MEMS 465 - Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales
Fall 2021, Section 001
Instruction Mode: Section 001 is  In Person (see other Sections below)
Subject: Medieval and Early Modern Studies (MEMS)
Department: LSA History
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Waitlist Capacity:
May not be repeated for credit.
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“What prevents me from telling the truth with a smile?” Chaucer was the first great satirist in English; his poetry was humorous, experimental, even avant-garde—and devoted to telling the truth through made-up stories. This course will focus on the Canterbury Tales, a diverse anthology of stories varying in style, genre, and fictional teller. Written during a time of extraordinary social and political upheaval at the end of the fourteenth century, this framed story collection includes both the stately Knight's Tale and the ribald Miller's Tale, stories about women both obedient and disorderly, clerics both corrupt and . . . well, more corrupt. Along the way, it creates a new audience in English for literature simultaneously playful and serious. We will read most of the Tales, paying attention to the work's qualities as an innovative story collection. Central questions will include: How does the Canterbury Tales address—or even create—its audience? What does its interpretative openness accomplish? What relations develop between literary style and social position? How does the language of the text create the imaginative impression of complex characters? How does one story speak to another? We will focus especially on narrative voices and the effects they create in their readers; audiotapes will help us hear these voices in Middle English.

No prior knowledge of Chaucer’s Middle English is expected or required, since part of your contribution to the course will be to learn the language with enough fluency to appreciate the beauty, depth, and sheer pleasure of Chaucer’s poetry.

Course Requirements:

One short paper, frequent short writing, one longer paper or portfolio of short pieces, one oral exercise.


MEMS 465 - Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales
Schedule Listing
001 (REC)
 In Person
MW 1:00PM - 2:30PM

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