“What an astonishing thing a book is. It's a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you're inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic."
---Carl Sagan, Cosmos [Part 11, The Persistence of Memory (1980)]
Widely considered to be the “Father of English Literature,” Geoffrey Chaucer is one of the most recognizable and widely read figures of pre-modern English literature. Writing at a period in English history when French and Latin were regarded as literary languages, Chaucer’s use of the vernacular revived English as a literary language after nearly two centuries of quiescence. Beyond this, Chaucer’s works reveal a widely read individual of profound intellectual curiosity whose mastery of language, subtlety, and humor still delights readers today. As part of their introduction to pre-modern literature, students will learn about the transmission of texts through manuscript and print media and visit Special Collections to engage with medieval and early modern artefacts. Primary readings will include selections from the Canterbury Tales in Middle English and modern translations of the Parliament of Birds and the Book of the Duchess in addition to works by Marie de France, Guerin, and other authors whose influence may be felt in Chaucer’s work.
Assessment will be based, in part, on periodic reading quizzes and secondary reading reports, as well as a midterm written exam, group presentations, and a final course paper (6-10 pages). This course does not fulfill the University of Washington’s writing (‘W’) requirement.