3.02.282 Canterbury Tales

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  • Thursdays 16:00-18:00
  • Room: A10 1-121a
  • Dr. Olaf Simons

Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (1386-1400) have become a classic of English literature. The collection of tales offers a delightful spectrum of medieval stories presented by Chaucer with an awareness of European traditions (some can be found in comparable versions in Boccaccio's Decamerone) and a special delight in attributing them to individual storytellers. The stories begin to stand for a diversified society, characters in turn are characterised by their stories.

The seminar is designed to lead into the individual stories (we will practice reading them) and to contextualise them historically.

Participants should buy The Riverside Chaucer, 3rd Ed. (Paperback). If you feel uneasy about the language, read the tales in a German prose translation before.*

I will offer a special preparatory meeting on Monday Feb 2 to all who would like to pick a seminar topic before the seminar begins. You are expected to have read the Canterbury Tales by week two of the semester. All participants will have to give insight into their (ongoing) work during the semester in a research paper outline they will discuss in class.

  • German translations: the bilingual Goldmann-edition at 29 Euros is recommendable. Reclam's translation is incomplete, Manesse offers another prose translation almost complete (I remember an instance where the text got cleansed a bit). Middle English is otherwise readable. I will try to offer at least one story as mp3-file. One has to read Chaucer aloud to have ones full fun with it.

Session April 9: Shipman's Tale

  • How to read Middle English
  • Great Vowel Shift

Session April 16: Shipman's Tale

  • Close Reading

Session April 23: Shipman's Tale

  • The art of telling a story
  • Point, comparisons of narrative structures: romance, novel(la), joke, fairy tale, Arthurian epic
  • Money transactions: the construction of the Shipman's Tale

Session April 30: Franklin's Tale

  • Comparison with Shipman's Tale

Session May 7: Knight's Tale

  • Social Status
  • Romance vs. Novel

Session May 14: Miller's Tale and Reeve's Tale

  • Fabliaux
  • Social Status - lower classes
  • Presentation: Chris

Session May 28: General Prologue, Clerk's Prologue, Chaucer's Prologues

  • Character and Costume
  • Pluralism and Fuctionality of prologue/tale division
  • Presentation: Franziska: Dress

Session June 4: Clerk's Tale: Griseldis

  • Presentation: Sebastian: Tales we find in Chaucer and Boccaccio

Session June 11: Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale

  • Feminism, sex and Marriage: Elke Schuster
  • Presentation: Sarah Sex and Marriage

Session June 18: Physician's Tale vs. Lessing's Emilia Galotti

Note: not at Tannenkampstr. 12, no collective storry telling

  • Presentation: Katharina: Male Virtues

Session June 25: Summoner's Tale vs. Friar's Tale

  • Summoner's Tale on monks and Friar's Tale on Summoners
  • Professions as the object of satire
  • Presentation: Jenna: Church and Religion

Session July 2: Prioresse's Tale and Man of Law's Tale

  • Anti jewish sentiment, Legends
  • Presentation: Anja: Anti Semitism

Session July 9: Chaucer's Tales and Monk's Tale

  • Chaucer's Tales and the Monk's Tale - failures?

Presentations: Anke: Autobiographical aspects in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales

Some Topics

  • The art of story telling: Variations on Boccaccio (might have room for two papers)
    • Clerk's Tale: Day 10, Tale 10
    • Franklin's Tale: Day 10, Tale 5
    • Merchant's Tale: Day 7, Tale 9
    • Pardoner's Prologue: Day 6, Tale 10
    • Reeve's Tale: Day 9, Tale 6
    • Shipman's Tale: Day 8, Tale 1
  • Male chauvinism in Chaucer's CT
  • The lower classes
  • Functions of dress
  • Chaucer manuscripts and their presentation of the text
  • Chaucer in print - an EEBO- and ECCO-Exploration
    • John Dryden's Chaucer
  • Autobiographical references in Chaucer's CT
  • Anti-Semitism
  • Christianity in Chaucer's CT
  • How to tell good stories: Instances of criticism within the tales and as part of the interaction between the storytellers
  • 18th and 19th century re-evaluations of Chaucer
  • Defining the present age: Chaucer and history
  • Genres and their definition (within the tales and later criticism)
  • Conflicts between the pilgrims
  • Techniques of stereotyping
  • Humorous solutions of conflicts
  • Extra marital affairs
  • Personal tragedy in Chaucer's CT


  • Seth Lerer: Chaucer and his readers. Imagining the author in late-medieval England. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 1993
  • Peter Brown: Chaucer at work. The making of the "Canterbury tales". London (u.a.): Longman, 1994
  • Ruth Evans and Lesley Johnson (Ed.): Feminist readings in Middle English literature. The Wife of Bath and all her sect. London (u.a.): Routledge, 1994
  • Gabriele Wendel: "Nach Deinem Text und Deinen Litanein...". Frauenbilder bei Chaucer unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der "Canterbury Tales". Universität Hamburg: Magisterarbeit, 1995
  • N. S. Thompson: Chaucer, Boccaccio, and the debate of love. A comparative study of the Decameron and the Canterbury tales. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996
  • S. H. Rigby: Chaucer in context. Society, allegory and gender. Manchester (u.a.): Manchester Univ. Press, 1996
  • Sheila Delany (Ed.): Chaucer and the Jews. Sources, contexts, meanings. New York (u.a.) : Routledge, 2002
  • Edward E. Foster and David H. Carey: Chaucer's church. A dictionary of religious terms in Chaucer. Aldershot (u.a.): Ashgate, 2002
  • Suzanne C. Hagedorn: Abandoned women. Rewriting the classics in Dante, Boccaccio, & Chaucer. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 2004
  • Michael Masi: Chaucer and Gender. New York (u.a.): Lang, 2005
  • Alcuin Blamires: Chaucer, ethics, and gender. Oxford (u.a.): Oxford Univ. Press, 2006
  • Keiko Hamaguchi: Non-European women in Chaucer. A postcolonial study. New York (u.a.): Lang, 2006
  • Shannon L. Rogers: All things Chaucer. An encyclopedia of Chaucer's world. Westport, Conn. (u.a.): Greenwood Press, 2007