In this course, we will go on pilgrimage to Canterbury with the twenty-nine pilgrims of Geoffrey Chaucer’s greatest poetic work, The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer’s twenty-four tales famously capture the ethos of the high Middle Ages through a jumble of characters including a knight, a miller, a cook, a lawyer, a friar, a clerk, a squire, a pardoner and so on. Chaucer’s tales vividly capture human personality in all its variety and propensities toward virtue and vice. In this course we will enjoy the irony and satire of Chaucer, but we’ll especially focus on his language. Our goal will be to read the stories in their original Middle English: this will take some work, so we’ll start out slowly, working on pronunciation and vocabulary. Toward the middle of the course, once everyone is comfortable reading Middle English, we’ll begin reading tales more quickly.
Students will deepen their understanding of these tales by reading the primary texts and by engaging in conversation with leading scholars and schools of thought and their interpretive approaches. Students will express their own opinions in weekly online posts, in short papers, and in a final term paper and oral exam, adding their voices to the conversation. Finally, students will consider the importance of these works globally, that is, within the western intellectual and literary tradition and ponder their ongoing value for students of the liberal arts today.
The goals of this course include the student being able to…
- Read Chaucer in the original Middle English
- Identify the poetic and literary features of the Tales
- Grasp the unifying themes and structures of the Tales
- Place the Tales in their medieval context
- Summarize the scholarship on various aspects of Tales
- Enjoy the comic spirit of the Tales as well as their critique of human sinfulness.