Course Detail

Seminar: The Canterbury Tales


Geoffrey Chaucer, an English civil servant and diplomat who was the son of a wine merchant, lived in the fourteenth century;  at his death in 1400, he was still working on an audacious experiment called The Canterbury Tales.  Chaucer, the Father of English Literature, was a creation of that unfinished  narrative experiment in testing the boundaries of fiction making-an experiment which began to be avidly read in the fifteenth century, which created anxiety of influence for sixteenth-century writers (such as Sidney, Spenser, and Shakespeare), which helped define by its perceived otherness both nostalgic Romantic  medievalism and unflinching modernity, and which, in the twenty- first century, has seemed, in its deliberate evasions and cancellations, the most postmodern of texts.  This seminar on The Canterbury Tales will read closely  what is arguably the most seminal of all English literary texts-while also exploring The Canterbury Tales in afterlife by considering the dialogue between Chaucer's Middle English tales and their appropriations and transformations in later works ranging from the play Two Noble Kinsmen by William Shakespeare to films such as Pier Paolo Pasolini's Marxist adaptation of 1972 and Brian Helgeland's  A Knight's Tale (2001) with its odd, naked, medieval author, who wanders into the scene to claim that "Geoffrey Chaucer's the name...writing's the game."