I'm teaching Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in spring semester, as I do about every other year. I love teaching Chaucer's CT. It's a blast.
I'm not a real medievalist, and it's hard to feel like I'm caught up enough on CT or Middle English stuffs to do a good job.
Last year, when I put in to teach it, and also had a course release coming, the chair said that it might be better if I taught the other 3 credit course, a lower level GE, than the Chaucer course, an upper level, mostly majors, but also GE. And I told her that if I didn't teach Chaucer, then I probably wouldn't put in to teach it again. (Since I'm the only one who ever puts in to teach it, it would disappear from our curriculum totally.) And she looked at me like I was nuts, which might be so, because I don't want to cut off my own nose to spite my face, so to speak, and asked why. And I told her that it's hard to feel caught up enough if I teach it every other year, and less than that wouldn't be worth the time to try to get caught up. And she gave me the look that an English Ed person who thinks they can teach everything in any literature because they've taught high school gives those of us who've specialized in lit, and asked what I meant. And I said, well, I keep up in Shakespeare and early modern, and I try to keep reasonably up on critical theory, and about composition stuffs, and Chaucer added to that was a lot. And she gave me a look like I'm an incompetent, and said maybe, and then it turned out that I got the Chaucer, so that made me happy.
Back to the fake medievalist problem. Every time I prep CT (and at this point, I'd have a ton more work to do to prep Troilus and Criseyde, which I've never taught), I try to read a book or two, and a few critical essays to get a feel for things. Yesterday, I finished Paul Strohm's Chaucer's Tale, which I found very readable and a pleasure, except for two small issues; more on those in a moment.
At several points within the text, Strohm mentions The Romance of the Rose, and then points out that Chaucer translated it but that the text is lost. And my brain went, but it's in my Riverside! How could it be lost. It's right there.
Except, my Riverside isn't right here, it's being rebound! (In buckram, which is a fun word to say!)
So then I checked Wikipedia, and it talked a bit about problems of the text, and that most scholars think that there are at least three poets represented in the Middle English translation, and while one of them may be Chaucer, the others probably aren't. This isn't something new, either, but an old controversy, dating from the late 19th century, based primarily on linguistic sorts of evidence.
And once again, I was reminded that I'm very much a fake medievalist, because I don't remember ever reading anything about it.
To be fair, I've only ever taken one class where we read the Romaunt (that's the Middle English translation), an undergraduate course I took before I was even thinking about enrolling in a PhD program, where we read Chaucer's translation of Boethius, along with a modern translation, the Romaunt, and Troilus and Criseyde, too. (It's the course I bought my Riverside for, even, so that's old!) So maybe the professor talked about it, or maybe I was supposed to read the introduction, but I don't remember it coming up, nor would I likely have understood the import at that stage of my studies. (Honestly, I had a hard time with Boethius!) (And that's the only course I've ever read T&C for, too; no wonder I wouldn't feel confident teaching it.)
So, yes, I'm a fake medievalist. What else should I read in the next several weeks to help me do a decent job with CT in spite of my only playing a medievalist on TV?
A bit about Strohm's book. It's so readable and fun, and really gives a sense that I might understand medieval London a bit.
I have two critiques, though. The first is that I wanted Strohm to be just a bit more chronological, to remind me of dates just a tad more, so that I wouldn't have to flip back and try to remember that this happened in October 1386, and that other happened in July 1386. It seemed like 1386 is a mess, and the way he told the story didn't clarify the mess for me as much as I might wish.
The second is that the book pretty much stops at 1386. I think that's because scholars really don't have any idea where Chaucer was after that for a good long while. But I don't remember Strohm telling the reader how he knows that Chaucer was in Kent. There might be reason for him to be in Kent, but how do we know? So I wanted more of that. And then I wanted more on the move to Westminster, and on what Thomas Chaucer, his son, was up to in those years. And more on the leadup to Henry IV's takeover.
Coincidentally, one of the books on CD I picked up at the local library recently (and am listening to as bedtime listening) is William Rosen's Third Horseman: Climate Change and the Great Famine of the 14th Century. (For someone who doesn't like spy thrillers or murder mysteries, the pickings are slim in the CD section. I could get 20 books on CD about cat murders, or abc murders, but hardly any other fiction. So I often listen to history and biography and such, which is interesting and good stuff!)
So I've been up to my ears (see what I did there!) in the Edwards I and II, and a bit of III, and some Richard II.