Chaucerian Afterlives: Theory and Praxis
This seminar explores the global reception history of Geoffrey Chaucer from his earliest English and French contemporaries to modern-day popular culture and digital media. Focusing on Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, our class will “code-switch” between medieval and postmedieval frames of reference. First, we will read selected poems by Chaucer in the original Middle English language alongside important works of historicist literary criticism; second, we will consider how Chaucerian works are repurposed in modern media (such as spoken word poetry, visual art, film, dialect literature, YouTube videos, and comic books). As this course toggles between two modes of reading, it tests the boundaries between literary criticism and popular reception history. It also asks how present-day translation theory confronts a perceived chasm separating static text-based models of “translation” from embodied culture-based models of “adaptation.” Readings will provide exposure to key critical terms in medievalism studies, comparative literary analysis, and adaptation studies, and we will explore some new methods and practices emergent in disability studies and the digital humanities (such as the open-access journal Accessus and the Global Chaucers project).
Assignments will include a comparative close reading that engages with current criticism; an analysis of digital adaptation, product, or archive; and 20-page research-based essay or a 20-minute conference paper.
Readings in addition to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and other works will include Deaf and Afro-Caribbean appropriations of The Wife of Bath’s Tale (Peter Cook’s Finger-licious Stories, Jean “Binta” Breeze’s “The Wife of Bath Speaks in Brixton Market,” Patience Agbabi’s Telling Tales). We will also read selections from Chaucerian reworkings by contemporary Latina/o and Asian-American fiction writers; Bruce Holsinger’s historical novel The Invention of Fire (2015); and Paul Strohm’s public-facing “microbiography” of Chaucer entitled Chaucer’s Tale (2015).
This course is open to graduate students and advanced undergraduates in English or a related field (such as American Studies, History, or Women’s Studies).
The course fulfills the pre-1700 requirement of the GW undergraduate English major.
No prior experience in Chaucer is assumed. With the exception of Chaucerian works in Middle English, all non-English works will be provided in modern English translation.
Agbabi, Patience. Telling Tales (Canongate, 2014).
Lynch, Kathryn (ed). Geoffrey Chaucer: Dream Visions and Other Poems (Norton, 2006).
Mann, Jill (ed). Geoffrey Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales (Penguin, 2005).
Ashton, Gail (ed). Medieval Afterlives in Contemporary Culture (Bloomsbury, 2015).
Emery, Elizabeth, and Richard Utz (eds). Medievalism: Key Critical Terms (Boydell, 2014).
Holsinger, Bruce. The Invention of Fire: A Novel (William Morrow, 2015).
Nelson, Marilyn. The Cachoeira Tales and Other Poems (Louisiana State, 2005).
Strohm, Paul. Chaucer’s Tale: 1386 and the Road to Canterbury (Penguin, 2015).