Though he died in 1400, Geoffrey Chaucer trumps any contemporary zombie in his ability to persevere beyond death: 610 years postmortem and still going strong. I'll be teaching his works at 12:45 today, for the 16th time since I arrived at GW in 1994. Fortunately for both me and my students, I've yet to become bored. The course always proves quite popular as well, generally closing at 25 on the third or fourth day of registration. That means that the majority of students seated in my class want to be seated in my class.
Below is my syllabus. A few changes have taken place since last I taught the course: it's no longer a Writing in the Disciplines (WID) class. The reason is simple: the course still mandates writing (it's in an English Department, after all), but I realized the WID designation did nothing to help those who enrolled in the class, since the vast majority had already fulfilled that requirement before they registered. Now I've retooled the course slightly for greater emphasis upon language work, and for thinking about interpretive techniques. I've cleared more space for close reading by not adopting a secondary text (in the past I've often used Chaucer: An Oxford Guide to good effect). I had considered taking David Wallace's excellent suggestion at NCS Siena and teaching the Physician's Tale first, but just couldn't part with pairing the Manciple's Tale with it in a "failed stories" day right after spring break.
As a late addendum, I also gave my students a link to this useful post by Derrick Pitard on Computer Common Sense.
This course examines Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in all their complexity, perversity, and artfulness. We will be especially attentive to Chaucer's explorations of identity and the ways in which his texts envision various kinds of community. This course stresses the importance of language work to comprehension and explores the scholarly modes through which Chaucer may be analyzed. All primary readings are in Middle English.
The mission of this course is fourfold:
- to enable you to read Middle English fluently
- to hone your critical, linguistic and persuasive skills through careful, text-based analysis of literature within its historical context
- to introduce you to contemporary scholarly methods of studying Chaucer and the medieval period
- to explore the relation between narrating the past and bringing about a desired future, paying close attention to who is excluded from this emergent community
Arrive on time with your cell phone silenced. Read the assigned work before class and bring the text with you. Give the professor, the TA, and your fellow classmates your full attention. Be present: do not chat, text, or surf the internet. Remain in the room until the class ends. Conduct yourself in a manner respectful to all present. Never hesitate to ask a question, to express a doubt, or to request clarification.
If you are diligent in keeping up with readings, lectures, and discussions, by the end of this course you will be able to:
- translate Middle English into a contemporary idiom
- identify key literary concepts and apply them to medieval texts
- apply techniques of critical analysis (especially close reading) to a variety of genres, including scholarly essays
- understand contemporary approaches to literary and cultural studies
Class attendance and participation; four writing exercises; two midterm exams; final exam. Missed assignments cannot be made up; late assignments are not accepted. These assessments will count towards the total of your grade in these proportions:
Ex. #1 (translation) 3
Ex. #2 (trans. + analysis) 5
Ex. #3 (close reading) 7
Ex. #4 (critical essay analysis) 15
Midterm I 15
Midterm II 20
You will also have the opportunity of earning two points of extra credit by attending a special lecture on Friday March 11. Details will be announced in class.
Policy on lateness and extensions: Plan carefully. Except for a documented medical reason, late work is not accepted. You may not take an incomplete for this course.
Academic dishonesty: Academic dishonesty of any kind is a serious offense and is always reported to the Academic Integrity Office In most cases you will fail the course. According to the GW Code of Academic Integrity, “Academic dishonesty is defined as cheating of any kind, including misrepresenting one's own work, taking credit for the work of others without crediting them and without appropriate authorization, and the fabrication of information.” You can find more on the Code of Academic Integrity at http://www.gwu.edu/~ntegrity. The best way to avoid a violation of the Code: do not use the internet for this class; if you do, cite your sources.
Disability statement: If you require accommodations based on disability, contact Prof. Cohen. Disability Support Services (Marvin Center 242, 994 8250, http://gwired.gwu.edu/dss) is available to assist you as well.
Suggested Electronic Resource: METRO (Middle English Teaching Resources Online). In its “Chaucer” section this website offers pronunciation, comprehension and vocabulary drills that will enable you to master Middle English quickly.
Schedule of Readings: Readings are from Canterbury Tales are in the Riverside edition, ed. Larry Benson. You should not purchase a translation of the tales. It will impede your ability to work with the Middle English original.
10 Jan Introduction: Chaucer's Life, Language and World
12 Jan The General Prologue
Writing exercise for January 19: Today you will be assigned five lines of the General Prologue to rewrite (1) in a faithful translation into Modern English, then (2) in Modern English but with no poetic language (no similes or other figures of speech).17 Jan no class (MLK Day)
19 Jan Wife of Bath's Prologue
Writing exercise #1 due in class.24 Jan Wife of Bath's Tale
Writing exercise #2 assigned: translation of short Middle English passage with analytical paragraph on themes and context.26 Jan Pardoner's Prologue and Tale
Writing exercise #2 due in class.31 Jan Knight's Tale (parts 1 & 2)
Writing exercise #3 assigned: two passages of Middle English for close reading and thematic analysis.
2 Feb Knight's Tale (parts 3 & 4)
Writing exercise #3 due in class.7 Feb Miller's Tale
9 Feb Midterm Exam I
14 Feb Reeve's Tale, Cook's Tale
16 Feb Man of Law's Tale
21 Feb no class (President’s Day)
23 Feb Workshop: How to Evaluate a Scholarly Argument
Writing Ex. #4 assigned (evaluation of scholarly argument within a critical essay, 3pp, due in class March 9)28 Feb Clerk's Tale
2 March Merchant's Tale
7 March Squire's Tale
9 March No class. Writing Ex. #4 due by 2 PM.
11 March GW Medieval and Early Modern Studies (GW MEMSI) Conference “Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: Ethics and Objects in the Early Modern and Medieval Periods” at the Marvin Center. You will have the chance to earn extra credit by attending one of the sessions. Details announced in class.14-16 March Spring Break (read Chaucer on the beach)
21 March Physician's Tale, Manciple's Tale
23 March Franklin's Tale
28 March Midterm Exam II
30 March Shipman's Tale
4 April Prioress's Tale
6 April Monk’s Tale, Tale of Sir Thopas
11 April Nun's Priest's Tale
13 April Second Nun's Tale
18 April Canon's Yeoman's Tale
20 April catch-up day, if needed
25 April Chaucer's Retraction and Course Retrospect
TBA Final examination