As readers travel along the road to Canterbury with Chaucer’s pilgrims, they not only hear a collection of stories- both pious and irreverent-but they also meet a community of characters whose diversity spans the spectrum of medieval society, who compete with one other, trading insults as well as tales. In this seminar, participants will read some of the greatest hits (and meet some of the most vivid characters) from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and explore the ways in which Chaucer experiments with late medieval literary genres, from chivalric romances to bawdy fabliaux, from pious exempla to moral fables, frustrating and playing upon the expectations of his audience. Participants will also consider the dramatic context of the pilgrimage itself, asking questions about how the character of an individual pilgrim, or the interaction between pilgrims, shapes our perceptions and expectations of the tales. The seminar will explore the thorny and unexpectedly modern social questions the tales raise about class, sexuality, and gender.
Seminar led by Susan Phillips, Northwestern University