ENGL 8200: Chaucer and Everything After

Dryden’s claim that Chaucer was the “father of English poetry” is familiar enough – but what exactly does that mean, and (ultimately) why Chaucer? Why not the Gawain-poet, Gower, or Langland? Such questions find immediate responses in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, when Chaucer's oeuvre and reputation were shaped for later generations, even as those later generations then rethought their own relationships with this literary "father." This course, then, is centered around a simple claim: fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century English and Scottish writers, scribes, and printers used Chaucer’s poetry and reputation to create a mode of “Chaucerian” verse that became the foundation for an English national literature. Taking Chaucer’s reception history as our touchstone, the course will address questions of “medievalisms,” as later writers negotiate their investment in England’s literary past; issues of editing and canon-formation, as Chaucer (and other medieval writers) slide in and out of literary popularity; and the revenant nature of Middle English writers, as the persons of medieval writers (rather than/in addition to their works) become objects of contest and desire.

While I will set the trajectory for the first half of the semester (to include topics like early fifteenth-century poets and scribes who imagined auctoritas for Chaucer, and the appearance of Chaucer [and Chaucerian apocrypha] in print), topics for the end of the semester will be set by individual students' interests and expertise. Students will be responsible for leading a class period on a period and topic of their choice; I particularly encourage non-medievalists who might be interested in Chaucer’s utility and reception by later writers like Dryden and Pope, Tennyson, Barrett Browning, the Pre-Raphaelites (e.g., the Kelmscott Chaucer), and/or twentieth-century writers to enroll -- there's a Chaucer for everyone. Creative writers curious about premodern notions of literary authority are also welcome.

Required Texts

  • Geoffrey Chaucer, The Riverside Chaucer. Please have to hand (or make arrangements to share) THIS edition, as we will be using its apparatus in class, even if you already own other editions of Chaucer.
  • The Canterbury Tales: Fifteenth-Century Continuations and Additions. Ed. John M. Bowers. TEAMS Middle English Texts series.
  • Thomas Hoccleve, The Regiment of Princes. Ed. Charles R. Blyth. TEAMS.
  • Kathleen Forni, ed. The Chaucer Apocrypha: A Selection. TEAMS.
  • Seth Lehrer, Chaucer and His Readers. (Amazon tells me this is out of print, so you'll need to go used-book-hunting.)
  • Much of our reading will be done off EEBO and via various PDFs; I'll probably use <emma> as an online text distribution platform. You can also anticipate being on a first-name basis with the reserve librarians in Main Libe.

Semesters taught: