Module QXE-3113:
The Monstrous Middle Ages

Module Facts

Run by School of Languages, Literatures and Linguistics

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 2

Organiser: Dr Sue Niebrzydowski

Overall aims and purpose

What did it mean to be monstrous in the Middle Ages? Monstrosity is bound up with questions of body image, deformity, hybridity and horror. This module examines the different kinds of monstrosity – from monsters such as werewolves, dragons, and The Devil, to the monstrous behaviour to which humans are subject – in order to explore the ways in which monstrosity shaped the construction of gender and sexual identity, religious devotion, and social prejudice in the later Middle Ages. The texts studied in seminar, alongside medieval and contemporary theories of the monstrous, offer opportunity to consider the ways in which travel writing, romance, fabliaux, saints lives, and drama contributed to the engagement with monstrosity in the rich textual culture of the later Middle Ages.

Course content

Typically, the seminars will cover:

  1. Mapping the Monstrous in the later Middle Ages: Introduction
  2. A Taxonomy of Monsters: The Book of John Mandeville
  3. Monstrous Masculinity: Marie de France, Bisclavret
  4. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
  5. Monstrous Femininity: The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell
  7. The Book of Margery Kempe
  8. The Alien ‘Other’: Chaucer’s The Man of Law’s Tale and The Prioress’s Tale
  9. The Croxton Play of the Sacrament
  10. Demons and Dragons: Anon, The Life of St Margaret and The Legend of St George
  11. Laughter and the Monstrous: Chaucer, The Miller’s Tale and The Reeve’s Tale
  12. Anon, Mankind

Assessment Criteria


Typically, work graded D- to D+ (or 40 to 49) will show many of the following qualities: • Unsure and lacking in confidence when discussing ideas • Referring to the subject in question in a superficial manner • Making an effort to provide fairly balanced answers • Some points in the argument irrelevant to the topic • Little evidence of background reading • Some uncertainty over language and syntax • Strengths and weaknesses fairly balanced; occasionally clumsy and unimaginative • In creative work: superficial • Not succeeding in mastering the requirements of the medium


Typically, work graded B- to B+ (or 60 to 69) will show many of the following qualities: • Discusses ideas adeptly • Most of the arguments about a specific field are well-aired • Displays knowledge of the subject in question; the answer is relevant • Shows analytical and clear thought • Gives evidence of relevant reading • Shows accuracy in expression with mastery over language. • A few minor errors here and there. • Signs of creative thought deserve a higher position within the class • In creative work: shows signs of originality, having understood the requirements of the medium • Plans of well-balanced and full answers, despite some gaps


Typically, work graded A- to A** (or 70 to 100) will show many of the following qualities:

• Discusses ideas with confidence and precision • Demonstrates maturity and sophistication • Displays deep knowledge of the subject in question; the answer is totally relevant • Shows independent, analytical and clear thought • Gives evidence of substantial and relevant reading • Shows great accuracy in expression, displaying total mastery over all aspects of the language • Shows occasional signs of brilliance and originality of thought • In creative work: displays considerable originality • Command over medium; may have potential for publication/production

Learning outcomes

  1. On completion of this module a student should be able to: Analyse and interpret Middle English texts.

  2. Participate in the ongoing critical discussion of these texts and their authors, genres, reception and intertextuality.

  3. Identify and make use of ideas and theories relevant to an understanding of the monstrous in Middle English literature.

  4. Select, digest and organise material and produce a consistent and coherent argument, presented in essay form, to a deadline.

  5. Relate the texts to their original literary and cultural contexts.

  6. Make use of online databases of late medieval texts, developing both IT and critical skills in the process.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
Essay One 50
Essay Two 50

Teaching and Learning Strategy


Weekly seminars in which you will have opportunity to discuss a range of medieval texts and critical reponses to these texts.

Study group

Study groups meet once a week for an hour x 11 weeks.

Private study

In your private study time you are expected to read the primary texts allocated for each seminar discussion, and relevant critical material.


Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting

Subject specific skills

  • The ability to read, understand and summarise written texts in the target language. (Benchmark statement 5.3, 5.4)
  • The ability to organise and present ideas within the framework of a structured and reasoned argument in written and/or oral assignments and class discussions. (Benchmark statement 5.14)
  • Critical skills in the close reading, description, reasoning and analysis of primary and secondary sources in the target language and/or English or Welsh (incl. filmic, literary and other sources). (Benchmark statement 5.13, 5.14, 5.15)
  • Competence in the planning and execution of essays, presentations and other written and project work; bibliographic skills, including the accurate citation of sources and consistent use of conventions and appropriate style in the presentation of scholarly work. (Benchmark statement 5.10, 5.14, 5.15)
  • The ability to write and think under pressure and meet deadlines. (Benchmark statement 5.15)
  • The ability to write effective notes and access and manage course materials including electronic resources / information provided on online learning platforms and library resources. (Benchmark statement 5.15, 5.16)
  • The ability to work creatively and flexibly both independently and/or as part of a team. (Benchmark statement 5.15).
  • The ability to comprehend, critically engage with and apply relevant theoretical concepts to materials being studied. (Benchmark statement 5.10)
  • The ability to engage in analytical, evaluative and original thinking. (Benchmark statement 5.14)
  • The ability to organise and present ideas and arguments in presentations, classroom discussions and debates. (Benchmark statement 5.14, 5.16)
  • Skills in the critical reading and analysis of literary and/or musical and/or filmic texts. (Benchmark statement 5.10)


Resource implications for students

Students will need to purchase *Sir Gawain and the Green Knight* (any Middle English edition such as W. R. J. Barron, ed., *Sir Gawain and the Green Knight* (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001)). The remaining seminar texts are freely available online in the original Middle English in recognised scholarly editions: 1. *The Book of John Mandeville* ( 2. Marie de France, *Bisclavret* ( ) 3. *The Book of Margery Kempe* ( ) 4. *The Croxton Play of the Sacrament* ( 5. *The Life of St Margaret* ( 6. *The Legend of St George* ( 7. *Mankind* ( 8. Chaucer’s *Canterbury Tales* ( ) 9. *The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle* (

Reading list

Bibliographies on individual authors will be given during the course, and will be available via the Talis reading list for this module. The following material will provide a context for the literature studied :

Allen, Valerie, On Farting: Language and Laughter in the Middle Ages (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007) *

Bildhauer, Bettina and Robert Mills, eds, The Monstrous Middle Ages (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003) *

Cohen, Jeffrey J., Of Giants: Sex, Monsters and the Middle Ages (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999) *

Cohen, Jeffrey J., The Postcolonial Middle Ages (New York: St Martins Press, 2000) *

Jones, Timothy S. and David A. Sprunger, eds., Marvels, Monsters and Miracles: Studies in the medieval and early modern imaginations (Kalamazoo: Michigan, 2002) *

Knoppers, Laura Lunger and Joan B. Landes, Monstrous Bodies/Political Monstrosities in Early Modern Europe (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004) *

Mittman, Asa, Maps and Monsters in Medieval England (New York: Routledge, 2006)

Morrison, Susan Signe, Excrement in the Late Middle Ages: Sacred Filth and Chaucer’s Fecopoetics (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008) *

Oswald, Dana M., Monsters, Gender and Sexuality in Medieval English Literature (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2010) *

Tracy, Larissa, Torture and Brutality in Medieval Literature (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2012) *

Verner, Lisa, The Epistemology of the Monstrous in the Middle Ages (New York: Routledge, 2005)

Williams, David, Deformed Discourse: The Function of the Monster in Medieval Thought and Literature (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1996) *

*denotes already available in Bangor University Library

Courses including this module

Optional in courses: