BA English Literature and History

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Medieval Metamorphoses

Course unit fact file
Unit code ENGL21022
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? No


Medieval Metamorphoses will use the framing concept of  ‘metamorphosis’ to explore the ways in which late medieval poets creatively reworked and re-imagined classical stories dealing with change, loss and violence, while working out new modes of poetic representation and form.

Many of these stories were taken from the works of that most popular of Roman poets in the Middle Ages, Ovid (predominantly from the Metamorphoses). Engaging with these narratives allowed medieval authors to confront and explore questions of transformation and change in language and forms that were themselves often innovative and experimental. It also required them to think about how to engage with the writings of a pagan poet within their own, Christian context.

The course will introduce students to selected stories from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and to reworkings of them by late medieval authors such as John Gower, Geoffrey Chaucer, John Lydgate and Robert Henryson. It will consider different kinds of metamorphosis – physical, psychological, emotional, supernatural, historical – and examine how these poems work out a new, vernacular, imaginative theory of literature while participating in the transmission of an admired, if problematic, cultural heritage.


  • To introduce students to a range of key texts in late Middle English literature, especially late medieval poetry;

  • To familiarise students with central frameworks within which concepts relating to human identity, sexuality and their relationship to other humans and the world were developed;

  • To understand the literary texts in relation to their cultural contexts and audiences;

  • To engage with recent theoretical readings of this material;

  • To develop confident reading and interpretative skills in Middle English;

  • To develop a range of written and oral discussion skills appropriate to this level.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course, students should be able to:


•Demonstrate a familiarity with the range of Middle English literary poetic techniques and styles studied in the course of this semester;

•Demonstrate an informed knowledge of the central concepts covered in this course (including: various meanings of metamorphosis in relation to representations of human identity, sexuality, death, psychology and emotions);

•Demonstrate a familiarity with the historical and textual contexts that these writers worked in;

•Demonstrate good comprehension of Middle English;

•Demonstrate knowledge of late medieval literary and translation theory;

•Show the ability to engage critically with the primary material, as well as a familiarity with critical approaches to these texts;

•Show the ability to discuss in detail a range of poetic techniques used across the works of several late medieval authors;

•Show the ability to think through questions of identity and representation as addressed in the literature studied on the course in relation to their context;

•The ability to present ideas and research persuasively in a range of formats (poster and essay);

•Demonstrate consistent level of contribution to seminar discussions;

•Demonstrate research skills (using a range of sources and media);

•Demonstrate enhanced linguistic skills through an engagement with Middle English;

•Devidence writing skills (constructing an argument, marshalling evidence, analysing sources) and presentation skills (poster session);

•Create a poster and writing a commentary on the ideas that went into it (conceptual, creative and intellectual skills);

•Show a range of intellectual and practical skills (see above: to do with reading, writing, analysing, arguing, evaluating a range of diverse materials, presenting one's ideas in a coherent and creative manner).


Employability skills

Analytical skills
Students taking this unit will be able to analyse and evaluate arguments and texts. Above all, committed students will emerge from this course unit with an advanced capacity to think critically, i.e. knowledgeably, rigorously, confidently and independently.
Group/team working
Students taking this unit will be able to work courteously and constructively as part of a larger group.
On this unit students are encouraged to respond imaginatively and independently to the questions and ideas raised by texts and other media.
Students on this unit must take responsibility for their learning and are encouraged not only to participate in group discussions but to do so actively and even to lead those discussions.
Project management
Students taking this unit will be able to work towards deadlines and to manage their time effectively.
Oral communication
Students taking this unit will be able to show fluency, clarity and persuasiveness in spoken communication.
Students on this unit will be required to digest, summarise and present large amounts of information. They are encouraged to enrich their responses and arguments with a wide range of further reading.
Written communication
Students on this unit will develop their ability to write in a way that is lucid, precise and compelling.

Assessment methods

Essay 60%
Close reading exercise 40%

Feedback methods

Written and face-to-face (upon arrangement)

Recommended reading

Ovid, [extracts from] Metamorphoses

Geoffrey Chaucer, Legend of Good Women and House of Fame

John Gower, [extracts from] Confessio Amantis

John Lydgate, [extracts from] Troy Book and Temple of Glass

Robert Henryson, The Testament of Cresseid and Orpheus and Eurydice

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 11
Seminars 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Anke Bernau Unit coordinator

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