Sunday, January 15, 2006

Chaucer Dilemma

I've started actually putting together my Chaucer syllabus. I love doing a syllabus (note the not so subtle avoidance of the plural?). I dug out my last Chaucer syllabus, in large part because I felt the class went really well, and I want to teach basically the same works, I think.

I have one problem with choosing the works: For reasons I won't really go into here, it's MUCH easier for me to order Chaucer's Major Poetry (ed. Baugh) for my students than the Riverside Chaucer (which is appealing available in paperback these days, at about half the price). (It's uncertain if I'll be teaching Chaucer much in the future; we offer it only every other year, it's five years since the last time for me, and I know one of my colleagues would probably also be happy to teach it. Also, there may or may not be another colleague who wants in. So it may not be worth pushing for a new textbook.) Naturally, my layers of notes are in my Riverside. And naturally, the fragment and line numberings of the two texts for the CT don't coincide.

Here's my dilemma: In the last class, also a spring term, I started with a few shorter poems, "The Book of the Duchess," then taught "The Parliament of Foules," and then went on to selections from The Canterbury Tales. In many ways, it was a satisfying structure. But, most students typically want to write about CT (because, seriously, who can resist?), and putting it at the end means that they've read fewer tales by the time they're ready to start brainstorming about their research questions, and so seem to have fewer choices.

I REALLY like starting with a few short poems and the "Book of the Duchess." It just feels like a great place to start for me; I've split it into short sections for daily reading to start students more slowly on the language, and to be honest, I love the poem.

One possible solution is to move "The Parliament of Foules" to the end of the semester, and move the CT up. That moves the CT up by about three class hours (the class meets three days a week, one hour each day), ie. one week. That would help a bit with the research paper issue.

On the other hand, the way my syllabus was set up last time, we read the "Parliament" over the week of Valentine's Day. I'm not a big fan of Valentine's Day, but it's VERY hard to resist teaching the "Parliament" on Valentine's! Because we all KNOW that birds choose their mates on February 14th. Duh! (I also love teaching Henry V so that we're doing the St. Crispin's day speech on October 25th.) The "Parliament" also gives students another great example of a Dream Vision poem, which follows nicely from the "Book of the Duchess" and prepares them to really "get" "The Nun's Priest's Tale." And, chronologically, it makes some sense (though teaching "Adam Scriven" early on doesn't make chronological sense at all).

Ending the semester with the "Parliament" would mean that we'd end on a really fun note, remind them of the joys of the Dream Vision, and it's not like my students won't remember what Valentine's Day is all about in May...

So, advice?

Here's another advice request: One of my friends suggested I have the students do a short OED word exercise early on, which does sound great. But now I need a list of 15 good words. I could put an early modern list together pretty easily, but a Middle English list will be a bit harder for me. So, I'd appreciate suggestions there, too!

Thanks in advances for any and all responses and suggestions!


  1. One of my minor fields for my exams was "Medieval Visionary Writing" - I LOVE the dream visions. I don't have any useful advice, but are you teaching the "The House of Fame?" (Personal favorite of mine).

    I think the dream visions are a great way to introduce questions about the anxiety of authorship and the nature of creativity before getting into CT.

  2. During my undergraduate days, which haven't been so far off, Chaucer was offered every other semester. Now, I've heard, it is being offered every semester. I loved the CT but my favorite of all was and remains T&C. In the fall, I'm taking Chaucer as a graduate student and the professor taught the professor who taught me in undergraduate. Cool beans.

  3. NC, nope, not planning to teach the "House of Fame." Mostly because I haven't read it in ages, alas, and I haven't read it in ages probably because it didn't really get me when I read it in grad school?

    Zelda1, It's SO great to hear when schools are increasing Chaucer offerings! My seminar is full up this semester (well, until I scare some folks off), but that's probably a result of our chair/scheduling doing an outstanding job (predicting how many seminar seats we'll need), a colleague's class last semester (he's wonderful and an inspired teacher, and taught some medieval lit), and well, I'd like to think my reasonably good local rep as a teacher.

    Z, what's your class going to be studying this semester?

  4. The undergraduates are doing T&C and are doing the CT. I am not taking the class until the fall and am not sure what he will teach. My husband is taking the undergraduate and of course it is all in ME, which he hates and I loved. The only Medieval class that I am taking is Cautullus, and I'm also taking Medieval history. Both for my Masters.

  5. Zelda1, Not NEARLY as fun as Chaucer, but great in their own ways.

    Enjoy, and please share any helpful Chaucer stuff you have from your class. What, for example, were the most interesting and useful examples?

  6. Ooh, ooh, Bardiac, you'll be happy to hear that St. Valentine's Day *should* be in May -- that's when the saint's feast day is! So, see, all the more reason to PF in May! (Google H. A. Kelly and Valentine and you might find a popular press article or two on this. Kelly is a medievalist at UCLA and loves talking about the kind of stuff that gets picked up in the general media. Anyway, I can't remember the details now of how it ended up in Feb., but a Google search should turn it up.)

    Btw, your syllabus sounds *exactly* like mine.

    I don't think beginning and ending with dream visions is a bad idea at all. Another alternative is to take a break from the Tales and read PF just before NPT.

  7. Oooo, now that could be a really good alternative!


    Do you have any assignments I can convince you to share?

    I'll look for Kelly's work. He's an interesting guy.