Geoffrey Chaucer was perhaps the greatest English poet prior to Shakespeare and remains one of the great literary innovators in this language. Writing at a time when English commanded little respect as a language of literature, Chaucer crafted a unique and compelling poetic voice, an inclusive vision for literary fiction, and an array of richly imagined characters. In this class we read many of his most important poems. We begin with the early dream visions, in which Chaucer created surrealistic fictional worlds, montaged from his reading. Here we see Chaucer as a young poet getting oriented, and productively disoriented, within prior literature. After the dream poems, we spend the balance of the semester with The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer’s unfinished masterpiece and celebration of story-telling. For The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer created a diverse cast—women and men, poor and rich, profane and devout—who regale one another with boundary-pushing explorations of class, gender, sexuality, faith, and fiction.
To conclude our study, we explore three moments in the “Chaucer Tradition”: Thomas Hoccleve’s Prologue to the Regiment of Princes (1410-11), John Dryden’s rewrite of The Wife of Bath’s Tale (1700), and selections from The Refugee Tales (2016).
- To explore the imaginative possibilities of literary fiction and poetic verse.
- To gain an experience of literature written in a historical period and material context very different from our own.
- To develop skills for understanding and appreciating a form of the English language different from the modern standard.
- To refine skills of formal expository writing, self-expression, and literary argument.