Chaucer / Delahoyde

English 383
Section 01
Fall 2004
Pullman SLN 29918
Vancouver SLN 80333
Tri-Cities SLN 84285
Pullman Murrow 55
Vancouver VCLS 131
Tri-Cities TWST 209
TTh 12:00 – 1:15

Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Avery Hall 355 — Washington State University
Hours: TTh 8:00 – 9:00, 10:30 – 11:00, and by appointment.
Phone: 509-335-4832


Course Description:

When Geoffrey Chaucer wasn’t pushing paper as a petty customs officer or, as the euphemistic “Commissioner of Dikes and Ditches,” overseeing London’s open sewers, he was experimenting poetically and becoming the so-called father of English poetry.

This course will offer, just as Medieval English literature itself was supposed to, the ideal union of “sentence and solas”–instruction and entertainment–as we read a few of ChaucerĀ¹s early experiments and enigmatic works, somewhat slowly at first while we accustom ourselves to Middle English poetry and pronunciation. (We will read in the original Middle English so that we don’t miss profound subtleties or smutty jokes.)

Most of the semester will be devoted to the sly Canterbury Tales. We’ll examine closely the poet’s craftsmanship both in the oft-anthologized tales and in the too-easily dismissed ones as well. We’ll pay attention to Chaucer’s wordplay and his talent for writing intentionally bad poetry (where he leaves Shakespeare in the dust).

The medieval torture here will be tempered with mercy. And seriously besides, I swear, the guy’s a riot!

Course Objectives:

To gain exposure to Medieval thought and poetic craft by poring over the works of one rather well-known English poet.

To increase intellectual maturation and clarification of our own values through examination of ideas and attitudes in literary/cultural contexts and through articulation of these.

To develop skills in verbal analysis, critical thinking, and detection of subtlety through reading, discussion, and writing about some tricky literature.

Required Text:

The Riverside Chaucer. 3rd. ed. by Larry D. Benson. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1987. ISBN 0-395-29031-7.

Course Requirements:

A significant part of your life this semester has to become Chaucer studies. Studying this stuff can be demanding, but at least we’ll be doing it together as a “learning community.” Because classroom interaction is essential for this to be a valuable experience, and because frequent quizzes and homework writings will be exchanged and no late assignments of any sort will be accepted, more than a few absences will affect your grade regardless of reason. Here’s the math:

I will frequently ask for relatively minor homework assignments to be turned in (or posted to the Bridge), designed primarily to stimulate subsequent discussion [although it will arise anyway because the readings are so provocative (i.e., cool)] and to practice conventions for writing about literature. At other times I will ask you to answer questions in writing in class, often ad lib responses to the reading before class discussion begins. Homework assignments and quizzes will receive numerical grades (points) and, although these writings cannot be made up (except for a couple optional writings that can take their place), the final semester totals will be curved if necessary.(30%)

You will submit two written projects of manageable length.(30%)

Your presence will be kindly requested at two exams.(30%)

Your avid reading and enthusiasm for confusing and cheeky poetic works which scholars have still not figured out will be measured by class participation. You may be responsible for occasional, brief but impressive presentations in which you identify a short passage within the day’s reading, read it aloud in Middle English, translate, and comment on its significance and interesting poetic matters. Your presentations must be both helpful and brilliant. Class participation and other service to the learning community will be expected (occasional group work, for example). (10%)


Gret will be the temptacioun for to use in youre cloistered cells somme spurious bookes whyche assay to “translate” Chaucer into moderne Englysshe. These are heretical matere whyche actually gloss, interpret, and reproduce the wrytyngs of Geoffrey in corrupt imperfeccioun for avaricious, mercenary resouns. They are satanic verses, my children, and damned for their perversioun and unorthodoxie. Do not putte into jupartie youre eternal soules. Ye whome the Fiend wolde tempt unto sinne, I willingly offer counsile and advice against swich foule dedes. Ye may chose to undergo the mortificacioun of practise readyng Myddle Englysshe in the secresie of the confessional, 355 Avery, or join oure order: several of us may mete during one afternoon a weeke to rede Chaucer wyth informalite.

[This note is adapted from a similar injunction distributed in a mid-1980s class by Thomas J. Garbaty.]

Dr. Michael Delahoyde, Senior Instructor, Department of English
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