at Herstmonceux Castle, U.K.

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ENGL 251/3.0 Authors in Context: Special Topics I - Chaucer's Canterbury Tales

This course concentrates on a study of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, the major piece of literary art of the English Middle Ages.  We will consider how Chaucer's tale collection responds to the turbulent environment of the late fourteenth century, a time defined by the religious controversies associated with Lollardy and social movements exemplified by the Peasants' Rebellion.  Chaucer's tales imagine a collection of diverse pilgrims coming together and speaking to one another, a fiction that did not correspond to any social reality of the time.  This daring act--bringing together people usually divided by class/status, gender, religious affiliation, occupation, and imagining their social interaction--provided Chaucer with an opportunity to experiment with genre and characterization as he forged a new social reality.  We will ask, what did Chaucer mean by making diverse people speak to one another and acknowledge social worlds beyond their own? Can the pilgrims all speak equally? How do they occupy the space and time of story telling differently?  These are questions that have important ramifications beyond the Middle Ages. Our study of Chaucer's text will include key historical contexts and literary intertexts, as we will learn about medieval sexuality and gender organization, religious practices like relic and saint worship, economic and class structures, knighthood and chivalry.  We will read the text in its original form and therefore will spend some time on acquiring facility with Middle English grammar and pronunciation. Students will learn how to read Chaucerian English aloud. The class will travel to Canterbury to explore the goal of the pilgrims' spiritual journey and to London to examine some original Middle English manuscripts in the British Library.