EH 350 Chaucer's Canterbury Tales
Spring 2014
Dr. Susan K. Hagen

M 211/ HC 323, ext. 4660

Bailey Kimbell, Teaching Fellow

We will approach this course very much as a category 3, or "other" course, being mindful of the different political, religious, and scientific views of the world held by medieval women and men. Still, in the midst of all this difference, our goal will be to come to some understanding of the ways in which Chaucer struggled to come to terms--both artistically and intellectually--with a world in transition at the end of the fourteenth century, a world that was in many ways similar to our world in transition at the beginning of the twentieth-first century.  At the end of the term, students also should be able to articulate Chaucer's pivotal place in the development of British literature.

At the end of the course students should be able to

  • address the problem of interpreting fourteenth-century literature in the twenty-first century,
  • apply various interpretative methodologies, including patristic, iconographical, deconstruction, and gender criticism, to readings of the Canterbury Tales, and
  • combine the insights gathered from those applications in an original essay addressing an interpretative issue within The Canterbury Tales.

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Complete Canterbury Tales of Geoffrey Chaucer. Eds. Mark Allen and John
Fisher. Boston: Thomson Wadsworth, 2006.
Boethius. The Consolation of Philosophy. Baltimore: Penguin, 1969.
Cooper, Helen, ed. Oxford Guides to Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1996.

5 February Backgrounds: 14th-Century Perspectives; Chaucer and His World; review "Reading Chaucer" and "Middle English Words Worth Knowing"
10 "The General Prologue"
12 "The General Prologue"
17 "The Knight's Tale"
19 Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy; "The Knight's Tale"; category III essay due
24 "The Miller's Tale"
26 "The Reeve's Tale"
3 March "The Man of Law's Tale"; annotated bibliography #1 due
5 "The Wife of Bath's Prologue"
10 "The Wife of Bath's Tale"
12 "The Friar's Tale"; "The Summoner's Tale"
13/14 out of class exam #1 due before leaving for spring break
14-23 spring break
26  "The Clerk's Tale"   
31 "The Clerk's Tale";   annotated bibliography #2
2 April  "The Merchant's Tale"; final paper topics due
7 "The Franklin's Tale"
9 "The Franklin's Tale"; "The Physician's Tale"
10/11 out of class exam #2 due
14 "The Pardoner's Prologue"; "The Pardoner's Tale"
16 "The Shipman's Tale";
21 "The Prioress's Tale"; "The Tale of Sir Topas,"
23 "The Nun's Priest's Tale"
28 "The Nun's Priest's Tale";
30 "The Second Nun's Tale"; "The Canon's Yeoman's Prologue"
5 May "The Canon's Yeoman's Tale"; "The Manciple's Tale"; final paper due
7  "The Parson's Prologue," "The Retraction"
Monday 12 May 1 p.m. final exam


essay on category III (see below)
exam 1
exam 2
two annotated bibliographies
final exam
final paper and options (see below)
in-class reading, discussion, and blog entries   
(5% & 10%) 15%

Essay on Category III:
After having completed much of the background reading for this courses, write a three to five-page essay stating your understanding of how EH 350 fulfills a category requirement for "one unit emphasizing literature of a different time, place, or culture" in the English major.  In other words, make clear your understanding of how the 14th century differs from the 21st century in fundamental ways that contextualize our understanding of The Canterbury Tales.

Exams: Exams will be in essay format, based on selections in Middle English taken from the text. Please use blue books. Do not ask to have exam dates changed.

Annotated bibliographies: Two annotated bibliographies of articles or essays on any of the Canterbury Tales or any aspect of Chaucer's world view are required. The first must contain at least five citations, three of which must date 1990 or after; the second must contain at least 10 citations, six of which must date 1990 or after. Annotations should be no longer than a paragraph, state the thesis of the article or essay, identify its critical method, and evaluate its usefulness. Since the improvement of class discussion is part of the rationale for requiring articles to be read, readings should be done on a weekly basis. Please place the date of your reading at the end of its annotation.

Final paper and options: Final papers should be approximately 15 pages including notes and works cited.  Students in teacher education may prepare detailed lesson plans on one of the tales frequently taught in secondary schools. A group of students may join to present a small symposium (a series of 15-minute papers) on the Canterbury Tales. Papers read will be graded at the time of presentation and will not be submitted in written form. All options must be registered with me by 2 April 2014.

Blog Entries: According to Wikipedia, that online repository of all knowledge--real and imagined--blogs "provide commentary on a particular subject; others function as more personal online diaries."  Each student will create a blog commenting upon the experience of reading Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Entries should be made at least weekly; images and links to other sites or media are welcome. Entries could focus on difficulties of reading Middle English, or on how Chaucer's tales speak to or engage with the contemporary reader--or the contemporary world.  Basically, though, they provide a chance for the student to explore thoughts and ideas about the readings that will contribute to class discussion.  Blogs will be read weekly, and comments from other class members are encouraged.

In-class reading: At least twice during the term, each student will read 10 to 20 lines in Middle English from the day's assigned tale and initiate discussion. Participation in class discussions and postings on the Moodle forum site will augment the in-class reading grade.

All written work will follow the MLA style sheet. In citing electronic resources refer to The Everyday Writer. All requirements, written or presented, will be on time. No credit will be given for late assignments. All final grades will be assigned in accordance with the definitions in the 2013-2014 BSC Catalog.

Your signature on all work indicates understanding of and compliance with the Honor Code.


Recommended Reading:
Cantor, Norman. "The Quest for the Middle Ages." Inventing the Middle Ages. New York : Quill/W. Morrow, 1993. 17-47.
Middleton, Anne. "Medieval Studies."
Redrawing the Boundaries: The Transformation of English and American Literary Studies. Eds. Stephen Greenblatt and Giles Gunn. New York: MLA, 1992. 12-40.
Patterson, Lee. "Historical Criticism and the Development of Chaucer Studies."
Negotiating the Past: The Historical Understanding of Medieval Literature. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1987. 3-39.

Multimedia CD-Rom Resources:
Medieval Realms: Britain 1066-1500 (Audio-Visual DA 134 .M4 1994)
Chaucer: Life and Times (Audio-Visual PR 1851 .P75 1995)
The Time, Life, and Works of Chaucer (Audio-Visual PR 1905 .T51 1995)
Geoffrey Chaucer: A Poet's Pilgrimage. John Fleming. (Video recording PR1924 .G37 1984)
Geoffrey Chaucer's Book of the Duchess. Terrence Asgar-Deen. (Media-Dept PR1862 .M34 1997)
The Medieval Book. Rosemarie McGreer & Michael Price. (Video recording Z6 .M415 1996)

Susan K. Hagen, Birmingham-Southern College,

revised 1 February 2014