ENGLISH 641 - Topics in the Medieval Period
Fall 2021, Section 001 - Intertextuality and Translation: Chaucer and Boccaccio
Instruction Mode: Section 001 is   Hybrid (see other Sections below)
Subject: English Language and Literature (ENGLISH)
Department: LSA English Language & Literature
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Waitlist Capacity:
Advisory Prerequisites:
Graduate standing and permission of instructor.
May not be repeated for credit.
Primary Instructor:


Boccaccio and Chaucer are two of the great writers of the Western European Middle Ages, with exceptional geographical range, social inclusiveness, and attentiveness to gender. Chaucer took more from Boccaccio than from any other writer, but mysteriously never acknowledged him by name—and the more mysteriously since both shared so much: disciples of Dante, admirers of Petrarch, scions of the international mercantile class attempting to come to terms—socially, politically, and poetically--with French-based, courtly society. The two writers provide a master course in how to tell a story in the fourteenth century (or maybe any century), and how to write a poetic line. This course will focus on Boccaccio’s early Trojan love story Il Filostrato and Chaucer’s magnificent English adaptation Troilus and Criseyde; and Boccaccio’s framed story collection set in a time of plague and social dissolution, the Decameron, and Chaucer’s framed story collection, the Canterbury Tales—likewise set in a time of social dissolution, but differently conceived, and sharing many stories and topics with Boccaccio: both include the widest range of contemporary issues, including Judaism, Islam, and their relations with Christianity; rural poverty and peasant cunning; urban trickery and nobility; female agency and oppression; exoticism and romance; alchemy and sodomy; saintliness and superstition; relic worship and relic forgery; the magnificence and brutality of powerful rulers. Since the relationship between these two writers is the subject of great debate, it will also give us the chance to explore the methodological resources involved in intertextuality and translation studies—linguistic, cultural and formal. But I have to confess that one of the greatest pleasures will simply be the opportunity to read them side by side. The sheer variousness of these works means that the interests, backgrounds, and expertise of class members will influence our collective choice of focus.

Course Requirements:

You will have the opportunity to shape the course with two oral presentations to the class, several short exploratory papers, and a 12-ish pp. essay at the end of the term (longer for anyone opting to take this course as a seminar). Texts will be available digitally as well as in print; in translation as well as in the original language. I do not assume any prior knowledge of the language or literature of fourteenth-century England or Italy—only the curiosity to find out.


ENGLISH 641 - Topics in the Medieval Period
Schedule Listing
001 (SEM)
MW 10:00AM - 11:30AM

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