If it is true that the Middle Ages and the Renaissance are radically different, why does Shakespeare revisit Chaucer’s stories? In this class, we will examine Chaucer’s influence on the writing of the Renaissance. How and why is Chaucer crucial to the invention of English literature and language in the later ages of print, public playhouses, and new kinds of English poetry? How do Shakespeare and company define their own modernity by reinventing Chaucer’s past? How do they make Chaucer’s stories and his language their own?
We will read Chaucer’s epic Troilus and Criseyde alongside Shakespeare’s tragedy Troilus and Cressida (with Robert Henryson’s The Testament of Cresseid in between). We will ask questions about the representation of women and about human, historical agency and the changes between the periods of Chaucer and Shakespeare. We will also read Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale alongside Shakespeare’s comedies A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Two Noble Kinsmen. As a counterpoint to Chaucer’s influence on Shakespeare, we will read Pericles, Shakespeare’s romance remake of a poem about incest by Chaucer’s contemporary John Gower. In order to understand Chaucer’s influence on the language of Renaissance poetry, we will read Edmund Spenser’s pastoral poem The Shepheardes Calendar. How does the language of the cosmopolitan, politic, diplomat (Chaucer) become associated with the language of English rustics?
Requirements include regular participation, two short papers, and a longer paper. We will read Chaucer in Middle English. No prior knowledge of Chaucer required. We will learn Middle English together.