English 414: Chaucer

Fall 2021

Course Details

Course Number: 14326

Meeting Time: MW 12:30 am-1:45 pm

Office Location: Sierra Tower 803

Office Hours: See Teaching

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About the Course

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.

Course Objectives

  • Acquire a basic reading knowledge of Chaucerian Middle English.
  • Acquire knowledge of the historical and cultural background which informs Chaucer’s works, as well as a familiarity with the issues that have been discussed in Chaucer scholarship.
  • Learn to read and discuss Chaucer’s works for enjoyment and for their insight into the human condition.
  • Demonstrate the skills associated with the professional practices of literary criticism, including writing and formatting conventions, research skills, and methods of analysis.


The Canterbury Tales: A Selection

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 website.

If you have a digital version of the textbook, it is a good idea to print out a copy of the text we are studying whilst we are Zooming so that you do not have to swap between the Zoom screen and the text.