ENGLISH 330:  Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales

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Geoffrey Chaucer (?1340-1400) performing for a courtly audience  (Cambridge Corpus Christi MS 61)

Spring 2015: Wednesdays, 12:30-3:00  Office Hours TuTh 11:30-12:30, and by app't. (just call or email)
Instructor: Arnie Sanders
Department of English, Goucher College
(Page last updated 03/27/2015 02:24:42 PM)

Recent site news: 3/27/15--Conference times for Fall 2015 advising and other topics.  Email me with a set of possible times (more than one!) if you want to talk.

Some recent scholarship on Clerk-Merchant.

The tales on either side of "Fragment III" (WoBPro-WoBT-FT-SumT) may vary somewhat, but they tend to be moralizing, if not entirely moral tales, such as the Man of Law's tale of Custance's wanderings (woe to the pagans!) and the Clerk's tale of "patient Griselda."  Interestingly, both of those tales emphasize steadfast, suffering female protagonists who stand in stark contrast to the way the Wife of Bath presents herself to us.  The Host seems to have successfully recovered his teller-selection authority in the next few frame narrative episodes, but keep an eye out for the next patterns of interruption by which Chaucer spins the CT structure into being.  (He learned at least some of this from Ovid and Dante, two masters of the encylopedic frame-narrative tale-collection.)  The "Clerk's Prologue and Tale" (1212 ll.) begins with the Host's direct hand-off of the telling game to our Oxford student, and after the Friar's and Summoner's "flyting match," a careful student of Aristotle like this guy might well wish he were elsewhere than the center of the pilgrims' attention.  Interestingly, he will call out the Wife of Bath, both in his choice of a tale about an impossibly obedient wife and in his closing (ironic?) advice to husbands to consult Alisoun for advice about marriage.  That leads to a passage found in some manuscripts and titled "Lenvoy de Chaucer," like the "envoys" which conclude his ballades "Womanly Noblesse," "Truth," "Lak of Stedfastnesse," "Lenvoy de Chaucer a Scogan," "The Complaint of Chaucer to his Purse," and especially "Lenvoy de Chaucer a Bukton," which specifically mentions "The Wyf of Bath" as something the pre-matrimonial Bukton should read before the wedding (649-50, 653, 654, 655, 656, 655-6).  "Envoys" are tricky to interpret, seemingly addressing the rest of the poem for a specific reader's edification about some particular event.  "Bukton" seems to tell the unwary subject (one of two "Buktons" known to history) that marriage is worse than being taken prisoner in Frisia and held for ransom, and urges him to be warned by the "Wyf" (a work, not the character) to shun this social prison (ll. 21-24, 25-32).

        Does "WoBPro" plus "ClerkT" plus "Bukton" equal knowledge about what Chaucer actually thinks about marriage, presumably his to Philippa Paon, as well?  Or is it a long-running joke, like the running gag-line often repeated with variations by 20th-century stand-up comedian, Henny Youngman.  He would appear to be calling for an example of some behavior he had just joked about when he said, "Take my wife" (one second pause) "Please!"  (at 2:57, but listen to the lead-up jokes or it won't work).  In any event, our Host suddenly volunteers the information that "My wyf at hoom" should have heard the Clerk's tale of obedient wife, ending with a mysterious disclaimer: "As to my purpos [in bringing this up], wiste ye my wille; / But thyng that wol nat be, lat it be stille" (ll. 1211-12).  You don't have to wait long to learn more about what Harry Bailey has in mind, for in the epiologue to "Merchant's Prologue and Tale" (1228 ll.), he produces another, longer outburst regretting his bond to his wife, but fearing someone (Alisoun?) will tell his wife what he said about her.  This fragmentary "Host's Tale" continues in the prologue to "Monk's Tale" where he reveals she is so angry that he fears she will drive him to commit murder (p. 240, ll. 1888-1923).   But first, we hear the Merchant's pathetic complaints about his own wife, preceeding a tale about an old knight cuckolded by his own squire.  Guess who might be offended by that one.

Raiders of the Lost Austen":  The Goucher Library's Special Collections and Archives has recently received a 374-pound wooden crate from the Jane Austen Society--North America headquarters in New York City.  The roughly 5-foot-by-five-foot square wooden crate is believed to contain (at least) an archive of books and papers that once belonged to the late J. David Grey (1935-1993), who co-founded "JASNA" in 1979 with Joan Austen-Leigh (1920-2001) and Henry G. Burke (1902-1989), co-collector, with his wife and Goucher alum, Alberta H. Burke, of Goucher's Burke Jane Austen Collection.  At the moment, we have no idea what, specifically, the crate contains.  Contact me if you would like to be present at the crate's opening.  It has been suggested that, when the top of the crate is removed, Jane Austen's spectral body will emerge, but this is pure speculation.  Protective goggles probably will not be necessary.

The Seven Deadly Sins (and Cardinal Virtues)--can they be applied to Theseus, Palamon, Arcite, and Emelye as an "interpretation of the tale" (ala D. W. Robertson Jr.'s "patristic interpretation") without distorting or neglecting important other meanings of the Knight's tale?  More importantly, would that likely be on the Knight's mind, or is he the unconscious "sinner-teller" in a Robertsonian reading?  For comparison, see one of many Web sites devoted to finding the Deadly Sins as an interpretation of nearly all modern popular culture!

Remember to be looking for tales to present, one before Spring Break and one after.  The syllabus has Web pages linked to brief descriptions of each tale together with possible discussion questions, so it might be a good place to go to prospect for a likely tale.  Email me for advice.  I have lived with these tales for decades and can sometimes tell which ones might intrigue or please you.  Also, once you have picked two tales to present, remember that I posteed to GoucherLearn an archived/zipped folder containing the 2009 Chaucer seminar sound files.  Each presenting student pre-recorded a short passage in two different versions to bring out alternate ways to interpret the passage.  Sometimes it was "serious vs. ironic," and at other times it uncovered ironies that we might have missed in silent reading.  Many tales are represented.  Just click on the attached folder and it will download to your computer and unzip.  All files are in MP3 format.

        Middle English Practice Conferences (two per student, one each in the first and second weeks).  Chaucer Sound Files from Alan Baragona's site are linked here.

        Tale Presentation Schedule, Spring 2015  For a guide to what I am looking for in tale presentations, click here

        Annotated Bibliographies: My bibliographic annotations tend to be more complete than those I've seen written for other Goucher seminars.  For advice about selecting articles and preparing annotated bibliography entries, click here To read bibliographic notes from the previous seminars' students, click hereIf you read a few of them, you will realize that some tell you more, and more useful things about the article's thesis, evidence, and usefulness.  Follow the good ones as models.  It is permissible to re-annotate an article someone else already has done, but your annotation must remain your own.  Consider re-doing annotations that seem deficient in one or more areas to improve upon them.

Announcement: the new Book Studies minor (BKS) has been approved. If you are interested in old books and manuscripts, the history of literacy and book production, and hands-on work with rare objects, please consider signing up for English 241, Archeology of Text.  Click on the link to see the course home page--a link to the fall 2013 syllabus is on the bottom menu.  The course will be offered again in the fall semester of 2015.  It will teach you the other side of literary research, the physical examination of literary works in the forms in which they were read by their authors and first readers.  241 offers hands-on experience in both archival and rare-book research, and places the modern emergence of digital literacy into perspective by comparing it with the previous transition from manuscript to hand-press printed books, and from the scroll to the codex (what you think of as a "book").  Students who have taken 241 have won internships at the Library of Congress and the Folger Shakespeare Library, and five members of the Fall 2007 class were accepted to study in graduate programs in English literature and library science.  Click on the link to see the course's web site.  I also need a paid teaching assistant whom I will train to locate, prepare, and handle books and manuscripts from the collection for use in class meetings.  If interested, please contact me.

Concordance to the Works of Geoffrey Chaucer: Constructed by Gerard neCastro of University of Maine, Machias, this should be an essential tool to augment the O.E.D. definition of words in common usage.  The concordance gives us a much more precise sense of Chaucer's usage, and can establish thematic relationships among similar usages even when they are far apart in a text.

Click here for my own "hard word" glossary for Middle English words which typically pose problems for Modern English speakers.  To help you continue to teach yourself to read Middle English aloud, check out this web page on Modern and Middle English open vowel sounds.  It gives you the pronouns (I, you, he/she/we, they) as examples of how to sound the open vowels which went through the Great Vowel Shift (ca. 1400-1500):  It also includes two priceless diagrams illustrating where you would sound the Modern English and Middle English open vowels.  Click here for a discussion of the "three estates," the way medieval Anglo-European culture understood its social organization (by birth and occupation vs. "the three classes," by wealth).

        Please visit the Writing Center for assistance in developing and polishing all written assignments for English 330.  At first, working in Middle English will pose additional, unfamiliar interpretive challenges that may push you out of your comfort zone for writing literary analysis.  Later, as we see more of the great construction that the "Tales" create, you will have more to say than you are used to, and it will take time and conversation to figure out what would be best to say now.

Some links to current and past medieval-related projects: Hobbit Project, Medieval Institute Talk, Kalamazoo, "Writing Fame" (Chaucer Epitaphs in Renaissance Chaucer editions) MI, May 13, 2010; Medieval Institute Talk, Kalamazoo, "Pearl's Hyperbole/ae" (reading "Pearl" in manuscript facsimile, scribal evidence for intentional errors in form), May 9-13, 2013 (draft).  For the full congress program, click here.

Frequently useful images: Medieval Music in MSS; Glossa ordinaria (Justinian's legal code); Midrash Shoher Tov on Psalms; Annunciation MS illumination (Met. NYC)  London Gazette

Seminar Description

          The seminar will read Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in Middle English, as well as some of the tales' known sources and analogues.  We also will examine the growth of Chaucer's Renaissance reputation by consulting early print editions of his works located in Goucher's Rare Book Collection and those of other area libraries.  Our primary purpose is to understand how the Canterbury tales work, individually and as parts of a grander conception bound together in various possible orders by the pilgrimage "frame narrative."  Periodically during the semester we will compare the tales we are reading in the current scholarly edition (the Riverside Chaucer) with the versions in Renaissance editions to discover how Shakespeare and other early readers constructed their "Chaucer" as "the father of English literature."  We will have more fun doing what we're doing than any other seminar at Goucher College because we will get to handle (with well-washed hands) rare books and manuscripts of the sort that other literature courses hide from their students, relying upon false certainties inspired by modern print editions.  We also will be reconstructing another cultural context in which we can read "the naughty bits" without the FCC's prohibition on profanity.

         "Academic Honor Code: Reference to the academic honor code is required of all course syllabi as a reminder to students.  Suggested wording includes: Reminder: All students are bound by the standards of the Academic Honor Code, found at www.goucher.edu/documents/General/AcademicHonorCode.pdf."  I distinguish between accidental forms of plagiarism, in which the author obviously intended to cite sources but cited them at the wrong place, from pure carelessness (no citations, even if sources are listed at the back) and outright theft of intellectual property intentionally passed off as one's own.  The first type of cases usually are opportunities to teach and learn.  The second type are more troubling and may go to the Honor Board if they happen late in the semester, after we have discussed source use and its importance to your readers.  The last will be sent to the Honor Board without hesitation.  Students also are increasingly content to cite sources long after their prose has begun to borrow ideas from those sources.  That is technically plagiarism, too, but it has become so common that I must spend gallons of ink and hundreds of keystrokes un-teaching it.  Never make me guess whose ideas I'm reading.  Cite sources when you first depend on them.  I want to know how well you can think, not how well your sources can think, which is a matter of historical record for anyone who reads them.  Let there be a bright line of fire between ideas that are originally yours and those of other writers to which you refer. 

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