Proseminar: Medieval Pulp Fictions: Popular Romance in the Auchinleck Manuscript

Enseignant(s): Critten Rory
Cursus: Bachelor
Type d'enseignement: Proséminaire
Langue(s) du cours: Anglais
Semestre(s): SA-2019

Produced in London c. 1340, the Auchinleck Manuscript transmits a generous selection of romances that modern criticism calls “popular.” This designation is double-edged, registering both the broad currency of these texts—they survive in multiple copies—and the perception that they lack the sophistication of elite cultural products. The Auchinleck popular romances are unashamedly bent on entertaining their readers. They are fast paced and outrageous, having an almost obsessive concern with taboo themes that range from extra-marital sex to suicide, incest, rape, and cannibalism. Their deviations from the norm allow for a re-charting of the medieval ideologies relating to gender and race; in combination they provide a fascinating insight into the kinds of fiction that were available in Middle English before Chaucer began writing (probably at the end of the 1360s). In this class we will read a selection of the Auchinleck popular romances. As a means of contextualizing these works we will also read some of the other texts transmitted in the Auchinleck book. At the same time as it introduces students to the pre-eminent secular genre in Middle English, the course will accordingly broach the matter of manuscript compilation: what company did medieval texts keep in the books that preserve them and how can a consideration of a text’s manuscript companions enrich our understanding of medieval readers tastes and priorities?


  • Familiarity with a broad selection of popular romances in Middle English.
  • An enhanced ability to read Middle English and a more profound appreciation of the value of close reading.
  • An enhanced understanding of the role of fiction in the production of attitudes towards gender and race.


Set Texts

Readings will be provided in electronic copy or from texts that are freely available online.