Chaucer is at once one of the greatest and the most dynamic of English poets. His best-known work, The Canterbury Tales, shows him as a master of narrative and of stylistic variety which has few rivals. His minor works focus on themes of particular interest in present-day criticism, such as the cultural formations embodied in the literary landscape, gender politics, and the workings of dreams and the imagination. In this course we will explore Chaucer’s most important themes and literary strategies by reading a selection of The Canterbury Tales and some of Chaucer’s shorter poems in his original Middle English. The scope of the course also embraces the study of Chaucer’s sources and literary analogues and will reflect on his influence on later writers.
Note: If the Matador Bookstore has not ordered enough texts, you can order a copy (paper or digital) from Broadview Press by clicking the image.
I am frequently asked whether another edition of the Canterbury Tales is suitable for this course. I certainly understand the impulse to save money if you already have a copy. However, this must be balanced against the ways in which you will be disadvantaged in your learning. The Riverside Chaucer is the standard scholarly edition, and there is also an edition of the Canterbury Tales extracted from it. Scholarly literature inevitably refers to this edition, as do certain essential tools to help you learn to read Chaucer’s Middle English. Because of the nature of Chaucer’s works, some editions actually give different readings of the text. Although, most other editions, including the assigned textbook, will not differ significantly in their readings of the text, they will differ in their page numbers. This may lead to difficulties in following class discussion. Some editions offering extracts of the Canterbury Tales may not have all the tales included in the syllabus (even the assigned textbook is missing one or two). For these reasons, I highly recommend using the assigned edition, although either of the two named above are acceptable.
In addition to the assigned textbook, many course readings will be made available through the class Canvas site.
There will be 2 quizzes, one early and one towards the second half of the semester, to make sure you are keeping up with the course work. They will focus on your ability to demonstrate that you have learned appropriate technical terminology and historical contexts, and that you understand the language and plots of the texts we are reading.
Group reports will be produced by collaboratively by 3-4 people editing a Google doc. Groups will be assigned randomly in week 3 when enrolment settles. The purpose is to begin to develop an understanding a question about Fragment 1 of the Canterbury Tales whilst developing skills for writing about Chaucer. Reports will be approximately five pages. Grading will be based on self-reported and peer-reported rubrics. I will adjust the average grade if there are discrepancies or I have reason to believe that the assessments are not realistic. At the end of the semester, I will cross-reference the grading criteria with the individual final research papers to confirm that group members' contributions are plausible.
This will be a critical essay allowing you to explore topics on the entirety of the Canterbury Tales. You will be expected to demonstrate the various areas of expertise in Chaucer and in edited scholarly writing that will be the focus of the group report. The paper will be approximately 5-6 pages long and will be due on the university-scheduled date for the final exam. There is no final exam.
This course uses a system of contract grading. You will decide by the end of Week 2 whether you will receive an A, B, or C in the class (lower grades at my discretion). To receive this grade, you will have to meet the requirements specified for each grade below. If you are unable to meet the requirements for the grade for which you signed up, you must contact me to renegotiate your contract.
In addition to the provisions of each contract, all students must abide by the terms in the Class Policies section below.
To receive an A grade, you MUST
To receive a B grade, you MUST
To receive a C grade, you MUST
I do not award extra credit in this class. If you decide that you want to work for a higher grade than the one you chose at the beginning of the semester, email me to re-negotiate your contract.
What is contract grading?
Believe it or not, there is a Wikipedia article, or you can read Jane Danielewicz and Peter Elbow, “A Unilateral Grading Contract to Improve Learning and Teaching,” College Composition and Communication, 2009, 244–68. This is my version, tailored slightly for a course with fewer writing assignments and more difficult reading. I've also taken a great deal of inspiration from Miriam Posner's Selfies, Snapchat, & Cyberbullies course, and I want to give her due credit. My choice to use the contract grading system is designed to give you greater responsibility for your learning whilst taking the pressure of you to obtain individual grades that average out to some mathematical proxy for your learning. Instead, you set out with certain learning goals in mind, and I tailor my assessment of whether you have achieved them in part with your feedback during the midterm examination.
What if I sign up for a contract and then cannot fulfill one provision?
You’ll get a temporary exemption if you fail to fulfill one part of the contract. However, you cannot repeat the infraction or fail to fulfill any of the other terms of the contract. If you do, you will have to re-negotiate your contract with me.
What if I change my mind about the grade I want at the end of the semester?
You can just email me to renegotiate your contract.
What if I disagree with you about whether I have fulfilled the terms of my contract?
If the disagreement concerns an assessment of your learning on assignment, you have a week-long extension to revise and resubmit the assignment. If I still think that you have not fulfilled the provision, we must re-negotiate your contract. The extension does not apply to the final research paper. For this and provisions such as those concerning your impact on the learning environment of the classroom, my assessment takes precedence, as it would for a non-contract grade.
What are the professor’s roles in contract grading?
As your professor, I will continue to provide commentaries on your written work, as well as oral guidance. The only difference is that you don’t get letter grades on individual assignments. I will continue to provide you guidance and help you stay on track with your contract as best as I can. At the end of the semester, I am charged with assessing your learning about the subject matter. Although you are choosing your grade you wish to aim for, it is my job to provide a letter grade at the end of the semester that represents the extent to which you have earned this grade through mastery of the subject matter and contribution to the learning community of the class. I am trusting that you will put in a sincere effort, and the element of choice is designed to give you a say and a stake in your learning.
By enrolling in this course you agree to be bound for the purposes of this class by all policies listed on this syllabus and the contract grading system. You may reject these policies by dropping the class within the time allotted by the University.
Most grades will be A, B, or C, according to the contract you sign up for. Grades of D or F, or with a plus or minus will be rare and entirely at my discretion. To receive a grade other than a WU, you must have completed more than half the coursework (no exceptions).
Since students in English courses are expected by society at large to be acquiring writing skills, I privilege grammar, spelling, and editing in my grading, and this is reflected in the contract language. Work containing distracting numbers of typos, spelling mistakes, or grammatical errors is highly likely to violate provisions of your contract, and you should make sure that you pay sufficient attention to these details.
It is extremely important that all aspects of your work are come by honourably. Efforts to gain an advantage not given to all students are dishonest and regarded as an extremely serious matter by the academic community. Consequences range from probation to expulsion. University policy stipulates that plagiarism, the submission of another person’s work as your own, is a violation of academic honesty, even if it arises out of ignorance or oversight, rather than deliberate cheating. Enrolling in this class means that you agree to abide by my decision regarding the appropriate action to take in cases of academic dishonesty. If you have any questions about plagiarism, paraphrasing, quoting, or collaboration, please consult me.
Students should make sure that they follow the university’s add/drop deadlines, outlined in the Schedule of Classes. According to university policy, drops are only allowed after the set date when “a) there is a serious and compelling reason–specifically the student’s emotional or physical health or financial condition is clearly in jeopardy, and b) there is no viable alternative–including repeating the class”. Students will need to provide documentation on official letterhead–a letter, on official stationery, from a doctor or an employer–to support their reasons. No adds will be allowed unless a student can provide documented proof–e.g., a clerical error–for the reason for the tardiness. Please make sure to meet the deadline!
The standard grade if a student fails to complete the work for a class is a “WU”. This is the equivalent of an “F”, but the grade may be changed if you re-take the course at a future time. This grade is also assigned to students who have not attended after the first few classes of the semester but have not officially “withdrawn” from the course.
I may assign an Incomplete (“I”) if and only if you meet all of the following conditions:
Once you take an incomplete, you have a year from the date recorded on the form to complete the requirements of the course and have your grade changed; therefore, you should submit work early enough to allow me to grade your work and fill out the necessary forms to assign you a new grade. For more information, see the university's Grade of Incomplete tutorial.
Keep in mind that, after you take an Incomplete, any grading of your work becomes an added burden on my busy timetable during the following year. Therefore you should not expect the normal amount of comments on your work or any extra teaching beyond my normal office hours.
You are responsible for having completed the reading by the dates indicated. We sometimes spend a little longer or a little less time than anticipated on individual texts, so, if you print this syllabus or miss class, make sure to check this page in case there are any adjustments. In all cases the assignment to read “The X’s Tale” includes any prologues or epilogues to that pilgrim’s tale.
|Aug 28 Tue||Introduction. Texts: To Rosamunde" and "Adam scriveyn"|
|Aug 30 Thu||Learning Middle English. Texts: Reading Middle English|
|Sep 04 Tue||The General Prologue. Readings: Wikipedia entry, especially the sections on Origins, Career, and Later Life|
|Sep 06 Thu||The General Prologue. Readings: Manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales|
|Sep 11 Tue||The Knight's Tale, Part 1|
|Sep 13 Thu||The Knight's Tale, Part 2|
|Sep 18 Tue||The Knight's Tale, Part 3|
|Sep 20 Thu||The Miller's Tale|
|Sep 25 Tue||The Miller's Tale|
|Sep 27 Thu||The Miller's Tale|
|Oct 02 Tue||The Reeve's Tale|
|Oct 04 Thu||The Reeve's Tale and the Cook's Tale|
|Oct 09 Tue||The Wife of Bath's Prologue|
|Oct 11 Thu||The Wife of Bath's Tale|
|Oct 16 Tue||The Friar's Tale|
|Oct 18 Thu||The Summoner's Tale|
|Oct 23 Tue||The Clerk's Tale|
|Oct 25 Thu||The Merchant's Tale|
|Oct 30 Tue||The Merchant's Tale|
|Nov 01 Thu||The Merchant's Tale|
|Nov 06 Tue||The Squire's Tale|
|Nov 08 Thu||The Franklin's Tale|
|Nov 13 Tue||The Franklin's Tale|
|Nov 15 Thu||The Pardoner's Tale|
|Nov 20 Tue||The Pardoner's Tale|
|Nov 22 Thu||Thanksgiving|
|Nov 27 Tue||The Prioress’ Tale|
|Nov 29 Thu||The Tale of Sir Thopas|
|Dec 04 Tue||The Monk's Tale and the Nun's Priest's Tale|
|Dec 06 Thu||The Nun's Priest's Tale|
|Dec 11 Tue||Review|
|Dec 18 Tue||Final Exam|