Chaucer's Canterbury Tales is the poet's last major work and can be seen as a culmination of his poetic art. We shall read selections from the Tales in the late fourteenth-century context in which they were written, considering aspects of Chaucer's experimental narration, poetics, and his engagement with contemporary French and Italian literature. Beyond this, we shall look at Chaucer's readership during his lifetime; how and why this changed over the following centuries. The figure of Chaucer himself in popular consciousness also undergoes a number of shifts. Chaucer would not necessarily recognise his nineteenth century self.
The course will encourage a close reading of the texts, with the help of modern English translations, and discussion of Chaucer's techniques. This will be balanced with a more general exposition of literary and cultural shifts over the centuries in order to explore the reasons why the story collection continues to be relevant.