Middle English Literature (Online)


Middle English literature is not all prayer and piety and men in armour. Discover a rich cultural heritage in Middle English poems, plays and prose (modern translations); stories of high- and low-born, horribly good and gleefully bad, men and women; and the language and culture from which they sprang.

Listen to Dr Sandie Byrne talking about the course


From the End of the World to Creation, via Heaven, earthly paradises, greed, corruption, purity, saintliness, intrigue, betrayal, sex, jealousy, castles, maidens, knights, monsters, kings, plague, rogues, con-men, drunks, bawds, lovers, abduction, demons, angels, hunting, questing, comic shepherds, ranting Herods, and Hell. Middle English Literature is not all prayer and piety. Discover a rich cultural heritage in Middle English texts in modern translations and explore poetry, prose and plays of the medieval period, and the language and culture out of which they grew. We shall look at texts from The Owl and the Nightingale (c.1210) to The Morte d'Arthur (1470, published 1485), including poems of religious and secular love, and extracts from, among others, The Canterbury Tales, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, The Mystery Plays, and Piers Plowman. No knowledge of Middle English is necessary.

For information on how the courses work, and a link to our course demonstration site, please click here.

Programme details

1. When was Middle English?
Medieval culture; English society in the Middle Ages; key events

2. What was Middle English?
Language, dialects, orthography

3. Short poems, religious and secular
The Harley Lyrics

4. Longer religious and devotional works
Saint's Lives, Rules, Treatises

5. Drama
Extracts from Mystery, Morality, and Miracle Plays; Everyman

6. Chaucer
The Canterbury Tales (selection)

7. The Gawain poet
Gawain and the Green Knight (extracts)

8. Langland
Piers Plowman (extracts)

9. Didactic works, chronicles, and other non-fiction works

10. Manuscripts and books
Production; preservation; editing; mss studies


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online. If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to register and pay the £10 fee.

See more information on CATS point

Coursework is an integral part of all online courses and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.

Assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail.

All students who successfully complete this course, whether registered for credit or not, are eligible for a Certificate of Completion. Completion consists of submitting the final course assignment. Certificates will be available, online, for those who qualify after the course finishes.


Description Costs
Course Fee £350.00
Take this course for CATS points £10.00


Dr Maria Artamonova

Course aims

1. Introduce students to the history and culture of the Middle Ages.

2. Introduce students to the range and variety of the literature of the Middle Ages (in modern English).

3. Introduce students to Middle English dialects.

4. Introduce students to Middle English orthography.

5. Introduce students to medieval manuscript and book production.

Course Objectives

1. Have knowledge and understanding of English life during the eleventh to fifteenth centuries.

2. Have knowledge and understanding of some of the key genres, authors, texts, styles and themes of Middle English literature.

3. Recognise key features of some Middle English dialects.

4. Recognise features of some varieties of Middle English orthography.

Teaching methods

There will be links to online texts and hypertexts (for example, the electronic Canterbury Tales Project), to images of illuminated mss, to websites on Middle English and medieval culture (the European context as well as British), to examples of orthography, to audio files, and to commentaries.

One unit will include 'drag and drop' word choices, and click to reveal glosses will be provided in some extracts. Each unit will include a short talk available as a podcast, and a transcript.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be expected to understand:

  • Definitions and problems associated with defining the middle ages.
  • The chronological order of key events during the middle ages.
  • The variety of kinds of writing produced during the middle ages.
  • Issues in establishing, preserving, and editing a Middle English literature corpus.
  • Some key themes and concepts explored in writing of the middle ages.
  • Some key elements of Middle English dialects.
  • Differences between some kinds of scripts employed in the middle ages.

By the end of this course students will be expected to have gained the following skills:

  • The ability to discuss and analyse a range of Middle English texts in modern English adaptations.
  • The ability to identify key themes and styles in Middle English Literature.
  • The ability to understand some simple phrases in Middle English.
  • The ability to read some simple phrases in medieval book hand.

Assessment methods

You will be set two pieces of work for the course. The first of 500 words is due halfway through your course. This does not count towards your final outcome but preparing for it, and the feedback you are given, will help you prepare for your assessed piece of work of 1,500 words due at the end of the course. The assessed work is marked pass or fail.

English Language Requirements

We do not insist that applicants hold an English language certification, but warn that they may be at a disadvantage if their language skills are not of a comparable level to those qualifications listed on our website. If you are confident in your proficiency, please feel free to enrol. For more information regarding English language requirements please follow this link: https://www.conted.ox.ac.uk/about/english-language-requirements


Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an application form.

Level and demands

FHEQ level 4, 10 weeks, approx 10 hours per week, therefore a total of about 100 study hours.

IT requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.