our course

ENGL 450.01: Chaucer
Spring 2018
TR 12:15-1:30
MYBK 119
office hours: M 2-3, R 11-12, and by appt.

5 College Way, office 203 

Chaucer Doth Tweet. Chaucer Hath a Blog. He’s on Facebook. He’s a savvy consumer of social media, and a busy content-provider, sharing his thoughts on contemporary pop culture and having exchanges with fellow author Margaret Atwood—all in Middle English, of course. It’s not as if he could keep quiet, given all these new outlets. In a current historical novel series, he can also be found helping (and hindering) his frenemy and fellow poet John Gower as he investigates crimes in fourteenth-century London. Chaucer gets around and gets things done. Something’s got to explain his vitality 618 years after his death, and this class will consider what some of those explanations might be—especially considering Roland Barthes declared the Death of the Author back in the late 1960s.

We will consider our 21st-century sense of The Author, and of this particular author, while developing an understanding of very different views of both in the British Middle Ages. Through the course of the semester, you will develop a deeper understanding of Middle English and of medieval English culture, with a focus especially on late 14th century London, Chaucer’s milieu. We’ll begin reading some of Chaucer’s early and most conventional (which in the Middle Ages is a good thing, not a bad thing) writing—an early dream vision—and hear from our first modern reader of Chaucer, in the form of an academic essay. For those first few weeks, we’ll also be actively learning Middle English. Then we’ll be ready to join the story-telling pilgrims for their trip to Canterbury (and we’ll consider the responses of a number of modern readers of Chaucer, some current scholars and contemporary poet Patience Agbabi along the way). We will spend part of the middle of the semester in the midst of the political intrigue of 1380s London, as brought to life in Bruce Holsinger’s 2014 novel A Burnable Book.

As a senior seminar, this class is geared toward providing you with a capstone experience in the major; above all, it is fundamentally student-driven and provides the opportunity to apply the skills, approaches, attitudes, and experiences you have accumulated over your career as an English major at CofC. An important feature of this experience will be your ongoing conversation with your peers and with the authors whose work we will be engaging.

Because it is a senior seminar, we will be collaboratively creating the formal assignments for the course (projects and exams). Once we’ve developed them, you’ll find descriptions of those assignments on the course blog.

Student Learning Outcomes:

As a course that can fulfill the Gen Ed Humanities requirement, the course has the following learning outcomes:

  • Students analyze how ideas are represented, interpreted or valued in various expressions of human culture.
  • Students examine relevant primary source materials as understood by the discipline and interpret the material in writing assignments.

These outcomes will be assessed using Project 1.

In addition, in this particular course you will:

  • develop a deeper understanding of Middle English and of its place in the History of English;
  • develop a deeper understanding of medieval English culture, particularly focused on the second half of the fourteenth century and on literary expression as part of that culture;
  • acquire tools and strategies for analyzing how ideas are represented, interpreted and valued in imaginative texts of the late Middle Ages in England;
  • engage with a range of modern receptions of Chaucer and his literary texts and will produce your own formal responses to his writings in conversation with other modern readers.

Books: Available at the bookstore. Please do get these specific versions of the texts.(You are welcome to purchase your books through an online retailer. I highly recommend Powell’s Books, where you can purchase used copies easily—and you will not need the books until the third week of class. Order now, and they should arrive in time).

The books are listed here in the order that you will need them for class.


Geoffrey Chaucer. The Canterbury Tales. Eds. Robert Boenig and Andrew Taylor. 2nd ed.  Broadview, 2012.
ISBN: 978-1554811069

Order directly from Broadview online and save 20%, using the discount code: broadview20%
[print = $27.96, and a digital edition = $18.36]







Patience Agbabi. Telling Tales. Canongate, 2015.
ISBN: 978-1782111573








Bruce Holsinger, A Burnable Book. William Morrow, 2014.
ISBN: 978-0062240323