Is Chaucer History?

This course discusses modern Chaucer, introducing students to his writing though discussion of selected characters and ideas from The Canterbury Tales. With specific interest in sexuality, gender, race, spirituality, money and politics, we examine the historical context of fourteenth-century England and Chaucer’s importance in the literary canon. Although we will talk about his work in translation, this course discusses the history of the English language from the 1380s to the modern day.


SUGGESTED READING

  • Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales trans. David Wright, ed. Christopher Cannon. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.
  • Paul Strohm, Chaucer’s Tale: 1386 and the Road to Canterbury, New York: Viking, 2014.


COURSE OUTLINE

  • Historical Chaucer and the General Prologue: This week we examine who Chaucer was; what we know about him and what we don’t. We talk about the reception of his writing throughout history, the study of English Literature and the field of Medieval Studies. With an overview of Chaucer’s corpus, we also begin our specific focus on The Canterbury Tales through discussion and analysis of ‘The General Prologue’ and the format and themes of the wider work.
  • The Miller’s Tale: This week we ease our way into the Tales themselves. On the surface, the Miller’s tale seems a lighthearted fabliau told by a jolly drunk pilgrim. However, there are sinister moments sprinkled throughout that require grappling with issues of class, violence, and masculinity. We will also consider the form of the tale itself, ultimately linking it to the Reeve’s tale.
  • The Reeve’s Tale: This week we pick up from the Miller’s tale to consider the ways the Reeve’s tale responds to it and continue our consideration of medieval conceptions of class, violence, and masculinity. We will also talk explicitly about rape relative to these themes, as well as constructions of homosocial relations.
  • The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale: This week we meet the Wife of Bath and discuss her tale. Was Chaucer a proto-feminist or was he a rapist? Can he be both? This week we discuss the literary conventions of courtly love and the cultural significance of marriage and domestic violence in the Middle Ages.
  • The Prioress’s Prologue and Tale: This week we shift gears to focus on the Prioress’s tale, paying specific attention to the antisemitic and Orientalist themes that run throughout. This tale serves as a rich source by which to engage medieval notions and constructions of race and ethnicity. How did these notions influence daily medieval life? How have they made their way into our own modern lives?
  • The Second Nun’s Tale: This week we discuss the the role of spirituality in the Middle Ages and religious elements of Chaucer’s writing. We will pay specific attention to the popular medieval literary genre of hagiography, considering the value of such narratives. Were they meant to inspire devotion? To entertain? Both?


PLANNED LEARNING OUTCOMES
By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Discuss the historical significance of Chaucer as an author.
  2. Discuss the relationship between Chaucerian poetry and fourteenth-century culture.
  3. Discuss key themes and characters in The Canterbury Tales.
  4. Discuss changes between Middle English and modern English.
  5. Discuss the history of sexuality, race, gender and religion.
$166 Limited / $149

<p>This course discusses modern Chaucer, introducing students to his writing though discussion of selected characters and ideas from The Canterbury Tales. With specific interest in sexuality, gender,

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23 Oct

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