Canterbury Tales

ENGL 4887: Honours Seminar
January - April 2010

Brief Description of Course

This seminar will study one of the great collections of narratives in English literature: Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. We will immerse ourselves in Chaucer’s stories, characters, and language, reading about a dozen tales from the collection. At times formal, at times ribald, the stories represent a wide range in narrative style. More important, perhaps, are the characterizations of the story tellers, who represent some of the most memorable characters in English poetry.

Students will be expected to gain a significant versatility in Chaucer’s Middle English, and some class time will be devoted to vocabulary, pronunciation, and aural reading. We will study the generic conventions of the tales, focussing in particular on romance, fabliau, lay, exemplum, and mock epic. We will look at the rhetorical strategies of the tales as well as the thematic concerns of class, gender, sexuality, love, religion, identity, and physiognomy, all within late medieval traditions. We will also look at critical studies of the prologues and tales, learning to position our own assessment of these within current critical discourse.


Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales: Fifteen Tales and the General Prologue. Second edition. Eds. V. A. Kolve and Glending Olson. New York: Norton, 2005.


15%  in-class presentation and essay
10%  in-class presentation (no essay)
10%  mid-term test
10%  term essay proposal/abstractdue between February 22th and March 12th
35%  term essaydue March 31st
20%  participation


The term essay is due on March 31st. You may submit it up to and including April 7th without penalty; after that, there will be a 2%/day lateness penalty, including Saturdays and Sundays.

Plagiarism will not be tolerated. All essays and tests are subject to an additional oral and/or written test at my discretion. All suspected plagiarism will be reported.

Office Hours

Tuesdays 10:00 to 11:00
Thursdays 2:00 to 4:00
Please drop by my office (without an appointment) during office hours. If you would like to meet me at a different time, please email me and we’ll set up an appointment.


Please feel free to email me. My email address is: marcp @ -- and you know the rest of the regular Nipissing domain email address. To assist me, please place ENGL 4887 at the start of the subject line (Nipissing sends me many emails every day: I do not want emails from students to get lost in the profusion of administrative communications). You may have to wait a day or two for an answer: please do not email me requests that need to be answered immediately. Note also that if I think an email response will take too much time or will not adequately address the complexity of the issue raised, I will simply respond by requesting you meet with me during office hours to discuss the issue.

In-class presentations

You will be asked to give two in-class presentations: each presentation should last about fifteen minutes. Ideally, you will not read your presentation, but you can draw upon written notes. You must submit a written version of your first presentation for evaluation within one week after your in-class presentation. The written version will be five to six pages in length and take into account any valuable feedback you received in class.

Participation and Attendance

Participation is a key component of this class. Because this is a seminar, everyone is expected to attend all classes, and everyone is expected to participate in all classes. No part of the participation grade is for attendance alone.

January 4Introduction: course and text
January 6Introduction: language and prosody
January 11General Prologue (1-269)
January 13General Prologue (270-541)
January 18General Prologue (542-858)
January 20Knight’s Tale (parts 1 and 2: 859-1880)
January 25Knight’s Tale (parts 3 and 4: 1881-3108)
January 27Miller’s Prologue and Tale
February 1Reeve’s Prologue and Tale & Cook’s Prologue and Tale
February 3Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale
February 8Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale
February 10mid-term test
February 15Study week
Februrary 17Study week
February 22Friar’s Prologue and Tale
February 24Summoner’s Prologue and Tale
March 1Clerk’s Prologue and Tale
March 3Clerk’s Prologue and Tale
March 8Merchant’s Prologue and Tale
March 10Merchant’s Prologue and Tale
March 15Franklin’s Prologue and Tale
March 17Franklin’s Prologue and Tale
March 22Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale
March 24Prioress’s Prologue and Tale & Chaucer’s Prologue and Tale of Sir Topas
March 29Nun’s Priest’s Prologue and Tale
March 31Manciple’s Prologue and Tale & Chaucer’s Retraction