ENGL 344A - Chaucer's Canterbury Tales
Level: Upper level
Area: English lit requirement before 1660, British, Fiction, Medieval, 17th century
Instructor: Allan Mitchell
Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is a monumental literary achievement that altered the course of literary history. The mixture of formal complexity, generic experimentation, and social satire has excited admiration and imitation to this day. We will consider many animating features of Chaucer's extraordinary tale collection, including the multiplicity of voices and social visions; the role of masculine authority and moral rhetoric; sexual economics; ideas of authorship and audience response; and the emergence of the vernacular as a relatively new literary medium in the fourteenth century. Our goal throughout the course is to situate Chaucer’s tales within relevant linguistic, cultural, and political contexts, the better to understand how lively and often unruly his texts remain. The readings are demanding. The aim of the course is not to rehearse received opinion (though we should consider several critical views), but rather to work together through difficult passages and debatable issues. The course will enable students to sharpen their sense of the vitality, historical difference, cultural dynamics, and ethical challenges of Chaucer’s poetry and prose.