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Medieval Studies

MDV 392M • Chaucer's Canterbury Tales

40085 • Scala, Elizabeth
Meets TH 2:00PM-5:00PM PAR 214
(also listed as E 392M)
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Chaucer's Canterbury Tales

This course proposes an intensive and extended reading of Chaucer’s unfinished masterpiece, The Canterbury Tales, a central literary text for anyone studying the premodern period. This multi-genre story collection holds a central place in the traditional British canon and thus the history of vernacular literary education in the English-speaking world. At the moment, it sits at a contested site of literary authority even as its fictions contest the very terms of authority (gendered, political, and ethnic, among others) that it now supposedly stands for. Included in many survey courses, the Tales are rarely read whole, even by field-specialists. They are instead treated piecemeal and as individual stories for the purposes of varied pedagogical enterprises. This course seeks to explore the texture of Chaucer’s poetry, comparing vocabulary and literary features across different stories, in the story-telling collection by bringing a deep reading of the entire work, not merely those tales typically anthologized and often encountered. The course seeks to give students a different perspective on Chaucer’s popularity as a “religious” writer, a prose stylist, and an experiment driver by thinking through the ways his poem was itself pulled apart and anthologized in some early manuscripts and adapted to the early modern stage. In many ways this course hopes to get beyond the “introductory” aspects the Tales typically serve in courses devoted to literary history or the interests of “the survey,” some of which have made it appropriate to adaptation for children. We’ll thus be thinking about the uses to which the Tales were put, especially early in its canonical career, and how those uses have shaped the work we think we now know. We’ll also think about teaching Chaucer and the kinds of compromises student need and experience typically calls on us to make. To those ends some experience with Chaucer in just such introductory courses or surveys (and with some Middle English) is desirable.