Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2010-2011 (archived)

Module MELA40830: From Roland to Orlando: The European Epic in the Middle Ages and Renaissance

Department: Modern Language and Cultures

MELA40830: From Roland to Orlando: The European Epic in the Middle Ages and Renaissance

Type Tied Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2010/11 Module Cap
Tied to R9K607


  • None.


  • Research Methods and Resources module; Issues in Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To consolidate students' knowledge of the epic genre and of its development during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance in western Europe.
  • To build on the Issues in Medieval and Renaissance Studies module by encouraging an interdisciplinary approach to epic texts produced over several centuries and in diverse locations.
  • To foster critical reflection on the relationship between the epic genre and changing patterns in society.
  • To complement other optional modules in the MA in Medieval and Renaissance Studies offered in MLAC and in other departments.
  • To offer the possibility of further critical exploration of the topic area in the MA dissertation module.


  • The module will consist of a critical survey of the epic genre in France, Germany, Italy and Spain (dependant on staff availability) from its inception to the end of the Renaissance, with special reference to the relationship between modes of fictional representation and social and political change, to generic features, form and rhetoric, and to cultural alterity and constructions of identity. Key texts and topics to be studied will include (subject to staff availability) La Chanson de Roland and the French chanson de geste, the Nibelungenlied and its medieval reception, the Poema del mio Cid, Dante's Divine Comedy and works by Tasso (Gerusalemme liberata) and Aristo (Orlando furioso). Rather than dealing with each national tradition in isolation, seminars will move between material from different times and in different languages in order to encourage a comparative approach.
  • The module concludes with a plenary round-table discussion based around student presentations and bringing together staff from different language departments.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • An in-depth knowledge of the epic genre in western Europe during the period studied with particular reference to its relationship with social and political change.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • An ability to trace the development of common themes, techniques and images across national traditions and across different time periods, and to account for commonalities and differences.
  • An ability to write cogently and persuasively on a specialised comparative topic within the subject area of the module, drawing on the work of previous scholars as necessary.
Key Skills:
  • Enhanced presentation skills using a variety of media (written work, seminar, presentation, etc.).

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • In seminars students have the opportunity to study the epic genre in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and to study representative texts, with particular emphasis being given to the relationship between modes of fictional representation and social and political change. Students will formulate and present their own ideas and respond to those of their peers and instructors.
  • Seminars will focus on particular texts and will be led by subject specialists. Students will be provided with a reading list, and will be required to read specified material in advance of the seminar, as well as encouraged to follow up further reading afterwards.
  • Study of individual national traditions with subject specialists will be supplemented by a plenary round-table focused on student presentations and discussion from a comparative perspective.
  • A 5,000-word essay will draw on and deepen this perspective.
  • Two 1-hour tutorials in the Epiphany Term will enable students to select and research a suitable topic in collaboration with their chosen supervisor(s). Seminar presentations by students will enable further enhancement of oral presentation skills.
  • While a working knowledge of French, German, Italian or Spanish would be helpful for students, it is recognised that the interdisciplinary nature of the module makes study of texts in translation inevitable. It is hoped that students will be able to draw on a range of linguistic knowledge in collaborative working to permit greater access to the original language of the texts studied.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Tutorials 2 In Epiphany Term 1 hour 2
Seminars 10 In Michaelmas and Epiphany Terms 2 hours 20
Preparation and Reading 278
Total 30

Summative Assessment

Component: Essa Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 5,000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

Seminar presentation in a plenary 'round-table' seminar; a draft bibliography on the chosen essay topic for the second tutorial in the Epiphany Term.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University