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WLIT100 Greek and Roman Classics: Origins of Western Literature

Unit rationale, description and aim

In this unit, students will encounter many of the great literary works of the Medieval and Renaissance periods, including Chaucer, Dante, Shakespeare and Milton, and develop a strong understanding of the historical context in which they came into being. Students will explore works that offer insights into the dangers and choices of everyday life and the deep significance of religion. They will examine Chaucer's focus on fallible humanity in The Canterbury Tales and consider how, by choosing to write in English rather than French or Latin, Chaucer became a foundational and revolutionary figure in English literature. Through the great works of the period, students will also explore how the enchantments of the Medieval mindset were succeeded by the commercial imperatives of the Renaissance, where art mixed with trade, power and a new interest in natural philosophy. Finally, students will reflect on how Shakespeare's creations reveal this tumultuous period in history using characters' doubts, introspection and remorse to create a modern sense of self.

The aim of this unit is to introduce students to the great books of the Medieval and Renaissance periods that laid the foundation of the English literary tradition, and to consider their ongoing significance in western intellectual life and culture.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Identify key aspects of the great literary works of Medieval and Renaissance period (GA4, GA5, GA6, GA8, GA10)

LO2 - Discuss literary, social, historical, aesthetic and ethical ideas and movements in texts drawn from the Medieval and Renaissance period (GA1, GA3, GA4, GA7, GA8)

LO3 - Evaluate and synthesise knowledge from diverse sources and communicate complex ideas to a range of audiences (GA5, GA8, GA9)

LO4 - Locate, use and appropriately reference a variety of critical sources relevant to developing a coherent argument about Medieval or Renaissance literature (GA4, GA5, GA8, GA10)

LO5 - Analyse key debates about the significance of Medieval and Renaissance literature in literary studies (GA1, GA2, GA3, GA5, GA8)

Graduate attributes

GA1 - demonstrate respect for the dignity of each individual and for human diversity 

GA2 - recognise their responsibility to the common good, the environment and society

GA3 - apply ethical perspectives in informed decision making

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA6 - solve problems in a variety of settings taking local and international perspectives into account

GA7 - work both autonomously and collaboratively 

GA8 - locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 

GA9 - demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media 

GA10 - utilise information and communication and other relevant technologies effectively.


Topics may include: 

  • The Origins of English 
  • Literary, social, historical, aesthetic and ethical ideas and movements in texts drawn from the Medieval and Renaissance periods 
  • Chaucer and The Canterbury Tales 
  • Chivalric Romance and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 
  • Spiritual autobiography (Augustine) 
  • Mystery Plays 
  • Renaissance Stirrings: Dante, The Divine Comedy 
  • Early English Renaissance Literature 
  • Shakespeare 
  • Sixteenth and Seventeenth Poetic Forms 
  • Milton and Paradise Lost 

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit will be taught to students in a small group setting, in which the texts and thematic concerns of the Medieval and Renaissance periods can be discussed and debated in a supportive and inclusive manner. The small group setting will facilitate the use of the ‘Socratic’ method, in which analytical discussion and dialogue is stimulated through the use of an engaging question and answer format when considering the stories, literature and plays of the Medieval and Renaissance periods. 


This 10-credit point unit will involve exercises in promoting an understanding of the chronology of literary periods, the development of the English language and the concept of the canon. Students will also hone their skills in the close reading of texts in order to generate deeper levels of analysis. Students will participate in exercises in close reading of texts to apprehend meanings at a deep level and be able to summarise content knowledge and use close reading skills to generate interpretations linked to historical and cultural contexts. This ability to relate meaning to context will be developed through class activities and formal exercises in which students will investigate texts through an understanding of the lens of the culture from which they emerged.

Assessment strategy and rationale

A range of assessment procedures will be used to meet the unit learning outcomes and develop graduate attributes consistent with University assessment requirements. 

Assessments have been developed to meet the unit learning outcomes and develop graduate attributes consistent with University assessment requirements. These have been designed so that they use a variety of tasks to measure the different learning outcomes at a level suitable for second year studies of Western Civilisation. 

Assessment task one will provide students with a low risk, relatively lightly weighted assessment task that is both diagnostic and formative. It will introduce the students to the skills necessary to read a Medieval or Renaissance literary work with reference to its context within Western culture. 

The second task requires students to demonstrate their ability to take up a particular issue relevant to Medieval and Renaissance texts and offer an interpretation of a literary text in terms of how that issue is represented. This task will require students to place the work within the cultural and historical context.


The final task is summative and requires students to demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of literary works and styles over the periods in question and to be able to locate these within cultural and historic contexts. This assessment will also require students to describe some key debates on Medieval and Renaissance texts in literary studies including the construction of literary history.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Close reading task 

This task tests ability to locate works within Medieval or Renaissance cultural contexts and produce analyses which take this context as well as the specific genre or style into account.


LO1, LO2

GA1, GA3, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA7, GA8, GA10

Research Project 

This essay requires students to interpret a literary work through reference to its historical context.


LO1, LO3, LO4

GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9, GA10

Summative Task/Exam 

This assessment requires students to demonstrate an ability to locate a work within its historical context and discuss some of the ways in which literary history is constructed.


LO1, LO4, LO5

GA1, GA2, GA3, GA4, GA5, GA8, GA10

Representative texts and references

Burger, Glenn D., and Holly A. Crocker. Medieval Affect, Feeling, and Emotion. Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.

Cadman, Daniel., Andrew Duxfield, and Lisa Hopkins, eds. The Genres of Renaissance Tragedy. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2019.

Dawson, McHardy. Revenge and Gender in Classical, Medieval and Renaissance Literature. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2018.

Greenblatt, Stephen. Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2016.

Johnston, Mark. Medieval Conduct Literature: An Anthology of Vernacular Guides to Behaviour for Youths with English Translations. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016.

Mack, Peter. Reading Old Books. Princeton University Press, 2019.

Tether, Keith., Johnny McFadyen, Ad. Busby, Leah Putter. Handbook of Arthurian Romance: King Arthur's Court in Medieval European Literature. De Gruyter Reference. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2017.

Treharne, Elaine M. Medieval Literature: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Turner, Marion. Chaucer: A European Life. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019.

Varnam, Laura. The Church as Sacred Space in Middle English Literature and Culture. Manchester Medieval Literature and Culture. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2018.

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