What was English poetry like in the Middle Ages? Geoffrey Chaucer shows us that it was brilliant, beautiful, and sometimes very strange. Chaucer proved that English could be a powerful, versatile language at a time when serious texts were usually written in Latin or French. In the process, he invented new poetic forms and tried out new genres. His poetry tells stories ranging from the tragedy of Troy to a brawl between birds. This course will explore Chaucer’s short poetry (in which he compares himself to a cooked fish) and his dream visions (featuring a sarcastic eagle). We will read Chaucer’s epic account of doomed love, Troilus and Criseyde, and the sublime and scatological Canterbury Tales. We will also look at some of Chaucer’s most important source texts, including Virgil’s Aeneid, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and Dante’s Divine Comedy.
We will read Chaucer’s works in his own language, Middle English. No previous experience is necessary: everyone is welcome! Reading assignments will be short, and we will work together in class to master the language. Written assignments will include a creative translation of a short passage of poetry, a midterm paper, and a final paper.