WiSe 18/19: S-Lit. Stud.: Periods-Genres-Concepts II: Luck, Chance, Contingency: Lady Fortune in Middle English Literature
The topos of Lady Fortune is one of the most prevalent in medieval and early modern literature. The ancient Roman goddess of luck is almost always referred to whenever medieval and early modern ... read more
The topos of Lady Fortune is one of the most prevalent in medieval and early modern literature. The ancient Roman goddess of luck is almost always referred to whenever medieval and early modern authors address sudden, unexpected turns of events and the prospects and dangers of an unforeseeable future.
Indeed, modern scholars have been using textual (and visual) representations of the goddess Fortuna to determine pre-modern conceptions of contingency and human agency, the latter being understood as the capability of humans to govern their own fate. In doing so, scholars have traditionally denied the Middle Ages a concept of contingency and a belief in human agency. Divine providence, the reasoning goes, leaves no room for chance, nor for humans shaping their own destiny–nor for Fortuna, whom medieval authors inevitably expose as a false goddess not to be trusted.
In this course, we will trace the steps of this line of argument and review its validity in the light of recent research, which credits medieval authors with much greater complexity in their rendering of Lady Fortune. We will start with the topos’ historical and philosophical background and continue with its transformations in medieval literature. Focusing on Middle English texts from the 15th century, we will discuss the ways authors use the topos and what their respective depictions of Fortuna might imply for the above-mentioned questions of contingency and human agency.
This course aims to familiarize students with the historical background, the philosophical implications and the overall complexity of medieval literary texts. At the same time, its goal is to question and re-evaluate still current views of the Middle Ages as a period radically and fundamentally different from modernity concerning its conception of history, contingency and the capabilities of the human individual.
Proficiency in Middle English is welcome but not strictly necessary/no precondition.