Reading the Middle Ages

An Introduction to Medieval Literature

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About the Book

Medieval literature is separated from us by so many centuries that it may seem completely foreign, both in its concerns and its techniques. However, this literature has much to say to 21st century readers and Steinberg’s book demonstrates its continuing relevance and appeal.
This introduction to medieval literature provides some of the cultural context that readers need to know in order to understand the literature, such as the religious orientation of the people, often deep and sincere but sometimes treated casually or subjected to intense scrutiny. The first chapter provides a brief explanation of medieval religious thought, cosmology and intellectual history. The remaining chapters provide introductions to a number of individual works ranging from Beowulf to the works of Chaucer. Avoiding the tendency to regard the Middle Ages as an era dominated by Christian men, these discussions include works by women writers and Jewish writers and a chapter on the medieval Japanese masterpiece The Tale of Genji.
Instructors considering this book for use in a course may request an examination copy here.

About the Author(s)

Theodore L. Steinberg is a professor at the State University of New York at Fredonia, where he teaches courses in biblical, medieval and Renaissance literatures. He has published books on the Yiddish writer Mendele Mocher Seforim and on the 14th century poem Piers Plowman. Steinberg has been awarded the President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching as well as the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. He lives in Fredonia.

Bibliographic Details

Theodore L. Steinberg
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 196
Bibliographic Info: notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2003
pISBN: 978-0-7864-1648-6
eISBN: 978-0-7864-8187-3
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Preface     1

Introduction     3

The Religious Context     7

Literacy and Reading     11

The Medieval Poet     14

Thinking Medievally     17

On to the Literature     19

I. BEOWULF

On Digressions     21

Of Kings and Monsters     26

The Trouble with Geats     30

Beowulf and the Question of Evil     32

II. CHRÉTIEN DE TROYES

Epic and Romance     34

Erec and Enide and Yvain     39

Lancelot and Perceval     47

III. THE LAIS OF MARIE DE FRANCE

Medieval Women Writers     53

The Lais     55

IV. THE ROMANCE OF THE ROSE

A Medieval “Best-Seller”     66

Focusing on Love     67

Guillaume’s Dream     69

Jean Takes Over     78

V. THE TALE OF GENJI

Leaving Europe     84

Reading Genji     89

VI. JEWISH LITERATURE

The Jews in Christian Europe     95

The Jews in Moslem Spain     101

VII. SAGAS

Iceland and the Sagas     111

Egil and Laxdoela     117

Njal’s Saga     121

VIII. DANTE

The High Point of the Middle Ages     126

Hell     130

Purgatory     135

Paradise     139

IX. PEARL AND SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT

Fourteenth-Century England     142

Pearl     146

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight     151

X. CHAUCER

Chaucer’s Contemporaries     160

Early Chaucer     164

The Canterbury Tales     170

Epilogue     181

Notes     183

Bibliography     185

Index     187

Book Reviews & Awards

“clear writing…highly accessible…a solid purchase”—Library Journal; “useful”—Mediaevistik; “helpful…engaging”—Medieval Academy of America.