F. GRADY                                                                              SPRING 2018

461 LUCAS                                                                                     MW 9:30-10:45

MW 1:00-2:30                                                                                  JC PENNEY 63                       & by appointment

fgrady@umsl.edu / 516-5510


           Three hundred years after Chaucer's death, John Dryden called him "the father of English poetry"; now, three hundred years after that, his work is more closely and widely studied than ever before.  His best-known poem, The Canterbury Tales, is justly celebrated for its richness and variety, both literary--the Tales include fabliaux, romances, sermons, hagiographies, fantasies, satires, treatises, fables and exempla--and thematic, with its explorations of courtly love and scatology, piety and impiety, chivalry and pacifism, fidelity and adultery.  At the same time, The Canterbury Tales has also routinely been the target of censorship--it happened as recently as 1995 in Eureka, Illinois, 175 miles away. 

          This semester we'll study those Tales in as much depth as we can manage, to try to figure out what might make them so compelling, or, alternately, so disturbing.  We’ll also explore the ways in which Chaucer’s work has proven amenable—or susceptible—to contemporary critical approaches attentive to issues of gender, class, and language.

The literature of the middle ages has the sometimes baffling quality of seeming simultaneously foreign and familiar, since in this historically remote period the basic structures (and basic problems) of contemporary Western culture were in the making; appreciating and understanding medieval texts thus requires (and can help foster) some intellectual agility and an open mind.  All Chaucer reading will be in Middle English; previous experience with the language will be an asset, but is not required—plenty of experience will be provided.


Course Requirements:

·        One short essay (± 800 words), 15%; two five- to six-page essays (±1800 words), 20% each; two Chaucerian imitations, 15% each; in-class tale summary, 5%; two term-ID quizzes, 5% each = 100%.  Written assignments will typically receive letter grades.

·        You will have multiple opportunities to hand in the longer essays, though everyone must submit the short essay due 2/23; I will distribute a non-exhaustive list of topics about ten days before each due date, with copies also posted online.   You can view my policy on extensions here.

·        Faithful (i.e., perfect) attendance is expected; five or more absences from class will certainly have an adverse affect on your grade.

·        Plagiarism on papers, electronic or the old-fashioned kind, will mean an instant F for the assignment, my undying disapprobation, and possible disciplinary action by the university; please refer to this site for further details, and please please please ask me if you have any questions, about anything, ever.


Basic course materials (including class powerpoints) will be posted on Canvas, while the syllabus website linked to my own homepage (http://www.umsl.edu/~gradyf) will be the main one for the course, with regularly updated links to supplementary materials and other Chaucer-related sites on the web.  Further details on the English Department’s goals for 4000-level courses can be found here.                


Required Texts:

·        Chaucer, Geoffrey, The Canterbury Tales: Fifteen Tales and the General Prologue, 2nd Norton Critical Edition, ed. Kolve and Olson

·        (Norton, 2005). Any complete Canterbury Tales in Middle English will do, but we’ll be reading some secondary material from this edition.

·        A selection of critical articles, available as pdfs on Canvas.



Tentative Syllabus:







JAN 17




Introduction: Thinking About the Middle Ages; Reading Middle English







JAN 22




Really reading Middle English: The Manciple’s Tale

·        “Chaucer’s Language,” xv-xix

·        Teach Yourself to Read Chaucer,” lessons 2-5

·        Manciple’s Tale (105-362 / pp. 287-93)


JAN 24




 England in the Fourteenth Century; The Canterbury Tales

·        General Prologue (1-308 / pp. 3-10)

·        Strohm, “The social and literary scene in England” (Canvas)








JAN 29




General Prologue:  Pilgrimage & Estates Satire

·        General Prologue (309-714 / pp. 10-20)

·        Wimbledon’s Sermon (pp. 333-35), Gower on monks (pp. 337-38), excerpts from Piers Plowman (Canvas)



JAN 31




General Prologue: Sentence and Solaas; Governaunce

·        General Prologue (715-858 / pp. 20-23)

·        Donaldson, ”Chaucer the Pilgrim” (pp. 503-11)

·        Portrait workshop












The Knight’s Tale: The story of Theseus; the interrupted triumph

·        Knight’s Tale I (859-1354 / pp.23-34)







 The Knight’s Tale: Philosophical romance?

·        Knight’s Tale II (1355-1880 / pp. 34-45)





FRI FEB 9 Portrait Imitation Due


FEB 12




The Knight’s Tale: Symmetry, Irony, Chivalry

·        Knight’s Tale III-IV (1880-3108 / pp. 45-71)




FEB 14




The Miller's Prologue: "ernest" & "game"; a new kind of order

·        Miller's Prologue (3109-3186 / pp. 71-73)

·        Muscatine, “Form, Texture, and Meaning in Chaucer's Knight's Tale(Canvas)








FEB 19




The Miller’s Tale: fabliau justice

·        Miller's Tale (3187-3854 / pp. 73-88)

·        Patterson, “Chaucer” (Canvas)



FEB 21




The Reeve’s Tale: the quiting game

·        Reeve’s Prologue and Tale (3855-4324 / pp. 89-99)





FRI FEB 23 Short Essay Due


FEB 26




The Cook’s Tale; the First Fragment reviewed; the MSS and order of the Tales

Man of Law’s Tale Summary

FEB 28




The Wife of Bath's Prologue: Wives versus clerks, round 1

·        Wife of Bath's Prologue (1-856 / pp. 102-121)











The Wife of Bath's Tale: Romance revisited

·        Wife of Bath's Tale (857-1264 / pp. 121-30)






The Wife of Bath's Tale: Romance revisited, revisited

·        John Gower, The Tale of Florent ( 1396-1871 / pp. 386-96)







MAR 12




The Clerk’s Tale: Wives versus clerks, round 2

·        Clerk's Tale I-III (1-609 / pp. 154-169)




MAR 14




The Clerk’s Tale: Wives versus clerks, round 2

·        Clerk's Tale IV-VI (610-1212g / pp. 154-169)

·        ID term quiz #1







MAR 19




The Franklin’s Tale:  Love and "maistrie"

·        Franklin's Prologue and Tale (V 674-1624 / pp. 212-233)

Merchant’s Tale Summary


MAR 21




The Franklin’s Tale:  demandes d’amour

·        Kittredge, “The Marriage Group” (pp. 539-46)





FRI MAR 23  First  Essay Due Date


MAR 26 & 28                           SPRING BREAK










Friar and Summoner: Chaucerian (and other) anticlericalisms

·        Summoner's Prologue and Tale (1665-2294 / pp.140-54)

Friar’s Tale Summary





The Pardoner's Tale: Sermon and self-representation; Radix malorum est cupiditas

·        Pardoner's Prologue and Tale (314-968 / pp. 233-48)


Physician’s Tale Summary










Shipman and Prioresse: Piety and  impiety continued; medieval antisemitism

·        Prioresse's Tale (453-690 / pp. 248-54)


Shipman’s Tale Summary

APR 11




Critical Coffeehouse







APR 16




Thopas and Melibee: Chaucerian signature

·        Prologue and Tale of Sir Thopas (691-918 / pp. 255-60

·        Prologue and Tale of Melibee (919-1886 / pp. 261-68

·        Strohm, “Chaucer’s Crisis” (Canvas)




APR 18




The Monk’s Tale: De casibus tragedy and its discontents

·        Monk's Prologue and Tale (Canvas)






FRI APR 20 Second Essay Due Date


APR 23




The Nun’s Priest’s Tale: Aesop meets Aquinas

·        Nun's Priest's Prologue and Tale (2767-3446 / pp. 270-84)

·        Imitation Workshop



APR 25




The Nun’s Priest’s Tale, cont.

·        ID term quiz #2








APR 30




The Parson’s Tale: No more fables

·        Parson's Prologue and Tale (1-74, 836-955 / pp. 293-307)

·        Chaucer’s Retractions (pp. 306-07)







·        Reading TBA





TUE  MAY 8  Third Essay Due Date


Students with disabilities who believe that they may need accommodations in this class are encouraged to contact the Disability Access Services Office in 131 Millennium Student Center at 516-6554 as soon as possible to ensure that such accommodations are arranged in a timely fashion.