English 201b: Chaucer, the Dream Visions and Troilus and Criseyde

Required Work:

Ungraded Assignments include the following:

Two short essays are due on February 27 and April 9. One essay will be on either The Book of the Duchess or The House of Fame; the other will be on Troilus and Criseyde. Each will be grounded in close reading of a single passage of Chaucer's text. You will find essay topics listed here, but you may also develop a topic of your own in consultation with me. You should feel free to take full advantage of all the resources of the Riverside Chaucer, but research beyond this is not required. Remember that a close reading, like any other essay, must have a thesis and develop an argument. Each essay should be 4-6 pages long. For a word on grading policies, follow this link.

Over the course of the semester you will be responsible for writing up two critical responses to essays on Chaucer. One of these should be a response to a source you have consulted in the library, in that ancient medium known as the book--you may choose to read an essay or a chapter from one of the texts on Reserve in the library, for instance, or you may choose to go further afield, consulting one of the texts on the list of Suggested Reading. the second of your critical responses should be to an essay which you have accessed electronically, through JSTOR or Project Muse or one of the other databases listed under Resources. In both cases, try to choose an article which promises to be of interest to you. In your response, you will briefly summarize the argument of the critical piece (this is the only time when summary in a piece of written work is acceptable!). You will go on to assess the essay; what did you learn from it? how might it be useful to you or another reader? do you see serious flaws in its argument? One caveat: do remember that it's normal for you to find essays referring to texts (other texts by Chaucer, for instance, or by authors like Dante or Boccaccio); don't be intimidated by this-- you're not expected to know everything about everything at this point in your life, you're just expected to keep an open mind and to be willing to learn more than you know at present. It's not fair to condemn authors who publish scholarly articles for knowing more than you do; that is their job, after all! When you have finished your response, you will post it to the Webforum. If you're longwinded, you may have to make two posts (Webforum hates more than about 4 paragraphs). I strongly advise you to compose your response as a mini-essay first, proofread and revise, and then cut and paste it into Webforum. This way you will not loose work to system glitches. Later in the semester, when your annotated bibliographies are due, you will be able to consult your colleagues' posts and use them to help you find research materials.

Your research project (due April 23) may take the form of a formal, 8-10 page research essay on a variety of topics. Alternatively, you may decide to develop a creative project in consultation with me. Creative projects for the Canterbury Tales course in past years have run the gamut from a stained glass window (which you can see in my office if you like) to a board game showing who wins and loses at marriage in the Middle Ages to a screenplay on the Canterbury Tales. Whichever option you choose, you will be required to develop an annotated bibliography of the research materials you have consulted.

Here are some possible areas of exploration:
  • Chaucer and Classical Mythology
  • Courtly Love
  • Peculiar Narrators
  • Sexuality (male, female, queer, straight, other) in the Dream Visions or Troilus
  • Nature in the Dream Vision
  • Chaucerian Ethics-- how do these poems work as guides to living?
  • Boethius and Chaucer
  • Ovid and Chaucer
  • Geoffrey Chaucer, medieval bird brain?

If you were to choose a creative project (say that you decide to write an ending for The House of Fame, in verse) you would probably find yourself doing research on several of these topics. If you wanted to produce an illuminated manuscript, or a series of illustrations to Troilus and Criseyde, you'd have to do research on medieval books, costumes, etc. You get the idea.


By March 17, you must provide me with a brief statement of interest ("I want to explore Chaucer's obsession with birds; my finished project might take the form of a Chaucerian bird-book with illustrations inspired by medieval bestiaries" or "I want to write an essay about the way that Chaucer re-imagines the Goddess Venus in a Christian context"). This statement may be emailed to me, or handed in in class. Once I receive it, I will suggest secondary materials you may want to consult.

Your annotated bibliography for the project will be due April 12.

The final examination for the course will require some translation, some short answer questions, and one longer essay question. It will be a takehome, closed book examination, and will cover all the material on the course, including Boethius and the Roman de la Rose.


English 201b. . . Syllabus. . . Assignments. . . Resources