Close-up photograph of a medieval text
Affect, Experience, Sensation: Reading Medieval French Literature in Manuscripts
210B :  Studies in Medieval Literature
Spring 2024
Class No: 31049
Henry Ravenhall
2:00 PM - 4:59 PM

This course introduces graduate students to key texts of medieval French literature by examining, and reflecting critically on, the material forms through which it is transmitted. Manuscripts are sensuous objects that operate at the intersection of touch, sight, and sound, that add layers to the aesthetic experience, and that produce complex affective responses. A history of medieval French literature as seen through its manuscripts would look quite different to one based on modern critical editions: some of the most canonical texts survive in very few manuscripts, while lesser-known ones are sometimes copied and illustrated in dozens, if not hundreds. Thanks to the vast online availability of digitized manuscripts, this course centers the role that the material object plays in the mediation of literature through word, image, and parchment. Students will read a variety of twelfth- to fourteenth-century texts in their manuscript forms, playing close attention to page layout, text-image relations, variant readings, signs of reader response, and so on. Recent critical and theoretical scholarship on manuscript materiality will supplement students’ own engagements with specific medieval artefacts. Students will work towards a substantial research paper based either on a manuscript or corpus of manuscripts, inflected with their own theoretical interests. No prior knowledge of medieval French is required, although we will deal with linguistic and translation issues in the original language. Some training in language, codicology, and palaeography will be provided. One class will be held with the collections at the Bancroft Library. Texts will be available in modern French translation. Class discussion in English.