First Class: 2 September 2019 (Monday), 9.30-12:20, CPD-LG.10, Centenial Campus.
In England’s medieval period, it has been said, ‘law and literature grew up together’. In this course, we will examine the early history of English law: from the blunt legal codes of the earliest medieval English kings, through the rise of the common law after 1066, to the rapid growth of a complex and professionalised legal system in the early renaissance.
Our survey of the foundational laws and legal systems of England will be informed and enriched by a close examination of major literary works – such as the Old English epic Beowulf, the legends of King Arthur, Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and early renaissance drama. The focus will be how English law and literature influenced each other before the year 1650, and how both discourses tackled questions of authority, sovereignty and the rule of law – questions that both law and literature still grapple with today.
In addition to offering a window into a number of medieval worlds – early royal courts, the first universities, the scriptorium, the early Inns of Court, the guildhalls of London – this course traces the history of the English book itself. The legal and literary texts we study survive in medieval documents, rolls, manuscripts and early printed books; as we learn how these artefacts were composed and produced, we will discover the profound influence that legal writing had on the way that books were created, organised, reproduced and read in the medieval period and for centuries to come.
As a general overview, the course will be divided into four historical periods:
1. The Early Medieval Period: Royal Statute and Old English Epic;
2. The High Middle Ages: Courtly Love and the Birth of the Common Law;
3. The Late Middle Ages: Literary Satire and the Growth of the University Education;
4. The Early Renaissance: Early Modern Drama, Criminality, and the Professional Lawyer.
Students completing the course will have a strong sense of the history and development of English statute and common law, familiarity with many of the canonical literary texts and authors of the medieval and renaissance periods, and a critical understanding of the interactions of pre-modern law and literature, as well as the ability to undertake legal and literary research using primary texts and documentary artefacts from manuscript libraries and archives.
The course focuses on developing students' skills in creating arguments about a range of canonical literary texts, but also on the ways in which literary approaches can be the basis for understanding text traditionally considered to be 'non-literary': legal and archival materials. As part of its training in legal and literary history, the course introduces students to the history of the book as an academic discipline, and to the skills of pre-modern archival research – paleography, codicology, diplomatic, and textual scholarship, among others.
Upon completion of the course, students will be able to:
- Describe and explain elements of the history and development of English law from c.600-c.1600, including royal statutory production, the development of the common law, and the origins and structure of institutions of legal education and training.
- Describe and discuss major works of medieval and early renaissance literature, in their social and historical context.
- Demonstrate an awareness of the ways in which elements of language and rhetoric are shared between the fields of law and literature, and the ways in which these two fields may influence one another.
- Use relevant information about pre-modern legal practices and institutions, and about literary genre and form, to examine critically the discourses of power, authority and the rule of law contained in both legal and literary works of the period.
- Apply new research skills in textual scholarship to pre-modern manuscript sources found in legal archives and literary collections, in order to formulate sophisticated arguments about literary and legal history, and its relevance to modern legal systems.
|Mid-term essay (1,500 words)||30%|
|Final essay (3,000 words)||50%|
Texts and excerpts will be provided via Moodle and in class.