Articles &






Questing After Quests:

Their Meaning in Medieval and Modern Times

by Carmen Acevedo Butcher

The Task

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to investigate quests in medieval and modern times. This task may seem a tall order, but part of the challenge is to immerse yourself in a topic overwhelmingly large for you and explore it before whittling off a piece small enough for your close-up investigation. Your goal (or grail) is to create your own definition of quest and find an area of questing that particularly interests you. Then explore it further. You'll have at least two weeks to conduct this individual webquest. Your "stallion" is your computer chair. Your "shining lance" is your Logitech mouse. Watch Dr. Butcher's "Quests" link for due dates.

Adventure through the concepts and questions below using the resources linked to this webpage. Take notes, and type them up. Then, in two weeks' time, you'll compare notes with others in the class. At that point in this academic journeying, your teacher will divide the class into groups of five or six. In these small groups, you'll have a couple of weeks to teach each other what you've learned. Then you'll work together as a group to create a report that will be handed in and assessed by Dr. Butcher. You'll bring your individual reports to class, and you'll share them with each other for a couple of weeks as you decide how to create your group report. You'll be given one week for the actual composition of this group report. For each of the questions under numbers one through eight, be sure to consolidate the different definitions and / or answers from your group's members, creating the best one definition and / or answer possible for each question. For questions nine through twelve, show the diversity of your group members' answers, and give as many different answers and / or examples as possible.

Also remember that, as in any quest, surprises are likely to happen along the way. Be sure you THOROUGHLY explore the pages of this online quest for "hidden" clues!

Your individual report should answer each of the following questions below, using this template provided for you by your teacher. Please be sure to adhere to the length requirement for each answer. These expectations are given in parentheses after the questions. What is the maximum number of pages allowed for this individual report? You are expected to answer all of the following questions in ten (10) typed, double-spaced pages. Start a new sheet for every numbered question. You will have ten (10) sheets. Also, please note that "ten (10) pages" does not mean "five (5) pages," nor does it mean "twenty (20) pages." "Ten (10) pages" means "ten (10) pages." Rose is a rose is a rose. Your group reports may double the length requirement for each answer given to questions nine through twelve (which potentially adds five (5) more pages to your group report), but each group report must be between ten (10) and fifteen (15) typed, double-spaced pages. It must not be more than fifteen (15) pages and must certainly be no less than ten (10) pages. Yes, you will turn in BOTH your individual and your group reports!


1. Where online would you find information on the etymologies for quest and question? Is this information also available in a print version? Can you access both of these online sources on-campus? Can you consult each of them off-campus? Also, which of these two sources is more reliable and why? What is the etymological background for these words? (1 page)

2. Explore the Latin root of quest. (1/2 a page)

3. When was the word, quest, first used in an English text? What are some of the other early definitions of this word? Look at the early definitions and answer these questions: Would Ælfric, the tenth-century Benedictine monk and prolific, brilliant writer, have used the phrase, "spiritual quest," to define his life's work? Would King Alfred, the ninth-century Wessex king, have described his educational initiatives as "learning quests"? (1 page)

4. When was quest first used to mean "an expedition or adventure undertaken by a knight"? Look closely at this entry. Go to the original source, and read Chaucer's vivid, memorable House of Fame (1379/80). See "As they that have done noble gests [feats]. And have achieved all their quests [enterprises, desires]" (line 648). The context here is very The-Simpsons-like (and, indeed House of Fame has a rank and wonderful sarcasm that makes it a foreshadower of Homer Simpson). Fame is being held up to high scrutiny in Chaucer's House of Fame. How trustworthy is fame, and why do humans so crave it? Read the original context, and then answer that question. (1 page)

5. Take a closer look at the quest entry from book three, canto eight of the Faerie Queene, by Spenser, written in six books in the late 1590's. If in graduate school you had the singular pleasure of endless nights spent reading THIS ENTIRE MASSIVE EPIC ALLEGORICAL POEM IN PRAISE OF QUEEN ELISABETH I written in stanzas that are eight lines of iambic pentameter followed by an alexandrine (a line of iambic hexameter), then you will certainly know the context of quest in the Faerie Queene speaks volumes about the word, quest, in general. Here are "bare-bones" plot outlines of the different books, as well as a good overview of the Faerie Queene characters. What does quest mean in this Spenserian context? (1/2 a page)

6. Looking back in time, what does quest mean in classical literature? (1/2 page)

7. Why is it important to define quest and to seek a greater understanding of its etymology and its historical uses/contexts? (1/2 page)

8. What do the earliest uses of quest in Chaucer's House of Fame and in Spenser's later Faerie Queene have in common with the use of quest and the notion of questing in medieval Arthurian romances? What are the common medieval concerns evidenced in these two later works? Also, do you see any similarities between Chaucer's House of Fame and Twain's Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court?(1-2 pages)

9. How many different quest themes can you find in literature from the nineteenth century on? (For clues to answers, click on graphics and other links within this webquest.) (1 page)

10. Having vetted a fair number of websites pertaining to questing, which ones can you now recommend, and why? These sites will be incorporated into this Webquest, IF you make a good argument for them and if they pass Dr. Butcher's rigorous reading. (1 page)

11. Pick one classic work of fiction or one well-known modern-day film, and explain how the notion of questing informs this work. (1 page)

12. Now let's look at a twelfth-century female hero. Who is the questing woman in Hildegard of Bingen's Ordo virtutum? Where online might you look to find information about Ordo virtutum? Where else might you look? How well-vetted is each of these sites? When and how often has Ordo virtutum been performed? Can you listen to or watch Ordo virtutum online? Where can you find a reliable recent translation? What is Psychomachia, and can it help us better appreciate Ordo virtutum? Also, compare the female characters in Hildegard's Ordo virtutum with those in Spenser's Faerie Queene; specifically, who are Palladine and Styrone? Also, explore this selective bibliography on Hildegard. What can it tell you about Hildegard studies, about translations of Hildegard, and about her discography? Where would you find critical editions of Hildegard’s Latin texts? Which of her many works have been translated and by whom and when? Look up three entries under the heading “General Commentary on Hildegard,” and discuss what sorts of scholarly criticism and inquiry has Hildegard attracted. In other words, what kinds of questions are scholars asking about her life and work? Check out one book on Hildegard by Peter Dronke and one by Barbara Newman (these works are on reserve in the library), and write a one-paragraph précis of their literary criticism concerning Hildegard. (3 pages)

Your Reports

A template has been prepared for you to use in composing your individual and group reports. When your group is ready to write your ten (10) to fifteen (15) page report, download the template and use it to write your report. Yes, it's the same template you used to write your individual report! When your group is finished writing, revising, and proofreading an amazing, brilliant, wonderful, and especially insightful group report, e-mail your group reports to me. They will be posted both on Shorter College's online SCHOLAR and on www.carmenbutcher.com for worldwide viewing. Your individual report must be turned in as a hard copy.

Additional Resources

The Results

The results will ultimately be posted here, as well as on SCHOLAR. Until then, please look at these examples of webquests and their fascinating and exciting results.

Bernie Dodge's Excellent Webquest Example

Bernie Dodge's "Some Thoughts About Webquests"

The Ultimate Questers

Webquest News

The World's Largest Searchable Directory of Reviewed Webquests