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ENGL 321 A: Chaucer

Meeting Time: 
MW 10:30am - 12:20pm
SMI 405
Kate Norako photo
Leila Kate Norako

Syllabus Description:

ENG 321: Chaucer
M/W 10:30-12:20 pm      SMI 405

Dr. Leila K. Norako   --    Email:

Office: Padelford, A-309
Student Meeting Hours (Zoom): Mondays 3pm-4:30pm and by appointment

Course Description:

Geoffrey Chaucer, often referred to as “the father of English literature,” remains one of the most recognizable and beloved writers of the late Middle Ages. A master of language, subtlety, and humor, his works reveal deep wells of intellectual curiosity. But while Chaucer has enjoyed this status over the centuries, he and – more broadly – the so-called English literary “canon” have become subjects of increasing critical scrutiny over the past several decades, and our course by its design will actively pick up and grapple with these concerns, which range from the ways in which the canon and privileging of white male “geniuses” within it are exclusionary, to the difficult matter of Chaucer being brought up on rape charges, to the ways in which his works seem at times to critically engage racism, xenophobia, and misogyny and at other times uphold them. This course will allow students the opportunity to delve deeply into a study of The Canterbury Tales in the original Middle English, but will also actively engage a number of global adaptations of this work as a way of grappling with these very issues. While discussions will be largely generated by student interest and curiosity, we will return to a variety of themes throughout the course to help guide us towards a nuanced understanding of this remarkable work:

  • vernacular poetics (Why did Chaucer write in English? What is particularly English about The Canterbury Tales?)
  • connections in The Canterbury Tales to predecessor texts
  • gender and sexuality (how does Chaucer depict, play, and even problematize gender roles?)
  • local versus global identities (how does The Canterbury Tales and its encyclopedia of English types offer some sense of English geopolitical identity? How do figures whose identity is more global in nature – The Knight, The Shipman, even the Wife of Bath – align/diverge from figures of a more strictly local/English variety?)
  • Self and Other (How are foreign cultures and religions aside from Christianity constructed and depicted in The Canterbury Tales? How might their representations contribute to and or complicate a sense of Englishness?) 

  • Adaptation (Chaucer’s literary afterlives, postcolonial responses to Chaucer and the Canterbury Tales)


Required Texts: Students must purchase these exact texts and bring them to every class in which they’re assigned (see the course schedule for details).

  • Geoffrey Chaucer. The Canterbury Tales. Robert Boenig and Andrew Taylor (Broadview, second edition)
  • Patience Agbabi. Telling Tales.
  • The Refugee Tales, Volumes I and II


  • Discussion Forums: 40%
  • Secondary Reading Report: 10%
  • Recitation: (now extra credit)
  • Mid-Quarter Bibliography + Prospectus: 15%
  • Final Project: 35%

Participation: The success of this class, and any humanities class really, hinges on the active engagement and intellectual curiosity of all in attendance. While I will lecture from time to time as needed, the majority of our class meetings will be focused on and driven by student-led inquiry and interest. Your ideas, interests, questions, etc. will be what propels us forward. 

Discussion Forums: Each week you will be asked to participate in a discussion forum focused on the 1-2 tales we'll be discussing that week. In the spirit of flexibility, I will not be overly prescriptive here. That being said, your grade for this portion of the assignment will hinge on the quality of your engagement with others (either by way of sustaining a conversation you started, chiming in meaningfully and substantially in conversations started by others, asking generative questions, etc.). At the end of each week, you'll submit a compilation of all of your comments to the designated assignment page. This will ensure that I don't miss any over your contributions as I review the forum. I strongly encourage you to write these entries in a word doc first, and then copy and past them over to the forum. This way, you won't have to hunt through the forum for your own entries at week's end. 

Secondary Reading Reports: In the course schedule, I have listed several secondary readings for each class period. While a select few are required (and are clearly labeled as such), most of them are highly recommended, but not required, reading for all students. However, in order to enrich our discussions (and to ensure that all students are allowed to practice reading and synthesizing scholarly works), students will commit to reading at least one secondary reading throughout the quarter. We will fill out a sign-up sheet in our first class meeting so that everyone knows the days/readings for which they are responsible. All of these readings, unless otherwise stated, will be available on our Canvas page well in advance of the week in question (Look in the section labeled Files for the Course Readings folder). Students will be asked to read their assigned article(s) in advance of the respective class and to come to class with a typed report (see prompt for details) and prepared to give students a brief overview of the reading’s argument and its major claims. You will, in this sense be discussion leaders for a significant portion of the class. Please see the prompt (handed out in our first meeting and/or on our Assignments page in Canvas) for complete details.

Recitation: Between the start of class and the end of week 3, come to my office hours (or set up a meeting time if you have a class or work conflict with those hours) and recite from memory the first twenty-seven lines of the General Prologue of The Canterbury Tales in the best Middle English pronunciation you can muster! The key to doing well on this assignment lies in effort: I am not expecting flawless Middle English or a performance devoid of any errors. What you need to demonstrate, however, is that you’ve taken care in studying how to pronounce Chaucer’s Middle English and that you’ve put forward a good faith effort to memorize the passage in question. To further reassure you, we will go over Middle English pronunciation in our class hours (and I've provided resources and recording of myself to aid you in your practice), and you are always welcome to do a practice round with me in advance.

Annotated Bibliography + Prospectus: At the end of Week 5, you'll submit a 2-3 double-spaced proposal for your final project and an annotated bibliography containing no fewer than 5 scholarly sources (at least three of which must be the product of your own research, rather than what's available through the syllabus/canvas page).  

Final Project: The final project will invite all students to critically and creatively engage with adaptations of the Canterbury Tales.  You will be invited to pick one of the following options:

  • Write a research paper (12 double-spaced typed pages) on a particular adaptation of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. I will provide you with a list of adaptations to pick from early on in the course, but you are welcome to select one that’s not on the list if you wish (provided you run the work by me in advance). You will be asked to engage with at least 7 scholarly sources (i.e. they must be cited in your essay and included in a bibliography at the end of the short essay.
  • Create your own adaptation of one or more Canterbury Tales in a genre/medium of your choosing. This assignment must reflect keen critical engagement with the material (i.e. it must signal that careful research and close-reading have been done); to this end, you will also be asked to consult and engage with scholarly material, though you will obviously not “cite” said material as you would in a scholarly paper.


Other Policies and Notes of Import:

Email and Office hours: If you have a question that can be answered in 1-2 sentences, please feel free to send an email, and I will respond as soon as possible (if you email me over the weekend, expect a response no earlier than noon on Monday). If your questions require a lengthy response, please bring them to me during office hours. If my office hours conflict with your schedule, contact me and we will find an alternate time/way to meet. Please note that I am committed to checking email at least once a day on weekdays, and ask that all of you make the same commitment. With rare exception, I do not check email over the weekend, so if you have pressing questions that need to be addressed before the following week, make sure that you send them to me before noon on Friday.

Access and Accommodations It is very important to me that all students are able to thrive in this classroom environment. If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please communicate your approved accommodations to me at your earliest convenience so we can discuss your needs in this course.

If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), you are welcome to contact DRS at 206-543-8924 or or DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or temporary health conditions.  Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process between you, your instructor(s) and DRS. It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law.

On Religious Accommodations: “Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy ( Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form (”


On Plagiarism: The Student Conduct Code defines plagiarism as follows:

“Plagiarism, . . .  is the submission or presentation of someone else’s words, composition, research, or expressed ideas, whether published or unpublished, without attribution. Plagiarism includes, but is not limited to:

  1. The use, by paraphrase or direct quotation, of the published or unpublished work of another person without full and clear acknowledgment; or
  2. The unacknowledged use of materials prepared by another person or acquired from an entity engaging in the selling of term papers or other academic materials.”

If plagiarism is suspected, a student will be asked to meet with me, and the following general rules/procedures will apply:

  • For minor infractions (1-2 missing citations, failure to use quotation marks in 1-2 instances, clear evidence that plagiarism was accidental, etc):
    • Option either to revise and earn up to 75% for the assignment in question; or to abandon the assignment. Final grade will be an average of the rest of the assignments in the course.
    • Possible reporting of said student to the Dean’s Representative for Academic Conduct
  • For major infractions (i.e. numerous plagiarized passages, clear evidence that the essay was written by someone else and/or stolen or purchased wholesale)
    • Automatic zero for the assignment.
    • No option for revision of said assignment.
    • Automatic reporting of said student to the Dean’s Representative for Academic Conduct.

The bottom line: Don’t plagiarize! It is never, ever worth it, and it is shockingly easy to detect. I take plagiarism incredibly seriously because I believe strongly in the value of the work I’ve assigned you. I want you to learn and grow through the work that I’m asking you to do in this class, and that learning and growth will not happen if you take the work of another person and pass it off as your own. 

On DACA: The University of Washington strives to provide a safe, secure, and welcoming environment that protects the privacy and human rights of everyone in our community. UW’s longstanding policies do not permit immigration officials to enter UW classrooms or residence halls without a court order, and I will not share any information about a student’s immigration status. For guidance regarding immigration status, please consult the following resource through Leadership Across Borders ( and the following through the Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity ( You can also email with questions and concerns.

On Our Classroom Environment:

Here is the English Department’s Statement of Diversity:  

The UW English Department aims to help students become more incisive thinkers, effective communicators, and imaginative writers by acknowledging that language and its use are powerful and hold the potential to empower individuals and communities; to provide the means to engage in meaningful conversation and collaboration across differences and with those with whom we disagree; and to offer methods for exploring, understanding, problem solving, and responding to the many pressing collective issues we face in our world--skills that align with and support the University of Washington’s mission to educate “a diverse student body to become responsible global citizens and future leaders through a challenging learning environment informed by cutting-edge scholarship.”

As a department, we begin with the conviction that language and texts play crucial roles in the constitution of cultures and communities, past, present, and future.  Our disciplinary commitments to the study of language, literature, and culture require of us a willingness to engage openly and critically with questions of power and difference. As such, in our teaching, service, and scholarship we frequently initiate and encourage conversations about topics such as race, immigration, gender, sexuality, class, indigeneity, and colonialisms. These topics are fundamental to the inquiry we pursue.  We are proud of this fact, and we are committed to creating an environment in which our faculty and students can do so confidently and securely, knowing that they have the backing of the department.

Towards that aim, we value the inherent dignity and uniqueness of individuals and communities. We acknowledge that our university is located on the shared lands and waters of the Coast Salish peoples. We aspire to be a place where human rights are respected and where any of us can seek support. This includes people of all ethnicities, faiths, gender identities, national and indigenous origins, political views, and citizenship status; nontheists; LGBQTIA+; those with disabilities; veterans; and anyone who has been targeted, abused, or disenfranchised.

Our classroom will, as a result, be radically inclusive, open to ideas, questions, and debates born out of genuine curiosity and rooted in a desire for knowledge and intellectual growth. It will be a space for rigorous and deep discourse, and it will be a space that actively resists any and all racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, religious and nontheist discrimination, and misogyny.



 The readings are due on the day that they appear. Please be sure to re-read the description of the tale-teller in the General Prologue before you read the tale itself! All links to readings can be found in the relevant weekly section over in Assignments > Readings. 

 Week 1 Introduction to Chaucer, Late Medieval England, and Middle English

  • Required reading: General Prologue
    • Simon Horobin, “Middle English” (From OACCT)
  • Recommended: Introduction (9-43), William Thorpe’s Testimony on Pilgrimages and Benedict of Canterbury’s Miracles of St. Thomas a Becket (Broadview, 468-473); Stephen Greenblatt, “Culture”

 Week 2  Fortune, Courtly Love, and The Knight's Tale

  • Required Reading: The translation of The Knight’s Tale.
    • Pick ONE:
      • Christine Chism, “The Knight’s Tale” (OACCT)
      • Julie Orlemanski, "Suffering Bodies in The Knight's Tale," OACCT
  • Secondary Reading:
    • Larry Benson, “Courtly Love and Chivalry in the Middle Ages"
    • Allan Mitchell, “Romancing Ethics in Boethius, Chaucer, and Levinas.”

Week 3   Chaucer and The Fabliaux Genre: The Miller's and Reeve's Tale

  • Required Reading: The Miller’s Prologue and Tale, The Reeve's Prologue and Tale 
    • Kathy Lavezzo “Protest, Complaint, and Uprising in The Miller’s Tale” (OACCT)
    • William Rhodes, “Wages, Work, Wealth, and Economic Inequality in The Reeve’s Tale” (OACCT)
  •  Strongly Recommended: D. S. Brewer “The Fabliaux.”
  • Secondary reading:
    • Xiaolei Sun (孙晓蕾), “When Fabliau Humour in Chaucer’s The Miller’s Prologue and Tale meets Chinese Translation and Culture”
    • Carissa Harris, "Felawe Masculinity: Teaching Rape Culture in The Canterbury Tales"
    • Holly Crocker, "Affective Politcs in Chaucer's Reeve's Tale"


Week 4  The Wife of Bath and Gendered Reading 

  • Required reading: The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale
    • Jovinian excerpts in textbook
    • Emma Lipton “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue” (OACCT)
    •  Carissa Harris, “Rape and Justice in The Wife of Bath’s Tale”
  • Secondary Reading:
    • Carolyn Dinshaw, “‘Glose/bele chose’: The Wife of Bath and Her Glossators” (In Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics)
    • Mary Carruthers “The Wife of Bath and the Painting of the Lions”

Week 5 Gendered and Class-Based Power in the Clerk's Tale

April 29th: The Clerk’s Tale

  • Required reading: The Clerk’s Tale (pp. 189-208)
    • Susan Nakley, “The Clerk’s Tale” (OACCT)
  • Secondary Reading:
    • Elizabeth Scala “Desire in the Canterbury Tales” 123-152
    • Michael Raby, "The Clerk's Tale and the Forces of Habit"

Mid-quarter Annotated Bibliography + Prospectus due Friday, May 1st by 5pm

Week 6 Chaucerian Afterlives, Part the First

  • Required Reading:
    • The Refugee Tales, volumes I and II (selections TBD)
    • Telling Tales. Read all of the remixes of the General Prologue and the tales we’ve read thus far in the quarter.
    • Tom White, “Lives Suspended”
    • Sierra Lomuto, “Chaucer and Humanitarian Activism”
  • Secondary Reading: Kathleen Forni, Chaucer’s Afterlives, Chapter 1 and Chapter 4.

Week 7  The Pardoner and Gender (de) Construction

  • Required: The Pardoner's Prologue, Tale, and Epilogue 
    • Kim Zarins, “The Pardoner” (OACT)
  • Secondary Reading:
    • Carolyn Dinshaw, “Eunuch Hermeneutics.” In Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics
    • Gabrielle M.W. Bychowski, “Genres of Embodiment: A Theory of Medieval Transgender Literature.”
    • Robyn Malo, "The Pardoner's Relics (And Why They Matter Most)
    • Lisa Lampert-Weissig, "Chaucers Pardoner and the Jews"
    • David Lavinsky, "Turned To Fables: Efficacy, Form, and Literary Making in the Pardoner's Tale

Week 8  Chaucer and Racial-Religious Difference

 May 18th: The Man of Law’s Prologue and Tale

  • Required Reading:
    • The Man of Law’s Introduction, Prologue, and Tale (I strongly recommend reading the entire tale, but due to it's length, please feel free to stop after Custance is placed in the rudderless boat by the Sultaness and read a summary of the rest)
    • The Prioress’s Prologue and Tale
    • Emily Steiner, “The Prioress’ Tale” (OACCT)
    •  Cord J. Whitaker, “Race and Racism: The Man of Law’s Tale” (OACCT)
  • Secondary Reading:
    • Siobhain Bly Calkin, “The Man of Law’s Tale and Crusade.”
    • Celia Lewis, “History Mission and Crusade”
    • Sylvia Tomasch, “Postcolonial Chaucer and the Virtual Jew”
    • Miriamne Ara Krummel, “Haunted by Jews: Re-Membering the Medieval English Other”

 Week  9 Chaucer as (Romance) Reader, Chaucer as Pilgrim

  • Required Reading: “The Tale of Sir Thopas” + Prologues (292-96)
    • "Sir Perceval of Galles" (rough-but-ready translation from me forthcoming!)  
    • William M. Storm, “Imagining the World in Maps and Stories: Sir Thopas”
  • Secondary Reading: Jessica Brantley, "Reading the Forms in Sir Thopas"

 Week 10   Caucerian Afterlives, Pt. II, Course Wrap-up

  • Required: Patience Agbabi, Telling Tales (read her adaptations of the tales we have read since mid-quarter)


June 5th, 5pm: Final projects + written self-reflection + self/peer evaluations due.

June 10th 5pm: Final Project Extra Credit (Discussion Forum) deadline.


Catalog Description: 
Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and other poetry, with attention to Chaucer's social, historical, and intellectual milieu.
GE Requirements: 
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Last updated: 
January 17, 2020 - 2:10am