Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2010-2011 (archived)

Module MELA40930: Saints and Sinners: Praise and Blame of Women in Medieval and Renaissance Literature

Department: Modern Language and Cultures

MELA40930: Saints and Sinners: Praise and Blame of Women in Medieval and Renaissance Literature

Type Tied Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2010/11 Module Cap None
Tied to R9K607


  • None.


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

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To introduce students to the dominant discourses of both praise and blame directed towards women in western Europe in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and to study representations of women in context.
  • To study the changing role of women as the object and subject of literary expression during the period, with special reference to the role of female writers.
  • To build on the Issues in Medieval and Renaissance Studies module by encouraging an interdisciplinary approach that seeks to identify the common features of pro-and anti-feminine discourse produced over several centuries and in diverse locations.
  • 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 subject the pro-and anti-feminine discourses of the Middle Ages and Renaissance in France, Germany, Italy and Spain (dependant on staff availability) to critical scrutiny, paying particular attention to the rhetoric of praise and blame, legal, medical and theological discourses, and pro- and anti-feminine polemic, along with representations of women in context in a variety of text-types. The changing role of feminine writers, along with the contribution of such writers to debates on the status of women in society and inliterary representations, will also be traced.
  • Rather than dealing with each national tradition in isolation, 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 pro- and anti-feminine writing in western Europe during the period studied with particular reference to the role of female writers and representations of women in a range of texts.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • An ability to trace the development of common themes, techniques and images across national traditions and to account for this.
  • 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 discuss, through close analysis of chosen texts, the rhetorical strategies employed by male writers to praise or blame women, the diverse representations of women in literary and other works, and the involvement of female writers in the debate on the role and status of women in society. Seminars will focus on particular texts and will be led by subject specialists. Students will formulate and present their own ideas and repsond to those of their peers and instructors.
  • Study 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. This will enable further enhancement of oral presentation skills.
  • A 5,000-word essay will draw on and deepen this comparative 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).
  • 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 Fortnightly, in Michaelmas and Epiphany Terms 2 Hours 20
Preparation and Reading 278
Total 300

Summative Assessment

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

Formative Assessment:

Round-table presentation; 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