Chaucer and the Middle Ages

Chaucer and the Middle Ages
 

  1. Why do the ladies of King Arthur’s court want to pass judgment on the Knight instead of agreeing to his execution?
  2. Why is the knight in this tale given this unusual punishment for his crime?
  3. What’s wrong with the answers the knight collects on his quest?
  4. Why does the Wife interject her opinion that it is “very near the truth” that what women want most is flattery and attentiveness?  How does this square with her claim in the Tale that what they want is mastery?
  5. According to the old hag, what does she teach the knight about nobility or “gentilesse”?
  6. Is this tale a kind of wish-fulfillment for women — or for men?
  7. How does the old woman’s external transformation reflect or parallel the knight’s own internal transformation?
  8. 

Prologue and Tale

Helpful Wife of Bath’s Tale discussion questions can be found here!

  1. “Experience” the Wife begins, “though no authority were in this world, is good enough for me to speak of woe that is in marriage.”  She then proceeds to tell a long prologue of her marriages to five different men, “three of [whom] were good and two were bad.”  Her tale, interestingly, also focuses on a marriage, one in which true harmony is achieved when the woman gets “mastery” or control.  Is the Wife’s happiest marriage the one in which she herself gets “mastery”?  If not, how can we explain this contradiction?  In short, what does this woman really want?  How does the answer to this question help communicate the central message, point, or theme of this tale?
  2. Does the Wife of Bath’s Tale reveal that what she most desires to be an obedient wife?

 

 Note: Some questions taken or adapted from this site or from this site.

 

 Resources for the Media-Minded       

 

NOTE: Resources are mandatory unless specifically marked “Optional.”  Optional resources, like the optional readings, are just that — optional.  They are there for your convenience and to help expand your understanding of the course material.  If you’re having a hardtime understanding something, the optional materials can often be very helpful to you.  If you have suggestions for optional material you would like to see on this page, please email me at burkerv@interact.ccsd.net with your suggestions.       



Original Manuscript of The Canterbury Tales

 Overview       

Chaucer is one of the most vital and engaging poets of the English language, a person whose influence on poetry cannot really be understated.  Importing Italian and French conventions into his writing, Chaucer can be credited with introducing iambic pentameter to English poetry — and being very darned funny in the process.  The Canterbury Tales paints a richly-detailed picture of medieval life, rather like a Renaissance Faire but without the bad fried food!      

Preliminary Reading      

 NOTE: Outline or take textual notes on all textbook information that you are asked to read.  I will give occasional open-note quizzes, so taking notes will definitely help your understanding.        

  •  Familiarize yourself with the concept of the three medieval “estates”: those who fight, those who pray, those who work.
  • Prior to reading the Canterbury Tales, read the biography of Chaucer, pp. 107-110 and 139-140 in your text Language of Literature.

Literature Selection: The Canterbury Tales        

NOTE: Unless otherwise specified, all literature selections refer to your text, The Language of Literature.      

NOTE: Readings are mandatory unless specifically marked “Optional.”  They are given to help you understand the course material.  If you’re having a hard time understanding something, the optional materials can often be very helpful to you.  If you have suggestions for optional material you would like to see on this page, please email me at burkerv@interact.ccsd.net with your suggestions.       

  •  Please read the “General Prologue,” pp. 112-136 in your text.
  •  Get a general “feel” for each of these characters and pay attention to any description that seems ironic or tongue in cheek.
  • Read “The Pardoner’s Tale,” pp. 141-151.
  •  Read “The Wife of Bath’s Tale,” pp. 154-167.
  • OPTIONAL:  Chaucer Notes provided for your reference.
  • OPTIONAL: Great site for all things Chaucer, including an interlinear text — that is, a modern English translation in between the Middle English lines.  It also explains each one of the tales and gives resources.
  • OPTIONAL:   Medieval Era Notes 1066-1387    provided for your reference.
  • OPTIONAL: Overall helpful site on British history throughout the ages — a BBC teaching site.
  • OPTIONAL: Really cool!  Animated Bayeux Tapestry!

Questions for the Canterbury Tales

 General Prologue    

 NOTE:  Below are several groups of questions we will most likely be addressing in class.  These are put here for your convenience and reflection.  It would be helpful to you for you to review these questions and think about how you would answer them before we discuss these works together.        

We will engage in close reading of the opening sentence to Chaucer’s General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales and examine the following:        

  • How do this sentence’s motifs of springtime, fertility, fecundity, et cetera, help set the tone for the Tales?
  • How do these motifs in many ways act in tension with the (ostensible) purpose of pilgrimage to a holy shrine?
  • How does this tension help Chaucer convey one of his themes in the tales?
  • Especially pay attention to those often (deliberately!) jarring linkages between one statement and another, like Chaucer’s notorious description of the sore on the Cook’s leg and his praise of the man’s blancmange.
  • Pay attention to Chaucer’s gift for satire, particularly satire of corrupt clergypeople.  “Those who pray” are too often “those who prey”!

Assignment for the General Prologue

 NOTE:  Below are questions we will most likely be addressing in class.  These are put here for your convenience and reflection.  It would be helpful to you for you to review these questions and think about how you would answer them before we discuss these works together.      

  
This assignment asks you to look at representatives from each of the three medieval estates and answer questions about how seriously we are to take each of these pilgrim portraits.  Are there jarring or incongruous details in these portraits that suggest we are not supposed to take this person entirely at face value?

Questions for “The Pardoner’s Tale”     

NOTE: Pay particular attention to the reaction of the Host to the tale (and the teller).  Chaucer raises a curious question here — well, a few of them:       

  1. Can a good sermon be taught by a corrupt speaker?
  2. Why does the Pardoner reveal the secrets of his trade — that his supposedly holy relics are little more than pigs’ bones and rags, and that he essentially conducts a “con job” on those who listen to his sales pitch? 
  3. Why does the Host — an event your book does not relate, I notice — become so angry at the Pardoner?

Questions for “The Wife of Bath’s Tale”     

Prereading:

  1. Who should have “mastery” in a marriage — the woman or the man?
  2.  

 

Tale

 

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