Power, Protest, and Politics in Late-Medieval England

The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in England were punctuated by a series of cataclysmic events that permanently altered the social, political, and institutional structures of society. The Great Famine of 1315-1317, the beginning of the Hundred Years’ War with France in 1337, the Black Death of 1348-1350, and the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381 are just a few of the major crises that beset England in this time. In response to these events, authors took to writing in the vernacular English language with a new sense of urgency and creativity. Whereas the languages of the court and church had for centuries been French and Latin, during this period more authors began deliberately writing in Middle English, the “language of the people,” partly out of a desire to create distance from a French court and a hierarchical Church with which England was increasingly dissatisfied. This NTC seminar will provide an overview of how educators might approach this period of the Middle Ages, with special attention to the role of literature in reflecting on social and political tumult. We will discuss a number of Geoffrey Chaucer's lesser-known peers, and develop a working understanding of how Middle English was used to assert popular expression and rebellion. We will also consider the emergence of a new class consciousness in response to the aftermath of the Black Death, with opportunities to connect this medieval material to our present pandemic moment.