HIST 1222 Medieval History in Film & Literature (Fall 2013)

Class meetings in Bentley 140, Mon. & Wed. 3:05-5:00, call # 4056

Prof. Kevin Uhalde uhalde@ohio.edu | 423 Bentley Annex | appts. MW 12:00-12:50 or by email
Teaching assistant Gabrielle Guillen
gg616312@ohio.edu | 056 Bentley Annex | appts. by email

This survey of medieval European society and culture introduces major historical themes through lectures, reading, and films. No background in medieval history or film studies is necessary to do well, only diligence. The Middle Ages are often imagined as primitive and barbaric, pure and romantic, or an infantile version of the modern world. This course invites students to test those generalizations against more critical views. The focus is on violence and religious life, two topics with considerable overlap. Along with reading primary sources, including warrior epics and saints’ lives, we analyze a variety of films ranging from famous to obscure, artistic to graphic. Whatever the medium, our concern is with improving critical and interpretative skills, and with confronting both obstacles and avenues to understanding cultures other than our own. With guidance from reading and lecture material, you’ll look for ways in which films can successfully engage with important themes in medieval history.

It is your responsibility not only to attend but to be an alert participant in class, where you also can expect short quizzes and writing assignments frequently. You’ll write at least five film reviews, each roughly 500 words long, submitted on Blackboard at the end of assigned weeks. Along with a mid-term exam, there are two options for the final project: one is a thesis on a topic of your choice that draws on a range of course materials and additional materials where necessary; the other is a group proposal for a film about a significant topic in medieval history, which includes a written report as well as a presentation in one of our final meetings. Essays and reports are due at the scheduled exam meeting.

I evaluate all written work for clarity and argument as well as for content, so make your best possible effort. Any students needing special accomodations should notify me so that we may work together with Student Accessibility Services. Students who attend class, do the reading, and take notes should have little or no difficulty earning a satisfactory grade.

All cheating or plagiarism acts generate a failing grade for the course and referral to community standards, no exceptions. In-class work cannot be made up except in the case of excused absences—e.g. university trips (must be arranged in advance), documented illness, etc. Please refrain from behavior that distracts me or other students—texting, telephoning, web browsing, talking, sleeping; such is considered disruptive and you may be asked to stop or even to leave class. See me if you have questions about these or other policies.

Outcome Goals

1. Students demonstrate a grasp of major developments in the social, religious, and political history of medieval Europe.

2. Preparedness is evident from clear, coherent, and substantive contributions to class discussion and written assignments.

3. Students can distinguish between interpretation and distortion, perspective and bias in their own analyses of films.

4. The ability to analyze medieval literary sources and modern films within a historical framework.

Grade distribution

15% Participation including regular class attendance and in-class quizzes and assignments

30% Film reviews (five highest grades, no more than one outside option)

25% Mid-term exam

30% Final project

Required reading

It is important (and mandatory) that you obtain the specific editions and translations indicated below. New, discount, and used copies of all these books are widely available online and at Little Professor Book Center (65 S. Court St.), as well as the other bookstores in town. There also are library copies available at Alden and through OhioLink, but remember to request them in advance so that you have time to read them when assigned.

- Beowulf: An Illustrated Edition, tr. Heaney, ed. Niles (Norton 2007) [olink, amz, abe]

- The Song of Roland, tr. Burgess (Penguin 1990) [olink, amz, abe]

- Chrétien de Troyes, Arthurian Romances, tr. Kibler (Penguin 1991) [olink, amz, abe]

- Medieval Writings on Female Spirituality, ed. Spearing (Penguin 2002) [olink, amz, abe]

Additional readings are available electronically through hyperlinks in the online syllabus. Some are open access, others are secured pdf documents: you will be prompted to provide your Ohio ID and password. Print and bring these readings to class or take good notes; in discussions and written work, I expect you to be able to refer specifically and accurately to what you’ve read.

Schedule of Classes

The Middle Ages, Medievalism, and Historicism

Week 1 (August 26-28)

Š      read Medievalism; Corrigan, chs. 1-2 (pp. 1-34)

watch trailers & clips from Army of Darkness (1992); The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993), Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), Robin Hood (2010)


More…Robin Hood (1981), Robin Hood (1973), and even more

Cinematography, Mise-en-scŹne, and Realism

Week 2 (September 4, no class Monday, September 2)

Š      read Corrigan, chs. 3 & 5 (pp.35-78, 106-123), Realism, & Historicism

watch Laurence Olivier as Henry V (1944) St. Crispin’s Day speech & Battle of Agincourt, Kenneth Branagh as Henry V (1989) speech & battle’s start & more battle

Saints & Sinners

Week 3 (September 9-11)

Š      readPassion of Perpetua’ and ‘Life of Antony

watch La tentation de Saint Antoine (dir. Georges MéliŹs, 1898, 1 min.) <utub>; Simon of the Desert (dir. Luis BuĖuel, 1965, 45 mins.) <alice>

Monsters & Heroes

Week 4 (September 16-18)

Š      read Beowulf

Week 5 (September 23) film review 1 due Friday 11:59PM

watch clips from 13th Warrior (dir. John McTiernan, 1999) full; clips from Benjamin Bagby’s Beowulf (2007, 99 mins.) <alice>; Beowulf & Grendel (dir. Sturla Gunnarsson, 2005, 102 mins.) <alice>; Beowulf (dir. Robert Zemeckis, 2007) <alice>; Beowulf (dir. Graham Baker, 1999); Beowulf: Prince of Geats (2008) with review and controversy


More... Nokes’ review of Beowulf & Grendel; Valhalla Rising (dir. Nicholas Winding Refn, 2009); re-enactors judge this and other viking movies


Week 5 (September 25)

Š      read Song of Roland

Week 6 (September 30-October 2) film review 2 due Friday 11:59PM

Š      read Song of Roland

watch El Cid (dir. Anthony Mann, 1961, 182 mins.) <alice>

Discussion & Exam

Week 7 (October 7-9)


Week 8 (October 14-16)

Š      read Arthurian Tales (‘Perceval,’ pp. 381-499)

watch Perceval le Gallois (dir. Eric Rohmer, 1979) <alice>; clips from King Arthur (2004) <alice> trailer; The Last Legion (2007) trailerMerlin (1998) beginning; Tristan & Isolde (2006) <alice>

Week 9 (October 21-23) optional review: Onibaba (dir. Kaneto Shindo, 1964) <alice> or Excalibur (dir. John Boorman, 1981) <alice3>

Š       read Arthurian Tales (‘Lancelot,’ pp. 207-294)

watch Lancelot du Lac (dir. Robert Bresson, 1974)

Week 10 (October 28-30) film review 3 due Friday 11:59PM

watch The Virgin Spring (dir. Ingmar Bergman, 1960, 89 mins.) <alice>

Religious Belief

Week 11 (November 4-6)

Š      read Female Spirituality (pp. vii-xviii, xxii-xxiii, 3-15, 21-45, 67-86)

watch clips from Into Great Silence (dir. Philip Gröning, 2005) <alice>

Week 12 (November 13, no class Monday, November 11) film review 4 due Friday 11:59PM

Š      read Female Spirituality (pp. xxiii-xxviii, xxx-xxxvi, 87-119, 175-182, 207-225)

watch Vision: From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen (dir. Margarethe von Trotta, 2009, 110 mins.) <alice>

Week 13 (November 18-20) optional review: The Island (dir. Pavel Lungin, 2006) <alice> or Anchoress (dir. Chris Newby, 1993) <alice>

Š      read Female Spirituality (pp. xxxvi-xxxviii, 226-254)

watch clips Brother Sun, Sister Moon (dir. Franco Zeffirelli, 1972) <alice>; Francesco (dir. Liliana Cavani, 1989) <alice>; Francesco, giullare di Dio / The Flowers of St. Francis (dir. Roberto Rossellini, 1950, 87 mins.) <alice>

More…The Sorceress (1987, 97 mins.) <alice>; The Pillars of the Earth (2010); Häxan (dir. Benjamin Christensen, 1922, 104 mins.; 1968, 76 mins.) <vid>; Andrei Rublev (dir. Andrei Tarkovsky, 1966, 205 mins) <alice> esp. chapters entitled ‘The Feast,’ ‘The Raid,’ and the finale (‘The Bell’); read about Rublev



Week 14 (November 25, no class Wednesday)

Week 15 (December 2-4) film review 5 due Friday 11:59PM

watch The Passion of Joan of Arc (dir. Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1928, 82 mins.) <alice>; Seventh Seal (dir. Ingmar Bergman, 1957, 96 mins.)


More…The Mill and the Cross (dir. Lech Majewski, 2011, 96 mins.); The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999, 158 mins.); Day of Wrath (dir. Dreyer, 1943, 97 mins.) <alice>; Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (dir. F. W. Murnau, 1922) <alice>; Black Death (2010)


The Registrar has scheduled our final exam meeting for Wed. December 11 at 12:20PM.


Film reviews All reviews, including outside film options, are due by 11:59PM Friday the week they’re assigned. Submit them on Blackboard, typing directly into the assignment window or pasting text from a word processor (you may also want to attach the original file). Each review should be roughly 500 words long, give or take a hundred words, and is worth a maximum of 10 points, based on content (50%), analysis (40%), and clarity (10%). Content refers to showing you have good control over the relevant films and readings. Analysis refers to creativity in terms of interpretation, criticism, or relating the film to other course material. Clarity refers to whether the entry makes sense, has a clear point, and is reasonably grammatical. Late entries lose a point for every 24-hour period they are late.You may choose to write on one (and only one) optional film, either in place of one of the regular reviews, or to try replacing a low grade received on a regular review. Your final film review grade is based on your five highest grades.

Final project The written portion of both options must be 1500-2000 words (roughly 5-7 typed pages) and include either parenthetical citations or footnotes for all references to class readings. Bibliography or other appendices do not count toward the word limit. No outside research is expected but you must cite everything (books, articles, websites) from which you quote, paraphrase, or heavily borrow information and ideas (review my policy on plagiarism). Do not stuff your writing with long quotations or summaries. Your analysis is what matters. Whichever option you choose, your project should reflect what you have learned and the effort you have put into this class over the entire semester. In other words, it should be apparent that you could not have completed this project with the same insight and detail three months ago.

Option #1—Thesis (see here) Does film offer a viable means of interpreting and representing significant aspects of medieval history? Choose a topic (e.g. violence, justice, gender, religion, social class) and write an essay that answers the question with specific reference to your chosen topic. Your essay must accomplish two things. First, it must explain the importance of your topic for understanding medieval society. This will probably determine your thesis. Second, it must look critically at the ways contemporary sources and modern film manage to convey the aspects of your topic that you have explained to be important. Your focus can be as specific as you like. Just be certain that your analysis is grounded in texts and films and doesn’t stray into generalizations.

Option #2—Pitch (see here) Working with at least two and no more than three other students, pitch an idea for a film on any significant subject of medieval history, preferably thematic (e.g. justice, violence, gender, religion, social class) although persons or events are permissable. I’ve provided an outline for structuring the written proposal and the information it should contain. You also will present your proposal in one of our two final meetings during week 15 and finals week. The presentation may be simply oral or it may involve multimedia, such as a mock trailer. Finally, the group must collaborate to write a one-page self-evaluation of itself and individual members (not part of the word limit).


1. Film title



2. Synopsis

Let readers know what the film is about: its theme, plot, importance, and what makes it innovative.

3. Historical background

Historical summary of what is known about the topic and the historical issues at stake: What sources are available? What challenges do the sources present? What problems do historians grapple with in order to understand the subject and put it into context? Use citations for information or quotes from sources; the bibliography may be included as an appendix (see Section 6).

4. Framework & Outline

Here you describe the story this film will present.  Explain its chronological framework – why it begins and ends where it does – and the sequence of scenes – why you include what you include.  You must decide how much detail you will go into but remember that space is limited.  Moreover, you must balance description with explanation.  This is not a script but would provide a scriptwriter with direction for writing a script. Again, use references and citations wherever possible to justify and explain your choices.

5. Cinematography

Here you provide a general sense of what the film should look and sound like, and why.  Refer to other films we have seen in class or that are relevant to your topic, citing them as you would readings and including them in a list of films with the bibliography in Section 6.  You may comment on the use of color or other filming techniques, the use of sound including musical soundtrack or other elements, special effects, scenery or on-location filming, and so on.  As with Section 4, however, be sure to balance description with explanation: you must persuade readers that your choices are grounded in a historical sensibility.

6. Appendices


These should include bibliography (both works cited and anything else your group consulted) and film list, as well as anything else you wish to provide (e.g. cast of characters, sample dialogue or screenplay, poster, etc.). This section does not count toward the word limit.


Each project will be evaluated according to the criteria described below, weighted as for film reviews. Projects that score ‘above satisfactory’ in all or most categories may receive an A.  Those that score mostly ‘satisfactory’ with nothing below satisfactory may receive a B.  Those with a mix of scores may receive a C.  Projects that are mostly ‘unsatisfactory’ will receive a D or lower.

Option #1

EVIDENCE – Readings and films supply the evidence for the argument; evidence is analyzed, not merely summarized; there is enough evidence from a range of course material.

below satisfactory


above satisfactory


ARGUMENT – The essay is structured around an argument; each paragraph presents an aspect of the argument; the argument supports a thesis that is stated clearly in the introductory paragraph; it is relevant to course material.

below satisfactory


above satisfactory

CLARITY – Writing is clear, even elegant; prose is grammatically correct; punctuation is correct and typos are few; all evidence is properly cited.

below satisfactory


above satisfactory


Option #2

EVIDENCE – Readings and films supply the rational for framework and cinematography; choice of such material is justified, not assumed; there is enough such material to show deep engagement with course content.

below satisfactory


above satisfactory

CONCEPT – Topic is relevant to course material; its historical significance is explained persuasively; narrative and cinematic choices are thoughtfully justified; overall concept makes sense, is engaging, may be very creative.

below satisfactory


above satisfactory



CLARITY – Writing is clear, even elegant; prose is grammatically correct; punctuation is correct and typos are few; all evidence is properly cited.

below satisfactory


above satisfactory


Further Reading (* = available in Alden Library;† = not in Alden but OhioLink)

†Kevin J. Harty, The Reel Middle Ages: American, Western and East European, Middle Eastern, and Asian Films about Medieval Europe (McFarland, 1999).

†Bert Olton, Arthurian Legends on Film and Television (McFarland, 2000).

*Robin Blaetz, Visions of the Maid: Joan of Arc in American Film and Culture (University of Virginia, 2001). <alice>

†Kevin J. Harty (ed.), Cinema Arthuriana: Twenty Essays (McFarland. 2002) <g-bk>

*John Aberth, A Knight at the Movies: Medieval History on Film (Routledge, 2003).

*Tom Shippey with Martin Arnold (eds.), Film and Fiction: Reviewing the Middle Ages (Brewer, 2003).

†Amy de la BretŹque, L’imaginaire médiéval dans le cinéma occidental (Champion, 2004).

*Martha W. Driver and Sid Ray (eds.), The Medieval Hero on Screen: Representations from Beowulf to Buffy (McFarland, 2004).

†Christian Kiening and Heinrich Adolf (eds.), Mittelalter im Film (De Gruyter, 2006). [essays on many of our class films, all in German]

*Susan Lynn Aronstein, Hollywood Knights: Arthurian Cinema and the Politics of Nostalgia (Palgrave, 2005).

*Robert Rosenstone, History on Film/Film on History, (Longman / Pearson, 2006).

*Richard Francaviglia and Jerry Rodnitzky (eds.), Lights, Camera, History: Portraying the Past in Film (Texas A&M University, 2007).

†Richard Burt, Medieval and Early Modern Film and Media (Palgrave, 2008). [includes an essay on El Cid] <g-bk>

*Nickolas Haydock, Movie Medievalism: The Imaginary Middle Ages (McFarland. 2008).

Anke Bernau and Bettina Bildhauer (eds.), Medieval Film (Manchester University, 2009).

†Nickolas Haydock and E. L. Risden, Hollywood in the Holy Land: Essays on Film Depictions of the Crusades and Christian-Muslim Clashes (McFarland, 2009). [includes two essays on El Cid]

*Laurie A. Finke and Martin B. Schichtman, Cinematic Illuminations: The Middle Ages on Film (Johns Hopkins, 2009).

†Kathleen Coyne Kelly and Tison Pugh, Queer Movie Medievalisms (Ashgate, 2009).

†Andrew B. R. Elliott, Remaking the Middle Ages: The Methods of Cinema and History in Portraying the Medieval World (McFarland, 2011).

*Bettina Bildhauer, Filming the Middle Ages (Reaktion Books, 2011).

†Andrew B. R. Elliot, Remaking the Middle Ages: The Methods of Cinema and History in Portraying the Medieval World (McFarland, 2011). <g-bk>


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