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Exploring Emotion in Late Medieval English Literature

Faculté de gestion: Faculté des lettres

Responsable(s): Denis Renevey
Intervenant(s): -

Période de validité: 2012 -> 2012

Pas d'horaire défini.


Semestre de printemps
2 heures par semaine
28 heures par semestre

Langue(s) d'enseignement: anglais
Public: Oui
Crédits: 0


The study of the history of emotions has become pervasive among historians in the last decade. It is now time to consider how literary scholars can contribute to this investigation by looking at the ways in which literary texts represent emotions and how they understand these emotions to function within certain contexts. The aim of this class is first to assess the state of the research in the field by reading and discussing writings from some of the most prominent scholars in the field of the history of emotions. Then we will consider whether some medieval texts show medieval scholars attempting to problematise emotions by constructing theories about them. In that context, we will read writings by the twelfth-century Cistercians Bernard of Clairvaux and Aelred of Rievaulx. We will also read extracts from Thomas Aquinas on the passions of the soul in order to have a 'feel' for the way in which emotions were conceived in the medieval period.

The corpus for this seminar is evenly distributed between secular and religious texts. The romance The Siege of Milan offers an interesting insight into the way in which one particular emotion, anger, participates in defining proper or improper behaviour. It is interesting to realise that anger, contrary to what we may believe, was connoted very positively in certain circumstances. What happens when Chaucer plays with the subject of emotion and rhetoric as he attributes some of his avian characters with some features of emotion in one of his dream-vision poems, The Parliament of Fowles? The constrast with aristocratic birds using highly rhetorical flourishes veiling emotional traces requires serious discussion about what Chaucer does in this text. Also, the anonymous Floure and the Leafe displays a female narrator providing an ideology of love in a courtly setting, thus indirectly addressing the theme of love as an emotion whose codification takes different shapes.

With regard to the religious texts, we will read a thirteenth-century meditation inviting the reader/performer to engage emotionally with the text, so as to develop a closer relationship with God. We will also read a series of brief meditations on the Name of Jesus. The devotion to the Name became fashionable in the late medieval period and several texts attest to its popularity. We will try to understand what semantic and emotional content was encoded in the Name, and how this was achieved, and for what purpose.

We will explore a rather new field in literary studies. The theme of the seminar is linked to the SAUTE Conference (19-21 April 2013) organised by the English Department. SAUTE stands for 'Swiss Association of University Teachers of English' and the theme for the Lausanne Conference is 'Emotion, Affect and Sentiment'.


Students are most welcome to attend.

A reader with all of the primary literature will be provided during Week One.


Students will be assessed by means of active participation and the submission of an essay.

Canton de Vaud
Swiss University
Unicentre  -  CH-1015 Lausanne  -  Suisse  -  Tél. +41 21 692 11 11  -  Fax  +41 21 692 26 15