English 401: Chaucer
Professor Melissa D. Aaron

Room 5 126
Office: 24 229
Office hours:TTh 9-10 am; W, 1-3 pm; and by appointment


Help Pages
 Web page Courses Page
 Shakespeare Page Resources Page

 Discussion Board  Translation paper

Discussion Questions

 Criticism paper  Final Exam  

Required texts
The Riverside

The Cambridge Chaucer Companion.

Course description
How would you like to learn a foreign language? To visit another country, another time, almost another world? We’re going to do all of the above by reading the works of Geoffrey Chaucer, and in the process we’ll also be reading some of the funniest and most entertaining literature in English.

We will be spending most of the quarter reading Chaucer’s magnum opus, The Canterbury Tales, but we will also be reading some shorter works. We’ll study the language—an earlier phase of English; the culture—the religion, the social structure, and the very different approaches to love, marriage, and the gender wars; and the state of Chaucer criticism today.
Because the language is beautiful, but requires careful study, I have designed the course to simplify the process and help you learn more quickly. You will be divided into permanent studii opere—Latin for “study gangs”—and will spend time together in class going over the text for meaning and comprehension. I also encourage you to communicate outside of class by email and in person, to study for exams, discuss the cultural issues, and also to just kick back and chat about Chaucer.

Do not be surprised that I will be asking you to read aloud in class. I recommend that you read it this way at home, too. Chaucer meant for his work to be read aloud as entertainment, and it is much easier to understand this way.

Course requirements

You will need access to a computer and the Internet for this course—if this will present a problem, please contact me.
Participation—includes short, ungraded assignments—20%
1 translation paper, 20%
1 criticism paper—20%
Final exam—20%

All work handed in to me must be typed and double-spaced in ten or preferably twelve point font. The font I'm using for this, Times New Roman, is nice and easy to read. Please type your name, the class and section number, my name and the date in the upper-right hand corner, and the title centered at the top of the first page. Do not have a title page, and please, please staple your papers together.

The short, ungraded assignments will be done electronically on a threaded discussion board. They are discussion-related and will count towards your participation grade. Since they are time-sensitive, they cannot be made up.

The midterm is a standard blue book exam, with two short passages to identify and analyze, and one essay.

The translation paper is your careful study, adaptation, and rendering of some lines of Chaucer into good Modern English, along with some notes.

The criticism paper is a survey of Chaucer criticism on a particular work, drawn from the entire span of the last hundred years.

The final exam is still To Be Negotiated.


Attendance policy
You can't participate if you're not here, obviously. Here are some reasons you don't want to be absent:
More than three absences and your grade will be lowered. Six or more and you will fail the course. Extreme tardiness (more than ten minutes late) counts as an absence.

I don't distinguish between excused and unexcused absences, and here's why. If you miss class, you'll miss discussion, my commentary on the texts, homework assignments, etc. In a remarkably short period of time, you'll find yourself terribly behind, and it will be next to impossible for you to catch up. The attendance policy is to help you succeed, not to punish you. If you are faced with illness or emergency, please let me know right away, and the same applies if you want questions answered or additional help. I check my email very regularly and you can also always come to my office hours.

Did you know that "plagiarism" comes from the Latin word for "kidnapper?" That's because it's theft, and the University and I will treat it that way. I don't want to go into all the dire consequences that will ensue; so don't do it. Enough said. Please see my Plagiarism page for further details.

I count the Cliff's Notes as plagiarism in all cases. Don't use them, period; they will only confuse you and irritate me.

If you use someone else's ideas or words, you have to credit them. Here are two rules to help you with this: are you giving credit where credit is due? If someone wanted to find out more about the information you cited, or look up the quote, do they have enough information to do it? I would like you to use MLA documentation. On my Resources page, under Writing resources, there is a direct link to a handout on MLA style, as well as many other helpful writing resources.


Course syllabus

Week 1 September 20th
Th: Introduction to the course. Introduction to Chaucer. Historical background, etc. For Tuesday, read the Introduction in the Riverside, noting especially the sections on language and versification, and Chapter One of the Chaucer Companion—“The social and literary scene in England.”

Week 2: September 24th
T Background to Chaucer—social, literary, linguistic and cultural. Model of the universe, religion and religious controversy, social strata, courtly love, genres of poetry, etc. For Thursday, read The Book of the Duchess, and chapter 3 of the companion book, “Old books brought to life in dreams.”
Th The Book of the Duchess. Permanent assignment to study groups today—introductions and small group discussion. Open class discussion. Discussion question on the board.

Week 3: October 1st
T The Book of the Duchess.
Th The Book of the Duchess. For Tuesday, read The Parliament of Fowls, possibly small selections of reserve material on courtly love.

Week 4: October 8th
T The Parliament of Fowls. The court, courtly love, and the domande d’amour, medieval romance, influence of poets such as Marie de France and Chretien des Troyes.
Th Professor at conference. Discussion question.

Week 5: October 15th
T. The Parliament of Fowls.
Th The Parliament of Fowls, and preparation for midterm.

Week 6: October 22nd
T Midterm.
Th Beginning of Canterbury Tales—General Prologue. Discussion of Bocaccio, frame narrative, and the genres in the poem

Week 7 October 29th
T.CT, Fragment A. Knight’s Tale, ch. 7 of companion.
Th Fragment A—Miller’s Tale, etc.

Week 8: November 5th
T Finish Fragment A—Miller’s Tale and Reeve’s Tale. Ch. 8 of companion, on comedy.
Th. “Marriage Group”—Wife of Bath’s Tale. Translation paper due.

Week 9 November 12th
T Wife of Bath’s Tale and Clerk’s Tale. Chapter 9 of Companion—on pathos.
Th Merchant’s Tale.

Week 10: November 19th
T Merchant’s Tale, Franklin’s Tale—ch. 10, exemplum and fable.
Th Thanksgiving: no school.

Week 11: November 26th

T Finish the “Marriage Group” tales. Pardoner’s Tale. Criticism paper due.
Th Pardoner’s Tale.

Exam: Thursday, December 6th, 11:30-1:30 pm.

Dr. Aaron's Course Page.

Dr. Aaron's Home Page.