English 115b. Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales

Instructor: Nicholas Watson
Tuesday & Thursday, 12:00-1:15pm | Location: Emmerson 307
Course site

What makes stories so pleasurable and revealing but also so enraging and dangerous?  How do we understand the strong emotions they evoke, and how do we learn to resist their power?  Answering back to a world of fake news and divisive political narratives, this course revisits Geoffrey Chaucer's classic story-collection, The Canterbury Tales: the deepest, most caustic, and most entertaining analysis of the problematic status of stories ever written. The Canterbury Tales consists of a series of tales supposed to be told by the members of a pilgrimage on their way from London to Canterbury.  Some are serious, others funny and sometimes obscene; some are offensive; some are religious, others very much not; some deal with issues local to England at the time the poem was written (the fourteenth century), others range across much of the rest of the world.  The poem is set in a long-ago past, but it thinks of itself as contemporary, giving us an opportunity to think about a moment in the distant past as though it were the present, exploring it from the insider perspective Chaucer’s story-collection makes possible. We read the poem in the language in which it was written, Middle English, which is easy to learn with some early help: no previous experience with the language is necessary. After reading and viewing adaptations of parts of Chaucer’s poem, you will have an opportunity to write your own Canterbury Tale if you wish.

This course satisfies the “Pre-1700 Guided Elective" requirement for English concentrators and Secondary Field students.