How did a civil servant in charge of customs accounting for the port of London become the “Father of English Literature,” and the first person to be buried in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey? Although he wrote many works, it was probably his last great unfinished book that elevated Geoffrey Chaucer to that status. The Canterbury Tales is a tour de force: wise, funny, reverent, rude, smart, and impeccably constructed. In it, Chaucer writes virtually every form of story or poetry that existed at the time, and some would argue he did it better than anyone else. Along the way, he questions government, society, gender roles, religion, and the role of storytelling itself. Shakespeare counted him a role model, and most of what we think of as modern storytelling arose from the way Chaucer constructed the Tales.
This course will guide you through the Canterbury Tales, illuminating the historical and literary contexts that made the work a satirical masterpiece in its time, and exploring the themes that keep it relevant today.
The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer, Edited by Neville Coghill. Penguin Classics edition. (Specific edition required: ISBN 978-0140424386)