Scribner Seminar Program
The World Turned Upside Down: Comedy, Carnival and the Grotesque in the Middle Ages
Instructor(s): Kate Greenspan, English
This course looks at the World Turned Upside Down, that is, Parody, Misrule, Foolishness,
Trickery, Disorder, and Mockery in the Middle Ages. Students will examine the overturn
of social, sexual, and spiritual hierarchies; manifestations of pagan beliefs and
customs in a primarily Christian world; psychological uses of the comic; and the dark
sides of Carnival, comedy, and the grotesque as they manifested themselves in the
persecution of the poor, the handicapped, pagans, Jews, homosexuals, and other outsiders.
The overarching purpose of the course is to problematize a conventional habit of thought
about the Middle Ages as a period of unrelieved piety, oppression, and conformity,
derived from versions of medieval life offered by the History Channel, on-line games,
fantasy novels, television series, and movies. As Bahktin and others have shown us,
rebellion against the authority of the Church, the lord, and the patriarchy was built
into medieval thought and behavior in complex and surprising ways.
The course will include a Saturday trip to Yale's Beinecke Library, to examine medieval manuscript marginalia and illuminations that express the antic spirit of Carnival. We may also [or instead] visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.