Chaucer: Poetry, Performance, and Interpretation
Chaucer's Canterbury Tales is the most experiemtal, generically diverse poem in the whole history of English literature. At a time when the English language had unmatched plasticity and expressive force, Chaucer chose to write in many genrres: classical romance, bedroom farce, Ovidian metamorphosis, saint's life, anti-feminist fabel, feminist fairytale, poetic manifesto and prose treatise on the Seven Deadly Sins. By dressing contemporary characters in ancient garb, Chaucer was able to write a kind of science fiction before its time: medieval Londoners, depicted as ancient Trojans, Athenians, or Bretons, address vital and controversial issues of honor, belief, and afterlife. Chaucer also wrote a poetry designed to be read aloud and appreciated in group settings. In this class we will devote considerable time to reading Chaucer aloud, mindful that each new reading is an act of interpretation. We will also see how later centuries have reacted to or rewritten Chaucer and judge, finally, what kind of future Chaucer might have in our new century. Students are thus invited to bring knowledge of later periods to this class; no prior medievalist experience required.
Assessment in this advanced undergraduate seminar will be by one multiple choice language test (10%), one short essay (on reviews or rewritings of Chaucer, 25%), and one long research essay (65%). Each student will be required to give one reading to the class (remembering that each new reading is a new interpretation) that the class will apprecriate and question (Pass/ Fail; can be retaken!); and each person gives at least one report.