblem of God sparing the sinner. In Walls’ view, the Gawain-poet exploits this emblem to show the limits of human perfection. Even the most perfect of knights must depend on mercy: “As we have seen, the Green Knight withdraws his axe from Gawain’s neck—not just once, but twice. These dramatic moments of reprieve recall (and may well originate in) Augustine’s conception of John’s axe” (16). The Green Knight acknowledges Gawain’s virtues, but he also points out that Gawain “fell short a little” (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 2366). Gawain, however, cannot abide the idea that he failed true perfection—the kind that would come of his own efforts. He resents the grace offered him through the Green Knight, a big-hearted deed of generosity which invites Gawain back into happy, convivial fellowship and makes a gift of the green sash (2389-2406). Gawain throws down the green sash and declares it symbolic of a vast personal failure and defeat: “So mortified and crushed that he inwardly squirmed; / All the blood in his body burned in his face” (2370-71).

The seventh paragraph revisits your thesis in light of your previous discussion and critical review. The seventh paragraph is good preparation for writing the first paragraph. DON’T SKIMP ON THE SEVENTH PARAGRAPH. BRING TO BEAR ALL YOUR REMAINING INSIGHTS.

Works Cited (cross-reference technique)

Brewer, Elisabeth. Knight of the Sword. Appendix B. Winny 161-70.

---. Notes on the Text. Winny 142-54.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Winny 1-141.

Walls, Kathryn. “The Axe in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” ANQ 16.1 (2003): 13-18. Academic Search Complete. Web. 21 August 2012.

Winny, James, ed. and trans. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Middle English Text with facing Translation. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview, 2005. Print.

(Sample) Works Cited 

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale. Kolve and Olson 102-130.

Kolve, V. A., and Glending Olson, eds. The Canterbury Tales: Fifteen Tales and the General Prologue. By Geoffrey Chaucer. New York: W. W. Norton. Print.

Jerome, Saint. From Against Jovinian. Kolve and Olson 359-73.

Tinkle, Teresa. “Contested Authority: Jerome and the Wife of Bath on I Timothy 2.” Chaucer Review 44.3 (2010): 268-93. Academic Search Complete. Web. 21 August 2012.



Grading Standards


The entire grade is based on student writing. Each typed essay represents 25 percent of the semester grade. The four grades are averaged together. Essays are graded for compelling argument. Grammar and punctuation count as well. MLA citing is also factored into the grade.

Final Exam 12/10/2012 10:30 AM-12:30 PM
Submission Format Policy

Proper Submission of Student Writing

  • All writing must be typed (12 point Times New Roman), double-spaced, with a header for the student’s last name (in the default .5 setting in upper right corner), page numbers inserted (upper right, .5 setting), and MLA format for citing, including the Works Cited. However, while the top, right, and bottom margins should be set at one inch, the left margin should be an inch and a quarter to accommodate the folder. On the first page of an essay, the student name, instructor name, course, and date should be in the upper left, double-spaced.
  • Students must submit, and retain, all their typed hole-punched assignments in the clasps (i.e., “brads”) of a folder (which has both brads and pockets) in the order that they were assigned. The photocopy or printout of the relevant outside source must be in the left pocket (highlighted for the relevant passages). The most recent assignment that needs to be graded is always the last item (hole-punched and fixed in the brads).
  • Students must submit their work in person (from their hands into the instructor’s hands). Submission for a due-date is never by e-mail attachment or under the office door, or left on a desk, or by surrogate (classmate or relative). Late work also must be submitted in person.
  • Work submitted apart from the guidelines of this syllabus will not be evaluated and must be resubmitted and penalized for lateness.
  • At the end of the course, Dr. Fields may ask students to send him the computer files of their essays for archival purposes.

Note: You may not submit a paper for a grade in this class that already has been (or will be) submitted for a grade in another course, unless you obtain the explicit written permission of me and the other instructor involved in advance.
Late Paper Policy

An assignment is late if submitted after the class period it is due and penalized 10 points. If late by two class periods, the essay is penalized 20 points. No late work may be submitted after the last official class period. A class period is officially over when the instructor dismisses it. All late work must be submitted IN PERSON.

If students are too ill to submit their work personally, they should submit it when they return to class. They may avoid penalty for late submission by obtaining documentation from a relevant professional in a timely fashion (e.g., a doctor, clinic, officer of the court, or the Dean of Students’ office). Absence for the sake of others requires similar documentation.

Plagiarism Policy

Plagiarism is the use of someone else's thoughts, words, ideas, or lines of argument in your own work without appropriate documentation (a parenthetical citation at the end and a listing in "Works Cited")-whether you use that material in a quote, paraphrase, or summary. It is a theft of intellectual property and will not be tolerated, whether intentional or not.

Student Honor Creed

As an MSU Student, I pledge not to lie, cheat, steal, or help anyone else do so."

As students at MSU, we recognize that any great society must be composed of empowered, responsible citizens. We also recognize universities play an important role in helping mold these responsible citizens. We believe students themselves play an important part in developing responsible citizenship by maintaining a community where integrity and honorable character are the norm, not the exception.

Thus, We, the Students of Midwestern State University, resolve to uphold the honor of the University by affirming our commitment to complete academic honesty. We resolve not only to be honest but also to hold our peers accountable for complete honesty in all university matters.

We consider it dishonest to ask for, give, or receive help in examinations or quizzes, to use any unauthorized material in examinations, or to present, as one's own, work or ideas which are not entirely one's own. We recognize that any instructor has the right to expect that all student work is honest, original work. We accept and acknowledge that responsibility for lying, cheating, stealing, plagiarism, and other forms of academic dishonesty fundamentally rests within each individual student.

We expect of ourselves academic integrity, personal professionalism, and ethical character. We appreciate steps taken by University officials to protect the honor of the University against any who would disgrace the MSU student body by violating the spirit of this creed.

Written and adopted by the 2002-2003 MSU Student Senate.

Students with Disabilities

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal anti-discrimination statute that provides comprehensive civil rights protection for persons with disabilities. Among other things, this legislation requires that all students with disabilities be guaranteed a learning environment that provides for reasonable accommodation of their disabilities. If you believe you have a disability requiring an accommodation, please contact the Disability Support Services in Room 168 of the Clark Student Center, (940) 397-4140.

Safe Zones Statement

The professor considers this classroom to be a place where you will be treated with respect as a human being - regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, political beliefs, age, or ability. Additionally, diversity of thought is appreciated and encouraged, provided you can agree to disagree. It is the professor's expectation that ALL students consider the classroom a safe environment.

Contacting your Instructor

All instructors in the Department have voicemail in their offices and MWSU e-mail addresses. Make sure you add your instructor's phone number and e-mail address to both email and cell phone lists of contacts.

Attendance Requirements

Roll is taken right away as soon as class begins. The instructor is not obliged to count people present who arrive late. A student with three unexcused absences receives a warning from the instructor. As of the fourth unexcused absence, the instructor reserves the right to notify the Dean of Students and to initiate removal of the student from the course.

Other Policies

Plagiarism and Proper Documentation

Any use of a non-documented source as if it were your own is considered academic dishonesty. Even if the rest of the essay is original, the grade will be a “0” for the assignment. The student will be asked to leave the course. 

Sometimes students fail to cite a documented source fully and correctly. The student’s grade for an assignment may suffer if students neglect some aspect of proper attribution. The source must not only appear in the Works Cited—it must be properly acknowledged in the body of the essay where students depend on that source for ideas or a quote. 

Remember: Any use of a source requires in-body attribution—e.g., “according to [name of author(s)] in his or her article [title of article] for the journal [name of journal]—and then a page number in parentheses when you’re finished explaining a given point. 

Each time you finish making a point from the source you need to provide a parenthetical page at the end of the point’s final sentence. You need in-body attribution and a parenthetical page number even if you’re not directly quoting. 

Any verbatim use of a source must be distinguished clearly from the student’s own language: i.e., set off on the left by an extra 10 spaces (i.e., a Block Quote) or enclosed by quotation marks (for shorter passages not to exceed three lines if poetry, four lines of prose), immediately followed by the parenthetical reference. 

Classroom Policies

  • MSU prohibits all tobacco use of any kind. No chew tobacco.
  • No e-cigarettes in class—even though they are doubtless a positive alternative.
  • In the Dillard classroom there is no eating or drinking except for water in a clear container.
  • Phones are off-limits during class. But you can take notes in your laptop computer.
  • Students may go to the restroom as the need arises except when the instructor is explaining a detailed point to the whole class.
  • In this course students must allow other class members to see their works-in-progress, including on the big screen and/or in presentations. Students need to participate actively in discussion.
  • Students must have the instructor’s permission to leave class early.

Americans with Disabilities Act

Please contact the Disability Support Services in Room 168 of the Clark Student Center, 397-4140, if you need to file paperwork and request accommodations. This course complies with all requests on behalf of students made by Disability Support Services. 

Safe Zone Statement

The professor considers this classroom to be a place where you will be treated with respect as a human being – regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, political beliefs, age, or ability. Additionally, diversity of thought is appreciated and encouraged, provided you can agree to disagree. It is the professor’s expectation that ALL students consider the classroom a safe environment.

Writing Proficiency Requirement

All students seeking a Bachelor's degree from Midwestern State University must satisfy a writing proficiency requirement once they've 1) passed the 6 hours of Communication Core and and 2) earned 60 hours. You may meet this requirement by passing either the Writing Proficiency Exam or English 2113. Please keep in mind that, once you've earned over 90 hours, you lose the opportunity to take the $25 exam and have no option but to enroll in the three-credit hour course. If you have any questions about the exam, visit the Writing Proficiency Office website at, or call 397-4131.

Campus Carry

Senate Bill 11 passed by the 84th Texas Legislature allows licensed handgun holders to carry concealed handguns on campus, effective August 1, 2016. Areas excluded from concealed carry are appropriately marked, in accordance with state law. For more information regarding campus carry, please refer to the University’s webpage at

If you have questions or concerns, please contact MSU Chief of Police Patrick Coggins at