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Encounter : Fabliau, Bourde, and Merry Jest: Early Comic Writing in England

Faculté de gestion: Faculté des lettres

Responsable(s): Rory Critten
Intervenant(s): -

Période de validité: 2018 -> 2018

Pas d'horaire défini.


Semestre d'automne
2 heures par semaine
28 heures par semestre

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


Why do we laugh? And when? And at what? And what is the tenor of that laughter? Does laughter release tension or bury it further? Do we learn when we laugh? Or does laughter confirm our sense of what we already know?

These are some of the questions that we will approach in this course, which looks at a range of comic writing produced in England from the early fourteenth into the sixteenth centuries. We will be concentrating on texts written in England that define themselves as primarily comic productions-as fabliaux, bourdes, or merry jests-but we will not be confined to materials written in English: we will also read works written in Anglo-Norman, the dialect of French spoken in England after the Norman Conquest (these works will be made available in Modern English translation).

A central goal of the course will be the demonstration that, like us, medieval people had a sense of humour. At the same time, we will also be thinking about what laughter can tell us about the composition of medieval society. How do the jokes in our medieval examples reflect contemporary attitudes towards gender and class?


We will begin by reading a sequence of fabliaux taken from two early fourteenth-century manuscripts: Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Digby 86 (week 1) and London, British Library MS Harley 2253 (weeks 2 and 3). These texts were written in French in England; they may have enjoyed success outside England too. They deal with typical fabliau topics (e.g. adultery and exorbitant sexual desire, trickery, and the battle between the sexes). Turning to texts written in English, we will look at the two English-language poems which might qualify as fabliaux proper (week 4) before looking at the new forms that the genre takes in Anglophone contexts (week 5). In particular, we will be interested in thinking about the ways in which comic texts imagine women's place within and outside the home (week 6) and women's mutual society (week 7). After reading week (week 8), we'll study some secondary material on comic writing in England (week 9), before turning to a consideration of burlesque writing (week 10) and Chaucer's contributions to English comic literature (weeks 11 and 12). By way of conclusion, we'll read a selection of short poems dealing with some of the themes looked at over the semester (week 13). The final class will be given over to individual consultations about students' essays.


Students will write an essay of 3,000 words citing at least four articles or book chapters. Essay topics will be suggested, but students are also free to follow their own interests. The secondary materials chosen should be recent (ideally post 2000), relevant to the topic discussed, and integrated intelligently into the proposed argument. A bibliography for the course is available online, as are both a general advice sheet for writing the essay and the marking grid according to which essays will be graded. Essays must be submitted to Dr. Critten's email address (rory.critten@unil.ch), as pdfs having the authors' surnames as their titles, by 17.00, on 23 December 2018.


See Moodle.

Informations supplémentaires


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