English and drama

Special Author: Geoffrey Chaucer

Module code: Q3196
Level 6
15 credits in autumn semester
Teaching method: Fieldwork, Seminar
Assessment modes: Coursework

It is almost impossible to understand English literature without an understanding of Chaucer. His works provide us with a range of subjects, modes of literary representation and styles that not only enable us to understand literary culture in the late Middle Ages but determine the subsequent course of English literature. In Dryden's inaugural work of literary history The Preface to Fables, Ancient and Modern (1700) Chaucer is described as the father of English poetry. It is his soul that is 'transfused' into Spenser, Spenser's into Milton and so on and it is with his poetry that the refinement of English language begins.

This module will explore some of the great works of Chaucer in depth looking at a broad spectrum of the tales making up The Canterbury Tales, several of his dream vision poems as well as some of his ballads and lyrics. It will also consider the place of Chaucer in literary history and the formation of the Chaucerian canon, as well as something of the fragility and instability of that canon. A variety of themes and subjects will be explored: marriage, gender and sexual relations; fate and foreknowledge; dreams and their significance; Chaucer's literary theory; ideas of authority and authorship; and religion and the nature of religious experience in the late 14th century. 

In addition to a weekly seminar there will be four lectures given across the module on 'Authority', 'Agency', 'Dream' and 'Text and Canon', which will introduce some of the key contexts for understanding Chaucer's works. As part of this module we will visit Canterbury (the destination of Chaucer's pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales), where you will be given a guided tour. You will learn how a medieval city was organised; the nature of everyday life in the Middle Ages; the significance of religion, religious buildings and institutions, all of which will aid your understanding of Chaucer's place in the English Middle Ages.

You will develop competence in reading and analysing Middle English. Support will be offered in acquiring and developing the basic skills needed to do this through a reading group that will meet for five workshops across the module.

Module learning outcomes

  • Understand the formal and generic developments of a named author's work.
  • Understand how the work has been shaped by the social, historical and intellectual contexts in which it was produced
  • Through critical analysis of a range of the author¿s writing over his/her career, demonstrate an understanding of how his/her literary reputation was established and has been maintained
  • Organise complex material into an essay that illustrates independent research