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Advanced Chaucer Seminar

ENGL 725.401


The contents of this seminar will be adapted to fit the particular interests of those taking it—so please write to me with your picks and pans. This will be an advanced Chaucer seminar: an opportunity to read those texts of Chaucer often ignored, such as the Boece, the Romaunt of the Rose, the Tale of Melibee and even the Parson’s Tale. We will want to read the dream poems, but also continental texts associated with them, such as (connecting with the Book of the Duchess) Machaut’s Jugement du roi de Behaigne. The New Chaucer Society’s biennial meeting will be in Siena in 2010, so we can tune up by coupling Chaucer with some Italian writing: Boccaccio’s Filostrato and Teseida, his de casibus and de mulieribus historiography (for the Monk’s Tale and the Legend of Good Women, respectively), and also his Decameron; aspects of Dante’s Commedia; Petrarch. We will consider and compare attitudes to pagan antiquity in Chaucer and the Italians, taking some points of departure from Kenelm Foster’s The Two Dantes. We will also survey the field of contemporary Chaucer criticism. Each member of the seminar will have the opportunity to survey a particular subfield or topic and then to make a class report.

Chaucer is so capacious that a vast range of critical and scholarly interests may be pursued. These might include theories of dreams; literary theory; rhetorica; diets and bodily regimens; English and continental identities and locations; multilingualism; gender theory; lyrics, lyricism, and music; saints’ lives and hagiography; alchemy; chivalry; representations of Judaism and Islam; the Orient; the visual arts (with comparative reference to Netherlandish painting, up to Brueghel and Bosch); the evolution of parliament and parliamentary procedure; the English Rising of 1381 (and comparable popular rebellions in Paris and Florence); Paris and the Hundred Years’ War; Prague as Europe’s most sophisticated and complex city; Anne of Bohemia, queen to Richard II; London; the division of urban labor; manuscript production (with several local texts to ponder); early printed editions of Chaucer; uses of Chaucer in Reformation debate and polemic.

This course will concentrate chiefly on the period of Chaucer’s lifetime, 1343-1400. But folks wishing to stretch to a later period, especially the Renaissance, can bid for class and curricular time. Students are of course free to work on whatever topic they choose for their research paper. The instructor takes particular interest in contemporary neo-Chaucerian performances by sound poet Caroline Bergvall, Af-Am poet Marilyn Nelson, Chaucer rapper Baba Brinkman, bard of Brooklyn Charles Bernstein, and operatic librettist Wendy Steiner (premiering her Loathly Lady at Penn in spring 2009). These will not feature much in this particular class, but independent pursuit of such interests will be encouraged. This course may interest some Comp Litters; it is designed chiefly for hardcore medievalists, Renaissance allies, and the fascinated few.

Examination: by one long essay with research component.

Undergraduates are not permitted to take 700-level courses.

fulfills requirements