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Animals in Medieval Literature

Module Code: FR334
Module Name: Animals in Medieval Literature
Module Credits: 15

Module Description

Animals, both real and symbolic, were an essential part of medieval culture: they played a crucial role in economic life; were the object of constant moral and theological reflection; and were represented in many different forms in medieval art, literature, architecture, and material culture. Focusing on a selection of representative sources in French, this module introduces you to the complex and often contradictory ways in which animals were depicted in the Middle Ages. We will consider how animals were used for didactic and moralising purposes in Marie de France's Fables; how they were put to satirical use in the Roman de Renart; and how the symbolism with which real and imaginary animals were associated in the bestiary tradition was used to a variety of ends, from moral teaching to reflection on the nature of love. All of these texts use the animal world as a means of reflecting on questions directly relevant to human society and to the individual's place in that society. In thinking about the diverse ways in which animals were used in medieval sources, we will also therefore consider what the depiction of animals reveals about how medieval culture thought about human existence.

As a student on the module, you'll have the opportunity to discover a range of weird and wonderful creatures in medieval texts and manuscripts, from the Phoenix to Renart the fox. All of the primary texts will be read in modern translation; no previous knowledge of Old French is required. Manuscripts and visual material will be consulted on-line. By the end of the module you will be able to: (i) identify and interpret representations of animals in a range of medieval sources, both textual and visual; (ii) analyse how animals are depicted in these sources, both within the texts set for study and in manuscripts; (iii) discuss, in connection with the sources set for study, how the animal is thought in its relation to or separation from humanity.

Core Texts (editions to be bought by students indicated in bold):

Marie de France, 'Bisclavret', in Lais de Marie de France, ed. Karl Warnke, trans. Laurence Harf-Lancner (Paris: Livre de Poche, 1990); this text and its modern French translation will be made available to students 

Marie de France, Fables, ed. and trans. Françoise Morvan (Paris: Babel, 2000)

Marie de France, Les Fables, ed. and trans. Charles Bruckner (Louvain: Peeters, 1991)

Le Roman de Renart (première branche): Jugement de Renart, Siège de Maupertuis, Renart teinturier, ed. Mario Roques, CFMA (Paris: Champion, 2000)

Le Roman de Renart. Branche I., trans. Henri Rey-Flaud and André Eskénazi, CFMA (Paris: Champion, 2007)

Pierre de Beauvais, Le Bestiaire. Version longue attribuée à Pierre de Beauvais, ed. Craig Baker, CFMA, 163 (Paris: Champion, 2010)

Bianciotto, Gabriel, trans., Bestiaires du Moyen Age (Paris: Stock/Moyen Age, 3rd edn. 1995)

Rigaut de Berbezilh, Rigaut de Berbezilh: Liriche, ed. A. Varvaro (Bari: Biblioteca di filologia romanza, 1960); Online versions of the Occitan texts (though without critical apparatus) are available here. A selection of translations of Rigaut de Berbezilh's poems will be made available to students

Thibaut de Champagne, 'Ausi conme unicorne sui', in Anthologie de la poésie lyrique française des XIIe et XIIIe siècles, ed. Jean Dufournet (Paris : Gallimard, 1989), pp. 172-5. This text and its translation will be made available to students

Richard de Fournival, 'Le Bestiaire d'Amour' et la 'Response du Bestiaire', ed. and trans. Gabriel Bianciotto (Paris: Champion, 2009)

What students say about the module...

'The best thing about the module was the subject itself - it's really interesting and fun reading the texts!'

'The content is very different to other modules, the lectures cover all aspects of the text, and the workload is not unreasonable'

'A refreshing change from other modules. I like the comical/fictional element'

'An enjoyable module for final year - thank you!'

Assessment Method:

These final-year modules will be examined EITHER by a combination of assessed work (50%) and formal examination (50%) OR solely by assessment (100%).