CHAUCER: The Canterbury Tales


F. GRADY                                                                                                                                           SPRING 2015

LAIRD 204A                                                                                                                                       MW 1:50-3:00,

222-4318                                                                                                                                                         F 2:20-3:20

MW 11:15-12:15, T 11:00-12:30                                                                                                         LAIRD 212                                                                                                     

& by appointment




             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.  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 often annoying quality of seeming simultaneously foreign and familiar, since in the period the basic structures (and basic problems) of contemporary Western culture were in the making.  Appreciating and understanding medieval texts thus requires some intellectual agility and an open mind, as our assumptions will interact in various and sometimes unpredictable ways with the expectations of the texts we study.  Take some time to think about the reading as you prepare to discuss it: what happens in it (and to whom), what it assumes that you know (about the world, about how people ought to behave, and about how they actually do), what it thinks is important and interesting and why. 

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: Two five- to six-page essays (±1500 words), 15% and 20%; two Chaucerian imitations, 15% each; 2 in-class summaries, 10%; final take-home essay/third imitation, 15%; class grade (attendance, participation, quizzes), 10%. You will have multiple opportunities to hand in the essays and imitations, though everyone must submit the portrait assignment due 4/14 and the first essay due 4/23; I will distribute a non-exhaustive list of topics about a week in advance of each due date, with copies also posted on the web.   Faithful (i.e., perfect) attendance is expected; quizzes may not be made up, and four or more absences from class will certainly have an adverse effect 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 College; please refer to this site for further details, and please please please ask me if you have any questions.

            Basic course materials (including powerpoints) will be posted on Moodle, while the main syllabus page (http://www.umsl.edu/~gradyf/eng201sp2013.htm), linked to my own homepage (http://www.umsl.edu/~gradyf/), will offer multiple links to supplementary materials and other Chaucer-related sites on the web.


Required Texts:

·         Chaucer, Geoffrey, The Canterbury Tales. Ed. Jill Mann. Penguin, 2005.  Paperback.  ISBN: 9780140422344  (hence CT)



M MAR 30   Introduction: Thinking About the Middle Ages; Reading Middle English

W APR 1   Really reading Middle English: The Manciple’s Tale

                        “Chaucer’s Language” (CT liii-lx)

                        The Manciple’s Tale (CT 681-690)


F APR 3  England in the Fourteenth Century; The Canterbury Tales

                        General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales (I.1-444/CT 3-19)

                        *Strohm, “The social and literary scene in England”


M APR 6  The Canterbury Tales: Pilgrimage, Estates Satire, Sentence and Solaas

                        General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales (I.445-858/CT 19-35)

                        *Prologue excerpts from Piers Plowman


W APR 8  General Prologue: Governaunce and the structure of the Tales

            *Donaldson, “Chaucer the Pilgrim”

            Portrait development workshop


F APR 10   The Knight’s Tale: Philosophical romance?

            Knight’s Tale I (I.859-1354/CT 35-52)



M APR 13  The Knight’s Tale:  The story of Theseus; the interrupted triumph

            Knight’s Tale II-IV (I.1355-3108/CT 53-114)


**T APR 14  Portrait  imitation due**


W APR 15  The Knight’s Tale: Symmetry, Irony, Chivalry

                        *Muscatine, “Form, Texture, and Meaning in Chaucer's Knight's Tale

                        Miller's Prologue (I 3109-3186/CT 114-117)


F APR 17  The Miller’s Tale: fabliau justice

                        Miller's Tale (I 3187-3854/CT 117-141)

*Patterson, “Chaucer”



M APR 20  The Reeve’s Tale: the quiting game

                        Reeve’s Prologue and Tale (I 3855-4324/CT 142-160)


W APR 22  The Man of Law’s Tale: Hagiography and romance

                        Man of Law's Prologue and Tale I & II (II 1-875/CT 164-98)


F APR 24  The Man of Law’s Tale: Hagiography and romance and feminism?

            Man of Law's Tale III (II 876-1190/BCT 198-210)

            *Dinshaw, from Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics


**Sa APR 25  First essay due date**



M APR 27  The Wife of Bath's Prologue: Wives versus clerks, round 1

            Wife of Bath's Prologue (III 1-856/CT 211-41)


W APR 29  The Wife of Bath's Tale: Romance revisited

             Wife of Bath's Tale (III 857-1264/CT 241-55)


F MAY 1  The Wife of Bath's Tale: Romance revisited, revisited

            *John Gower, The Tale of Florent




W MAY 6  Friar and Summoner: Chaucerian (and other) anticlericalisms

            Friar's Prologue and Tale (III 1265-1664/CT 255-69)

            Summoner's Prologue and Tale (III 1665-2294/ CT 270-92)



            **First possible second essay due date**



M MAY 11  The Clerk’s Tale: Wives versus clerks, round 2

             Clerk's Tale I-IV (IV 1-784/CT 293-322)


W MAY 13  The Clerk’s Tale: Petrarch vs. Boccaccio vs. Chaucer vs. Chaucer

            Clerk's Tale V-VI (IV 785-1212/CT 322-39)


F MAY 15  The Franklin’s Tale:  Love and "maistrie"

                        Franklin's Prologue and Tale (V 673-1624/CT 406-38)



M MAY 18  The Franklin’s Tale:  demandes d’amour

                        *Kittredge, from “Chaucer’s Discussion of Marriage”

                        *Lipton, “Beyond Kittredge: Teaching Marriage in The Canterbury Tales”


**Clerk’s Tale imitation due**


W MAY 20  The Pardoner's Tale: Lips Are Movin

            Pardoner's Prologue and Tale (VI 329-968/CT 449-73)


**TH MAY 19 Second possible second essay due date**



F MAY 22  Shipman and Prioresse: Piety and  impiety continued; medieval antisemitism

            Shipman's Tale (VII 1-452/CT 474-89)

            Prioresse's Tale (VII 453-690/CT 489-99)



M MAY 25  Thopas and Melibee: Chaucerian signature

            Prologue and Tale of Sir Thopas (VII 691-966/CT 500-11)

                        Tale of Melibee (VII 967-1199, 1769-1888/CT 511-26, 556-61)


W MAY 27 The Monk’s Tale: De casibus tragedy & its discontents

                        Monk's Prologue and Tale (VII 1889-2766/CT 562-98)


F MAY 29  The Nun’s Priest’s Tale: Aesop meets Aquinas

            Nun's Priest's Prologue and Tale (VII 2767-3446/CT 599-621)



M JUN 1  The Parson’s Tale: No more fables

            Parson's Prologue and Tale (excerpts) (X 1-175/CT 691-701, plus your favorite sin!)

            Retractions (CT 782-83)


**T JUN 2  Third possible second essay due date**

            **Monk’s Tale / Melibee imitations due**




                **M JUN 8  Take-home essay / Third imitation due**



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