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: Shakespeare 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 developing 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.



Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of the course, students will be able to:

  1. 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.
  2. Describe and discuss major works of medieval and early renaissance literature, in their social and historical context.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.




Oral Presentation


Mid-term essay (1,500 words)


Final essay (3,000 words)





Texts and excerpts will be provided via Moodle and in class.



Last updated: 1 August 2018