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May 26, 2020 - June 23, 2020 (5 weeks)
Tuesdays, 5:30pm - 6:30pm EDT
Geoffrey Chaucer is sometimes called the 'father of English literature' not only because he wrote so well but because he has been, and remains, a poet who had a unique power to capture in language the foibles and strengths, the folly and wisdom, and the rich variety of perspectives that make us human. Though his the language in which he wrote (Middle English) requires an initial stretch for modern readers, it is quickly mastered and well worth the effort, since Chaucer was also the first poet in English to use the language with such finesse and precision. We will read five of the most accomplished of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and I will work to explain his unusual and innovative techniques for bringing the fourteenth-century England to life in language.
May 26 The General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales
June 2 The Miller’s Prologue and Tale
June 9 The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale
June 16 The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale
June 23 The Nun’s Priest’s Tale and [the Close of The Canterbury Tales]
The Introduction to the Parson’s Tale and Chaucer’s Retraction
All texts are available in Middle English with a Modern English translation on the Harvard Chaucer website:
Texts are also available in Middle English (with Modern English glosses) in the following readily-available editions:
The Canterbury Tales: Seventeen Tales and the General Prologue, 3rd ed., ed. V.A. Kolve et al. (New York, NY: Norton, 2018).
The Norton Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales, ed. David Lawton (New York, NY: Norton, 2019).
Christopher Cannon works on medieval literature and, in particular, the emergence of 'English literature' as a meaningful category. He has traced that emergence conceptually (in the intellectual contexts in which it developed), philologically (in the history of English) and, comparatively (as Latin learning produced a 'grammatical' English and its poetics).
He is the author of From Literacy to Literature (Oxford University Press, 2016), Middle English Literature: A Cultural History (2008), The Grounds of English Literature (2004), and The Making of Chaucer's English: A Study of Words (1998).
He is general co-editor of Oxford Studies in Medieval Literature and Culture (a monograph series) and of the Oxford Chaucer (an edition in progress of all of Chaucer's writing). He has held a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship and has received the William Riley Parker Prize from the MLA (2014). He came to Johns Hopkins in 2017 after teaching at NYU, Cambridge, Oxford and UCLA.