English 314: Chaucer and His Age

Instructor: Dr. Hoffman
Office: 2-012
Phone: 794-2965
Office hours: TR: 4:00-7:00


The Riverside Chaucer. 3rd ed. Ed. Larry D. Benson et. al. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987.
A Chaucer Glossary. Ed. Norman Davis, et. al. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979.
Chaucer: Sources and Backgrounds. Ed. Robert P. Miller. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Class discussion / Reading assignments

29 Aug: Introduction: History of the period and Chaucer's life.

5 Sept: Short poems: "To Rosemounde," "Fortune," "Truth," "Gentilesse," "The Former Age," "Lack of Steadfastness."

12 Sept: "To Adam Scriveyn," "Lenvoy de Chaucer a Bukton," "L'envoy de Chaucer a Scogan," "Complaint of Chaucer to His Purse."

19 Sept: Book of the Duchess

26 Sept: Parliament of Fowls

The Canterbury Tales

3 Oct: "General Prologue"


10 Oct: "The Knight's Tale"


"The Miller's Tale;" "The Reeve's Tale;" "The Cook's Tale;" "The Man of Law's Tale"

24 Oct: "The Wife of Bath's Tale;" "The Friar's Tale;" "The Summoner's Tale"

31 Oct: "The Clerk's Tale;" "The Merchant's Tale"

7 Nov: "The Squire's Tale;" "The Franklin's Tale"

14 Nov: "The Physician's Tale;" "The Pardoner's Tale"

21 Nov: "The Shipman's Tale;" "The Prioress's Tale;" "The Tale of Sir Thopas;" "The Tale of Melibee;" "The Monk's Tale"

28 Nov: "The Nun's Priest's Tale"

5 Dec: "The Second Nun's Tale;" "The Canon's Yeoman's Tale;" "The Manciple's Tale;" "The Parson's Tale;" Retraction

12 Dec: TUESDAY: FINAL (8:00-9:50)

Written assignments

In addition to the Midterm and Final, brief in-class and take-home writing and translation assignments may be given and will effect your final grade.

6 October. Your Bibliography and 150-200 word abstract are due. With the help of the MLA program on the Wilsondisc in the library, you should prepare a reasonably extensive bibliography on one of Chaucer's tales. You should read at least one of the articles you have found and prepare a brief summary of it.

1 December. You will also prepare a 10-page TERM PAPER (NOT including the Bibliography). Documentation must follow the guidelines in the MLA Handbook. Your paper must be typewritten at least; preferably, it should be prepared on a word processor.

Your paper should demonstrate an understanding of both Chaucer and contemporary scholarship/criticism. Your paper should have a clear (and interesting) thesis supported by adequate argument and documentation. No argument is adequate if it does not demonstrate an intelligent familiarity of Chaucer's text. In other words, you must cite Chaucer ("in the original," to risk redundancy), and appropriate secondary material. Please note that citing a secondary source for plot information does not indicate scholarship, it indicates merely an inability to read the text!!!!!

The books cited in the "Essential Bibliography" should provide directions that might allow you to seriously engage with contemporary ideas and approaches. The following list may help you to begin to focus an idea to start to research:

YOU MAY NOT write on "courtly love" (unles you can prove to me that it existed); you may NOT write on the Catholic Church or medieval religion in general (unless you can convince me you have some understanding of it); and you may NOT write on Chaucer and women (unless you can convince me you have some theory of feminism that goes a bit beyond the radical idiocy of "women good / men bad"). Thoughtful feminism is, by the way, a good thing, and, if you are inclined in that direction, you would be wise to begin with Carolyn Dinshaw's book and Jill Mann's less extreme approach.


If you do not feel you are sufficiently literate to engage in intellectual discourse, you may instead prepare an annotated outline of the Canterbury Tales. For each tale (including the "General Prologue," you must provide a brief commentary on the narrator, a brief description of the main characters of the tale (obviously abridged for the "General Prologue"), a note on the setting, and a brief plot summary. You should also provide a brief (50-100 words) paragraph on the theme or purpose of each tale; since this is the part that involves some originality, it will weigh most heavily in assessing your grade.


Midterm 15%
Final 20%
Bibliography 10%
Term paper 45%
Participation 10%

Participation is a combination of class attendance, intelligent and pertinent responses in class, and joining in internet discussions. Points will be deducted for excessive absences (more than two) and lack of preparation. (NOTE: It is not really my job to guess whether you have read the material or not; it is your job to prove to me that you have.)



Hammond, Eleanor P. Chaucer: A Bibliographical Manual. Macmillan, 1908. Rpt. P. Smith, 1933.

Griffith, Dudley David. Bibliography of Chaucer: 1908-1953. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1955.

Crawford, William R. Bibliography of Chaucer: 1954-63. Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1967.

Baird, Lorrayne. A Bibliography of Chaucer, 1964-73. Boston, 1977.

Baird-Lange, Lorrayne Y. and Hildegard Schnuttgen. A Bibliography of Chaucer: 1974-1985. Hamden, CT: Archon, 1988.

Baugh, Albert C. Chaucer. New York: Appleton-Century Crofts, 1968.

Studies in the Age of Chaucer. Annual Bibliography 1978-.


Manly, John Matthews and Edith Rickert, eds. The Text of the Canterbury Tales, studied on the basis of all known manuscripts. 8 vols. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1940. The essential collation of all MSS. The most thorough example of the attempt to construct a stemma for the tales.

Ruggiers, Paul G., ed. Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales: A Facsimile and transcription of the Hengwrt Manuscript, with Variants from the Ellesmere Manuscript. Introductions by Donald C. Baker, A. I. Doyle and M. B. Parkes. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press; Folkestone: Wm. Dawson & Sons, 1979. A good introduction to the primacy of the Hengwrt MS which most editors now prefer to the Ellesmere MS which was the basis of most earlier editions.


Aers, David. Chaucer, Langland and the Creative Imagination. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980. An excellent and very controversial "progressive" study of Chaucer and his contemporaries.

Bakhtin, Mikhail. Rabelais and his World. Trans. Helene Iswolsky. Cambridge, MASS: M.I.T. Press, 1965. [Originally published in Russian.] While dealing with Rabelais, this is a reasonably readable book that will introduce the theory and practice of "dialogic" criticism that attempts to deal with multivalence and plurality as opposed to univocal readings of the text.

Bartholomew, Barbara. Fortuna and Natura; A Reading of Three Chaucer Narratives. The Hague: Mouton, 1966. Fine study of two of Chaucer's key concepts.

Benson, C. David. Chaucer's Drama of Style: Poetic Variety and Contrast in the Canterbury Tales. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1986. While not entirely convincing, Benson presents the most consistent objection to Kittredge's theory of the "Roadside Drama" punctuated by "Dramatic Monologues."

Boitani, Piero and Jill Mann, eds. The Cambridge Chaucer Companion. Cambridge, Eng.: CUP, 1986. Fine introduction to historical and critical background on Chaucer.

Brundage, James A. Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1987. If you are interested in studies of marriage and the place of women in the Middle Ages and in Chaucer, this thorough study will give you the necessary background. Can usefully be supplemented by H. A, Kelley's Love and Marriage in the Age of Chaucer and David F. Greenberg's The Construction of Homosexuality, which, while dealing with a particular subgroup, provides valuable information on the terms in which sexuality was defined and identified in the Middle Ages.

Bryan, W. F. and G. Dempster, eds. Sources and Analogues of Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales.' Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1941. A bit dated, but still the most complete study of Chaucer's sources.

Burger, Glenn. "Reading Otherwise: Recovering the Subject in the Book of the Duchess." Exemplaria V (1993): 325-341.

Burrow, J. A. Ricardian Poetry: Chaucer, Gower, Langland, and the Gawain Poet. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1971. A classic study identifying the literary characteristics of the authors working during the reign of Richard II.

Coleman, Janet. Ancient and Medieval Memories: Studies in the reconstruction of the past. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992.

Curry, Walter Clyde. Chaucer and the Mediaeval Sciences. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1926; 2nd ed. rev. and enlarged. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1960. Still the standard treatment of Chaucer knowledge and use of the sciences. A far more recent and thorough study is J. D. North's Chaucer and Science, but it may be too complex to be of use to a beginning student.

David, Alfred. "Old, New, and Yong in Chaucer." SAC 15 (1993): 5-21.

Dickson, Lynne. "The Cock and the Clock: Telling Time in Chaucer's Day." SAC 15 (1993): 61-90.

Dinshaw, Carolyn. Chaucer's Sexual Poetics. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1989.

Duby, Georges. The Three Orders: Feudal Society Imagined. Trans. Arthur Goldhammer. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980. This (and anything else by Duby) provides superb historical and sociological background for understanding the Middle Ages.

Gellrich, Jesse. The Idea of the Book in the Middle Ages: Language Theory, Mythology, and Fiction. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1985. Deals with much besides Chaucer, but provides the best introduction to the use of modern critical theories (i.e. deconstruction) in Chaucer.

Green, Richard Firth. "The Pardoner's Pants (and Why They Matter)." SAC 15 (1993): 131-145.

Greenblatt, Stephen. Renaissance Self-Fashioning from More to Shakespeare. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1980. While not dealing with Chaucer, this is a formative study and a fine introduction to the controversial and exciting practice of the New Historicism.

Hill, Ordelle G. The Manor, the Plowman, and the Shepherd: Agrarian Themes and Imagery in Late Medieval and Early Renaissance English Literature. London: Associated UP, 1993.

Howard, Donald R. The Idea of the Canterbury Tales. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London, 1976. An original and brilliant study of Chaucer with a slightly phenomenological approach.

Jordan, Robert M. Chaucer and the Shape of Creation: The Aesthetic Possibilities of Inorganic Structure. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1967. An influential study of Gothic structure that opposes the New Critical quest for unity.

Kittredge, George Lyman. Chaucer and His Poetry. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1951. This is a reprint of an early twentieth-century study that remains influential. Still the most readable introduction to Chaucer and his theories of the "Marriage Group" and the "Dramatic Monologues" are still debated, if not entirely accepted, by critics.

Knapp, Peggy. Chaucer and the Social Contest. New York: Routledge, 1990. Superb introduction to the society and the social issues of Chaucer's day.

Knight, Stephen. Geoffrey Chaucer. Rereading Literature. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986. A good introduction to Chaucer by the best Marxist Chaucerian.

Leicester, H. Marshall, Jr. The Disenchanted Self: Representing the Subject in the Canterbury Tales. Berkeley: U of Cal P, 1990.

Lentricchia, Frank and Thomas McLaughlin, eds. Critical Terms for Literary Study. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1990. An invaluable introduction to the terms, the issues, and the contexts of contemporary criticism. Few references to Chaucer, but a first-rate introduction to literary criticism.

Lerner, Robert E. The Age of Adversity: The Fourteenth Century. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1968. Somewhat dated and oversimplified, but possibly the best brief introduction to the essential historical themes of the fourteenth century.

Mann, Jill. Geoffrey Chaucer. Feminist Readings Series. Atlantic Highlands NJ: Humanities Press International, Inc., 1991. Probably the best and certainly the most complete feminist reading of Chaucer. Should probably be supplemented by Delaney's somewhat more radical work, but is the essential place to begin again study of Chaucer's women.

Mann, Jill. Chaucer and Medieval Estates Satire: The Literature of Social Classes and the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973. Thorough study of the dominating sociological structure of Chaucer's day.

Lumiansky, R. M. Of Sondry Folk: The Dramatic Principle in the Canterbury Tales. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1955. The most thorough attempt to apply Kittredge's idea of the "Roadside Drama" to the entire work.

McKisak, May. The Fourteenth-Century: 1307-1399. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959. (Oxford History of England, V.) A basic introduction to the history of Chaucer's age.

Minnis, Alastair. Medieval Theory of Authorship. London: Scolar Press, 1984. An essential introduction to the pervasive concept of auctoritas.

Muscatine, Charles. Chaucer and the French Tradition: A Study in Style and Meaning. Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1957. Probably the classic "formalist" study of Chaucer. The essay on the Knight's Tale is probably the most famous and still influential chapter of this valuable work.

Patterson, Lee. Negotiating the Past: The Historical Understanding of Medieval Literature. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1987. Superb and profoundly relevant presentation of the history of Medieval Studies and the ideologies of competing approaches to the study of Chaucer and other medieval texts.

---- "Perpetual Motion: Alchemy and the Technology of the Self." SAC 15 (1993): 25-57.

Robertson, D. W., Jr. A Preface to Chaucer. Studies in Medieval Perspectives. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1962. The essential introduction to the exegetical interpretation of Chaucer and a basic introduction to what now must, presumably, be called the "Old Historicism."

Schildgern, Brenda Dean. "Jerome's Prefatory Epistles to the Bible and The Canterbury Tales." SAC 15 (1993): 111-130.

Shoaf, R. A. Dante, Chaucer, and the Currency of the Word: Money, Images, and Reference in Late Medieval Poetry. Norman, Okla.: Pilgrim Books, 1983. A provocative semiotic (with deconstructionist leanings) study of the cooperating signifying systems of language and money.

Taylor, Andrew. "Chaucer Our Derridean Contemporary?" Exemplaria V (1993): 471-486.

von Simson, Otto. The Gothic Cathedral: Origins of Gothic Architecture and the Medieval Concept of Order. Rev. ed. Harper Torchbooks: The Bollingen Library. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1962. Superb introduction not only to the structure of the great cathedrals, but of the metaphysics of light and the theology of aspiration that inspired them.

Ziegler, Philip. The Black Death. Harmondsworth, Mdlx, Eng.: Penguin Books, 1970. If you like disease, this the best introduction to one of the greatest.