I teach in the Department of English at Loyola University Chicago as Edward Surtz, S.J., Associate Professor. I study medieval English poetry, especially William Langland’s Piers Plowman and other Middle English alliterative verse. I also study texts and contexts of literary education in medieval Europe, and the medieval and early modern reception of Boethius’s Consolatio philosophiae. Much of my work concerns poetics, literary language, and the transmission of texts. I am also interested in the long histories of thinking about these topics.
At Loyola I regularly teach an introduction to literary reading and a first-year interdisciplinary humanities survey (antiquity and Middle Ages), plus upper-division courses in medieval English and European literature. My graduate teaching has included seminars on Piers Plowman, an introduction to Old English language and literature, and a ten-week seminar at the Newberry Library on Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy and its afterlife.
My first book, Reconstructing Alliterative Verse: The Pursuit of a Medieval Meter (Cambridge, 2017) is about the past and future of the verse form employed in William Langland’s Piers Plowman. The verse is called ‘alliterative’. It is first recorded in English from the seventh century, which makes it the oldest form of poetry in this language. Other poems in alliterative meter include Cædmon’s Hymn, Beowulf, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, several of the most important works of medieval English literature. The name ‘alliterative meter’ dates from the eighteenth century; the meter itself remains deeply enigmatic. One wonders where it came from, how it was organized, and why it died out. None of these questions have easy answers. Reconstructing Alliterative Verse argues that the irregular rhythms of alliterative poetry come into sharper focus when viewed in diachronic perspective. The meter was always in transition; to understand it, we must reconstruct the stages of its development and recognize where it was headed at the moment it died out.
Other recent publications and work in progress group into three general areas. The first of these continues the pursuits laid out in my book – study of the language, form, and textual transmission of medieval English poetry. Work in this area includes an article (2019) on the text and form of the Lay Folks’ Catechism; a review article (2018) on a new edition of the archetype of Piers Plowman B; and articles at various stages of development on the language and meter of some Middle English lyrics; the prosody of mixed-language lines in Piers Plowman; and textual variation in the manuscripts of the short Middle English poem The ABC of Aristotle. A short essay on ‘Versification’ in Approaches to Teaching Langland’s ‘Piers Plowman’ (2018) will be joined by a companion piece on teaching Old English meter.
An editorial project also belongs in the first research cluster: with James Eric Ensley I am producing a digital documentary edition of New Haven, Beinecke Library, Takamiya MS 23 for the Piers Plowman Electronic Archive.
A second, smaller cluster of projects concerns Boethius’s Consolatio philosophiae and its reception. I have written on this topic for the medieval volume of the Oxford History of Classical Reception in English Literature (2016), and I have recently completed an essay on the sources of George Colvile’s 1556 translation of Boethius’s text. Studies of the text and sources of John Walton’s 1410 verse translation of the Consolatio will follow, but not soon.
The third research area centers on medieval literary education, or the disciplines of grammar and rhetoric. I surveyed major historical developments of these disciplines for Wiley-Blackwell’s Encyclopedia of Medieval Literature in Britain (2017). An essay on ‘ecologies of Latin poetics’ is in preparation for a global history of post-classical Latin literature.
Details on published work, with some abstracts and links to texts, can be found on zotero and elsewhere.