October 2



  • No classes next week, but you do have a hybrid assignment for this week (due before Sunday, October 8)
  • I’ve added some links to the Commonplace Book Assignment to help inspire you (more to come)

Chaucer (c. 1343-1400)

  • Page at the royal court and later involved in customs and other legal affairs
  • Fought in Hundred Years War
  • Extensively traveled and well spoken
  • Son of a merchant

Social shifts:


  • Decline of feudalism / rise of the merchant class
  • Growth of cities
  • Universities
  • The Crusades and the Hundred Years War –> Chilvaric Code –> Courtly Love
  • Murder of Thomas a Becket

Middle English

  • Mix between Norman and Anglo Saxon languages
  • Unstable linguist rules and orthography –> No dictionaries yet!
  • Perhaps a little challenging at first, but remember: this is a language designed for oral storytelling!
  • Rise of Printing Technologies

Canterbury Tales (<–click for an animated film about the story)


  • Writing in the vernacular — a pretty novel approach
  • Defying the heroic epic: a tale about non-aristocrats, taking place in present time; little concern with moral judgment
  • Framing Narrative– why a pilgrimage?
  • Estates Satire
    • Nobility, Clergy, Peasantry/Middle/Lower Classes
  • Many genres: Fabliaux (Miller’s tale, Reeve’s Tale, Shipman’s Tale, Summoner’s tale, and the fragmentary Cook’s Tale), Romance, Dream Vision, Sermons, Saint’s Lives, Tragedy
  • Printed editions and manuscripts vary in order of tales
  • Reading Quiz (10 minutes) and Small Group discussion (15 minutes)

The General Prologue

  • The opening: what ideas, themes, and topics is it setting up?
  • The narrator promises to describe each pilgrim according to their “degree.” How does that work out? What do we learn about each of them?
  • What, in turn, do we learn about this narrator as he describes his company?
  • What moments of irony are we able to find in the text?
  • Are there distinct groups of pilgrims that seem to be paired up together? To what purpose?
  • What gets decided at the end of the prologue?

The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale

  • What is the wife’s take on the value of marriage? Where and what does one learn about it?
  • What ironies and contradictions does she see in the Bible?
  • The wife talks a great deal about how men and women should use their “instrument”? What is she saying, and how does she see her own role in this?
  • What do we learn about how she describes her husbands? What were the first three like? How did she get away with her behaviors?
  • How does the Wife use language – does she succeed in turning the language of male dominance against itself, or does she simply present herself as guilty of all the ‘sins’ and failings which men (and priests in particular) allege? Is she a good theologian, or a good preacher?
  • What is the actual tale about? Does it support or ultimately contradict the wife’s prologue?
  • Is this a proto-feminist tale? Does it represent the realities of the period?

In two weeks:

  • Julian of Norwich, The Book of Showings
  • Margery Kempe, from The Book of Margery Kempe
  • Askew, from The Examinations of Anne Askew
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