. . . the linear pilgrimage from the Tabard Inn to Canterbury Cathedral with tales strung out like beads on a string is deceptive. In the thematic interweaving and open-endedness of his stories and links, Chaucer has created what Umberto Eco characterizes as a rhizome labyrinth: ‘one which is so constructed that every path can be connected with every other one. It has no center, no periphery, no exit, because it is potentially infinite’ (Lillian Bisson, Chaucer and the Late Medieval World)

In this course, we will focus solely on The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer’s experimental set of ‘nested’ narratives, which we will read in the original Middle English. Our primary aim will be to read and enjoy the Tales, to learn the rudiments of Middle English as a spoken and written language, and to become familiar with critical sources on Chaucer in print and electronic forms. Additionally, we will spend a good deal of time exploring the following topics in Chaucer’s work: aesthetics; authorship and readership; social antagonisms and class rivalries; religious, racial, and gender differences; travel and encounters with Otherness; violence and death; love and marriage; sexuality; wonder and enchantment; medieval traditions of anti-feminism and anti-Semitism; medieval philosophy and theology; ethics and morality; chivalric/courtly culture; identity and self-formation; modes of reading and interpretation; the relationship between the individual and structures of power and authority in medieval England; and the representation of everything in art.

Hopefully, you will also learn that one does not think well in a vacuum–our ideas benefit immeasurably when exchanged with others in a series of critical dialogues. Preparing for and participating in class are vitally important to your success in this class, and therefore, your contribution to in-class discussions as well as your attendance record will be factored into your final grade. While some class time will be devoted to lecturing by the professor, an equal amount of time will be devoted to discussing various aspects of the readings and the ideas they raise, and the professor wants to see students vigorously engaging in discussion with each other. As this is also a reading-intensive course, not keeping up with the reading could be extremely detrimental to your progress and final evaluation. One final (but important) word: coming to class without the texts under discussion will count as an absence.

NOTA BENE: You may use study guides and/or plot summaries to help you with your reading of the Tales (most preferable would be looking at the interlinear translations available on Larry Benson’s Chaucer website at Harvard), but you MUST read the Middle English text to understand class discussion of Chaucer’s multiple and subtle meanings.

REQUIRED TEXTS (available at Textbook Rental Services):

Larry D. Benson, ed., The Riverside Chaucer, 3rd edition. Houghton Mifflin, 1987.

Brantley L. Bryant, Chaucer Hath a Blog: Medieval Studies and New Media. Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.


Oral Pronunciation Exercise (15%)

In order to understand Chaucer’s achievement as a poet, you must be able to pronounce his language as well as translate it, and you will be tested once, early in the semester, on your ability to pronounce a substantial portion of Chaucer’s verse of your choosing (30-50 lines) that you will record on your computer at home and send to me as an audio-link. OR, if you prefer, you may recite the verse of your choosing in class on Monday, October 10th (just let me know in advance). You will be judged on the accuracy of your pronunciation and your ability to read the verse line for meaning and sense (i.e., appropriate pauses and emphases). Consult the Chaucer Audio Files at the Chaucer Metapage website for assistance with this exercise.

Translation Exercise (15%)

In addition to an oral pronunciation exercise, you will also undertake a modern verse translation of a passage of your choosing from the Tales (no less than 20 lines but not to exceed 50 lines). You may consult any part of Benson’s book (including the glosses at the foot of the page, the Explanatory Notes, pp. 795-965, and the Glossary, pp. 1211-1310, in the back of the book) and you may use Norman Davis’s A Chaucer Glossary (in Lovejoy Library’s Reference section), and you may also want to consult other modern translations to give you some starting-points for ideas of your own. The idea is to be creative as possible; you are not being asked to reproduce a literal, line-by-line translation of the original (why bother with that, in fact, since Benson had already done such a competent job of that for you already?). Rather, you are almost making a new poem, with Chaucer’s original (its words, images, and ideas as well as its rhythms and sounds) as your inspirational blueprint, but not your harness. Here are two examples of a fairly faithful (yet creative) modern translation of the opening lines of the General Prologue and then a more loose (and more creative) contemporary “rap” translation-adaptation of “The Miller’s Tale.” First, from The Canterbury Tales in Modern Verse, ed. and trans. Joseph Glaser (Hackett Publishing, 2005):

When April’s fruitful rains descend

And bring the droughts of March to end,

Bathing each vine in such sweet showers,

That young buds burst and unfurl flowers,

When West Wind too, with his mild airs

Inspires in fields and hidden lairs

Fresh-minted leaves, and when the sun

Halfway toward the Bull has run;

When small birds sing for all they’re worth,

Wide-eyed all night with reckless mirth,

Mad for love in trees and hedges,

Why, then folks go on pilgrimages

And pilgrims yearn for foreign strands

And distant shrines in sundry lands.

Second, from Baba Brinkman’s The Rap Canterbury Tales: “The Miller’s Tale”

2 Short Papers (25% each)*

You will write two short papers (6-8 pages), one of which will be an exploration of a contemporary adaptation of one of Chaucer’s tales and one of which will provide an overview and examination of a controversial critical issue related to an individual narrative from the Tales. Two important resources for developing ideas related to these papers will be Daniel Kline’s Electronic Canterbury Tales Website (University of Alaska) and Larry Benson’s Geoffrey Chaucer Website (Harvard). *Graduate students will write the first short paper, along with other students, and will tackle the same second paper topic, but at length of 10-12 pages.

Oral Presentation (10%)*

Each student will be asked to make ONE 15-minute oral presentation on a specific topic assigned by the professor that is relevant to the readings under discussion. *Graduate students will also be asked to lead one class discussion.

Class Participation (10%)

As stated above, participation is vital to your success in this course. Further, as a senior-level seminar, the course is designed to have a primary emphasis on student-driven discussion. That means having a good attendance record, coming to class prepared to discuss the readings (with books and other texts in hand), and actively initiating and contributing to critically engaged conversations with your professor and peers.


I do not accept late assignments. Period. If there is a good reason for needing an extension on a due date, let me know in advance.


Attendance, promptness, and participation are essential to success in college courses. Faculty members recognize that unexpected occasions may arise when a student must be absent from class, but my general attendance policy is that if you are absent more than the number of required class sessions per week (in this case, that would be more than 1 evening session), I have the option of lowering your final course grade by one letter grade for each additional session missed. Furthermore, if absences become excessive (more than two weeks’ worth of sessions), the SIUE Registrar, at my request, reserves the right to withdraw you administratively. For more information on this, please consult the following: SIUE Class Attendance Policy. Failure to attend class in a responsible and committed manner may thus be grounds for failure in or administrative withdrawal from the course.


Any student found engaging in an act of academic dishonesty will be promptly dismissed from the course with a grade of “F.” By “academic dishonesty,” I mean PLAGIARISM (the act of representing the work of another as one’s own), which the University considers a grave breach of intellectual integrity. All definitions, terminology, concepts, and patterns of organization taken from an outside source must be identified and given credit in any essay or exam you write–whether it be for the English department or any other department. For more detailed information on this, please consult the following: SIUE Plagiarism Policy.


If you feel that you are entitled to special accommodations (for example, a volunteer note-taker, interpreter, special desk, or extra time on tests), please contact the Disability Support Services office in Rendleman Hall #1218 (Phillip Pownall, Director), or visit their website, and they will help you fill out the necessary paperwork.