Back to School with METS: Moving Beyond the Usual Medieval Canon of Chaucer and Malory

All across the country, universities are resuming classes. How exciting! One of the toughest things about formulating a new class is working up the syllabus. Every teacher wants to bring something new to the students – something they wish they themselves had the opportunity to read when they were taking a similar class, perhaps. Or the chance to share with their students something they are working on and thinking about now, really drawing the class into the active-research side of academia, and bringing them the very latest and most cutting-edge things.

“The purpose of the TEAMS series, under the wise and energetic guidance of Russell Peck and Alan Lupack at the University of Rochester, is to provide student-friendly editions of non-canonical Middle English texts, with brief introductions, minimal textual apparatus and glossary, and necessary explanatory notes.”

Pearsall, Derek. Review of Four Middle English Romances: Sir Isumbras, Octavian, Sir Eglamour of Artois, Sir Tryamour, by Harriet Hudson; Amis and Amiloun, Robert of Cisyle, and Sir Amadace, by Edward E. Foster. Arthurian Adultery 7.4 (1997): 110-1

Yet anyone who has put together a new syllabus for a self-designed class also knows the frustration of locating good texts for students to use. If we want to move beyond the basic medieval canon of Chaucer and Malory, and bring something fresh into the classroom, we can very quickly find ourselves far out on a limb. In my own classroom experience, I have found myself cursing the lack of a good student translation of Wace’s Brut that included material beyond the oft-anthologized Arthurian passages. Or, most memorably, spending the first week of August transcribing by hand from the manuscript facsimile and adding my own vocabulary glosses to excerpts from Caxton’s translation of the Ovide moralisé, all the while muttering to myself under my breath, “Never again!” Editions of texts that are aimed primarily at scholars (or, in the case of many of the old EETS editions that are sometimes still the primary scholarly editions for certain texts I work with, 19th-century scholars!) can feature strange orthographies, stilted hyper-literal translations, and unfamiliar typeface characters that would leave any student wondering if the professor had lost her mind – or if the Middle Ages had!

“. . . The answer, of course, is that these editions have multiple readers, not all of whom are explicitly anticipated, and that is part of what makes them so worthy. . . . The modest aim announced on the back cover–to produce ‘readily available . . . student editions’–doesn’t come near the full value of most TEAMS editions, which often silently replace the previous critical edition, as will certainly be the case with at least one of the texts edited here, and possibly all of them.”

Lynch, Kathryn L. Review of Chaucerian Dream Visions and Complaints, by Dana M. Symons. The Medieval Review (May 2005).

It was only later, when I was drawing up a resource list for a class on digital tools for medieval studies that I realized I had been missing out on a major resource that could have aided in my syllabus design, and perhaps helped me avoid some of those frustrating textual cul-de-sacs. The Middle English Text Series (METS) published by Medieval Institute Publications for TEAMS (The Consortium for the Teaching of the Middle Ages) in association with the University of Rochester is a wonderful aid for identifying non-canonical texts that will be readily available in affordable, student-friendly editions.  Why not browse through the available texts to see if something there inspires a new direction for one of your own courses?  And more Middle English is made available by METS every year. Check out some new and forthcoming titles:


The Katherine Group (Bodley MS 34) edited by Emily Rebekah Huber and Elizabeth Robertson

The Complete Poetry and Music of Guillaume de Machaut, Volume 1: The Debate Poems: Le Jugement dou Roy de Behaigne, Le Jugement dou Roy de Navarre, Le Lay de Plour edited by Prof. R. Barton Palmer, Domenic Leo and Uri Smilansky
Lydgate’s Fabula duorum mercatorum and Guy of Warwyk edited by Pamela Farvolden
Richard Coer de Lyon edited by Peter Larkin
King of Tars by John H. Chandler




“Medievalists in search of texts that are reliable, affordable, and readily adaptable for use in courses in medieval literature, or in general survey courses, can hardly do better than the texts coming forth from TEAMS. . . . Texts in this series are specifically designed for classroom use.”

Rhodes, Jim. Review of Pearl, by Sarah Stanbury. Speculum 78. 4 (October 2003): 1410-1.


Dr. Nicole Eddy

Assistant Managing Editor, Arc Humanities Press

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