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Unit information: Hero or traitor? Outlaws in Literature in 2018/19

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Unit name Hero or traitor? Outlaws in Literature
Unit code ENGL30069
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Kate McClune
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of English
Faculty Faculty of Arts


The outlaw is an ambiguous figure in literature and history. Differentiating between rebels, terrorists, and traitors poses a challenge for writers, and readers, from the 13th to the 21st centuries, and this unit examines the varied ways in which the outlaw is treated in literature during that period. It covers a range of topics, including the nature of rebellion, betrayal, righteous resistance, and localised warfare.

The first half of the unit concentrates upon the literary histories of well-known medieval figures including Robin Hood and William Wallace, and less prominent figures such as Fouke le Fitz Waryn and the rebellious subjects of shorter Arthurian romances. It then focuses upon more recent depictions of outlaws in the works of Scott, Conrad, and Hamid.

A wide range of contemporary non-fiction documents (legal, historical, newspapers) will be used to provide relevant contextual information. In addition to interrogating the notion of outlawry from its literary, legal and historical perspectives, literary texts are used to consider the complex distinction between outlaws, freedom fighters, and terrorists.

Finally, the redeployment of outlaws and their reputations in later literary and cinematic depictions is considered.

Unit aims:

1. To introduce students to the diverse literature of rebellion (and related concepts) and its development over the centuries.

2. To develop students’ awareness and understanding of the political, historical, theoretical, and cultural contexts that influence the depiction (and definition) of outlaws/freedom fighters/terrorists.

3. To explore and evaluate the perceived distinctions between rebellion, betrayal, and righteous resistance.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students will be able to

1) demonstrate detailed knowledge and understanding of British outlaw literature of a wide time period.

2) demonstrate a critical understanding of the political, historical, theoretical, and cultural contexts that influence this body of literature.

3) demonstrate the ability to compare and evaluate features of the set texts

4) analyse and relate differing critical accounts of the primary literature.

5) identify, evaluate, and deploy pertinent evidence in order to illustrate a detailed argument in the appropriate register of English, presented in appropriate academic form.

6) engage critically with a wide variety of texts, producing written/oral arguments for a deadline.

7) present information on a specific topic, and discuss their approach with an audience.

Teaching details

1 x 2-hour weekly seminars.

Assessment Details

1 x 10 minute presentation (20% weighting)

1 x Presentation Handout (up to 1000 words) (20% weighting)

1 x 3000 word essay (60% weighting). Both summative elements will assess ILOs 1-6.

Reading and References

The Wallace: Selections, ed. Anne McKim (M.I.P. 2003) (free online text available)

Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales, eds Stephen Knight and Thomas Ohlgren (M.I.P., 1997) (free online text available)

Sir Gawain: Eleven Romances and Tales, ed. Thomas Hahn (M.I.P., 1995) (free online text available)

Sir Walter Scott, Ivanhoe, ed. Ian Duncan(Oxford Worlds Classics, 2008)

Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent, ed. Michael Newton (Penguin Classics, 2007)

Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist (OUP, 2007)