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This course will be devoted to a close reading of the Canterbury Tales. We will attempt to place Chaucer’s text in both critical and cultural contexts, discussing the society that produced it and the questions that arise from it. These questions may include (but will not, I hope, be limited to) issues concerning the interplay of originality and tradition, narrative game-playing, the construction of gendered, ethnic and religious alterity in the Tales, poetic authority and the lack thereof, and the materiality of the text.
Careful attention will be paid to Middle English grammar and versification. You do not need to know how to read Middle English before you sign up; you will learn as we go.
Required Text: The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry D. Benson. Secondary materials will be available on-line.
Course Requirements: Over the course of the semester, we will be reading nearly all of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Don’t worry if you have never read middle English before; you will learn fast, and extra help will be available for those who need it. Requirements for the course, beyond keeping up with the reading, include the following graded assignments:
ϖ 2 short papers (3-5 pages)
ϖ regular reading responses posted to the class discussion group according to a schedule which will be established by the beginning of the second week of classes
ϖ a research project (maybe an essay, maybe not… more on this later) due at the end of classes
ϖ a final examination
ϖ class participation
There will also be regular ungraded assignments; doing these, or failing to do them, will be factored into your participation grade:
ϖ Equizzes to test your progress in reading middle English. Deadlines for these are noted on the syllabus. Expect to receive 5 or 6 lines of middle English via email the night before the deadline. Translate them as accurately as possible into modern English before class the next day and email them back to me.
ϖ 2 verse assignments, which will require you to demonstrate command of Chaucerian meter and rhyme schemes, and permit you to be as silly, scatological or sentimental as you please.
Idiosyncracies: There are several curious or unusual aspects to this class. To begin with, it takes advantage of Internet and other computer technology as much as possible. You will find it essential to check the course Moodle site regularly. As for your research project, while I will expect you to prepare a traditional bibliography in order to demonstrate your research) the form in which you choose to present that research is up to you; you can write an essay, create a website, perform a tale, set one to music, illustrate it… surprise me.
English 201a satisfies the “Introductory Emphasis” requirement for the Haverford English major