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The course explores the literary masterworks of three of the most celebrated authors of the Middle Ages in their original literary and historical contexts. The various themes they take up - the importance of writing in the vernacular; the discourse of love as a form of discipline practised upon the self; the personal and political aspirations of the self in society; the constitution of ideal forms of social organization; the role of religion in the life and works of lay authors - transformed the course of much of Western literature for the next five centuries. Readings will include the entire Divine Comedy, generous selections from the Decameron, and all of Troilus & Criseyde in the original Middle English, together with samplings from the Troubadour tradition and the dolce stil nuovo. Reading assignments will generally consist of 100-150 pages per week; one oral presentation on an independent research topic (followed by a 5-page write-up); two 3-page reader responses; and a final 10-page paper.

Criteria for HASS CI Subjects

Communication Intensive Subjects in the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (HASS CI) should require at least 20 pages of writing divided among 3-5 assignments. Of these 3-5 assignments, at least one should be revised and resubmitted. HASS CI subjects should further offer students substantial opportunity for oral expression through presentations, student-led discussion, or class participation. In order to guarantee sufficient attention to student writing and substantial opportunity for oral expression, the maximum number of students per section in a HASS CI subject is 18, except in the case of a subject taught without sections (where the faculty member in charge is the only instructor). In that case, enrollments can rise to 25, if a writing fellow is attached to the subject.


The final grade for this class will be computed according to the following weighted scale:

activities percentages
Active Class Participation 25%
Two Reader Responses (each 3 pages in length) 20%
Oral Presentation and Write-Up (5 pages in length) 25%
Final Paper (10 pages in length) 30%

Class Participation and Attendance Policy

Punctual attendance is required at every class meeting. Each unexcused absence will result in a lowering of the Class Participation component of the grade by 5 points, each lateness by 3 points. Absences may be excused only by contacting the instructor in advance of the class to be missed and receiving confirmation. Active participation in class discussion is required.

Writing Requirements

Reader Responses

For specific classes marked on the calendar page, Reader Responses covering the current reading assignment will be due. Reader Responses should be 3 pages in length, typewritten in 12-point type, double-spaced with 1-inch margins on all sides, stapled together, and each page must be numbered.

Oral Presentation and Write-Up

Each student will be required to make one 10-minute presentation to the rest of the class on an independent research topic chosen from a list (on one of the three days allotted on the calendar page). One week after the presentation, a more formal 5-page write-up will be submitted.

Final Paper

A 10-page final paper, synthesizing the work of the entire semester, will be required on the last day of class. Students will be provided with a list of assigned topics to choose from, or they may, with the instructor's permission, pursue a topic of their own devising. Independent topics will need to be approved by the instructor one month prior to the due date for the final paper. No extensions for the final paper will be given beyond the last day of class.

Rewrite Policy

Any paper or reader response may be rewritten upon satisfying the following requirements:

  1. The original paper was submitted on time.

  2. The student meets with the instructor to go over the paper.

  3. The paper is completely rewritten from scratch and not just edited.

  4. The rewritten paper is resubmitted no later than one week after the original was returned in class. The highest grade that a rewritten paper may ordinarily receive is a B+. At least one paper needs to be rewritten completely in order to receive CI Credit, and for those not taking advantage of the regular rewrite opportunities, a mandatory rewrite will be due towards the end of term.

Late Paper Policy

All papers, with the exception of the final paper, may receive an automatic extension for one class period upon consultation with the instructor. Further lateness will result in a penalty of 1/3 of a grade for each class the work is overdue beyond that.

Plagiarism Policy

Plagiarism - use of another's intellectual work without acknowledgement, is a serious offense. It is the policy of the Literature Faculty that students who plagiarize will receive an F in the subject, and that the instructor will forward the case to the Committee on Discipline. Full acknowledgement for all information obtained from sources outside the classroom must be clearly stated in all written work submitted. All ideas, arguments, and direct phrasings taken from someone else's work must be identified and properly footnoted. Quotations from other sources must be clearly marked as distinct from the student's own work. For further guidance on the proper forms of attribution, consult the style guides available in the Writing and Communication Center and the MIT Web site on Plagiarism.

There is no final exam for this class.