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Level 5

5AAGB213 Gender and Identity in Arthurian Romance

Credit value: 15 credits
Module tutor: Dr Sarah Bowden
Assessment: 1 x 4000 word essay (100%)
Teaching pattern: 2-hours per week

Reassessment: Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt

This module is taught in English; no prior knowledge of German or Middle High German is required.

Module description

In this module, we will look at two of the earliest and most famous German Arthurian romances, Hartmann von Aue's Erec and Iwein. Written around 1200, these lively tales of adventure and love will provide a focal point for an exploration of the often problematic constructions of gender and identity in a medieval context.

The fate of both Erec and Iwein is inextricably bound up with that of their wives, so we will investigate the role of love, marriage and 'feminism' in the texts and in the Middle Ages more generally. We will also consider the way in which masculinities are constructed and problematized and think more broadly about the identity of the knight. How, for example, does the knight's personal identity interact with his social and marital responsibilities? How should we understand character and identity in medieval literature? We will consider the function of courtly behaviour and ethics; of violence; of madness; of animals; of adventure. Hartmann's French sources – the romances of Chrétien de Troyes – will also be brought into consideration and we will ask what it meant to ‘author’ or ‘adapt’ in the Middle Ages. Finally, we will consider the manuscript transmission and reception of the texts, as well as the depiction of Iwein in the visual arts.

Educational aims and objectives

  • to introduce students to Middle High German Arthurian romance and its key themes and concerns.
  • to reflect upon the narrative themes and techniques of medieval texts.
  • to familiarise students with the cultural context of the High Middle Ages and the role of literature.
  • to develop the analytical abilities of the students, both in seminar discussions and in written work.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students will be able to demonstrate analytical, intellectual and transferable skills appropriate to a Level 5 module. In particular, they will have:

  • a detailed knowledge of the primary texts.
  • a good knowledge of the literary and social culture of Germany in c. 1200.
  • an ability to engage critically and creatively with primary and secondary literature.
  • an ability to research questions raised by the course independently and produce intelligent, well-structured arguments in coursework.

Core texts 


  • either (in German):Hartmann von Aue, Erec, ed. and trans. Volker Mertens (Stuttgart: Reclam, 2008)

  • or (in English): Hartmann von Aue, Erec, ed. and trans. Michael Resler (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987)


  • either (in German): Hartmann von Aue, Gregorius / Armer Heinrich / Iwein, ed. Volker Mertens (Deutscher Klassiker Verlag, 2008)

  • or (in English): Iwein, The Knight with the Lion, trans. J. W. Thomas (University of Nebraska Press 1979)

A paper coursepack with key secondary readings is provided. It is recommended that students acquire their own copies of the primary texts.


The modules run in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand so there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary depending between years.



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