BA Art History and English Literature

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Chaucer: Texts, Contexts, Conflicts

Unit code ENGL20231
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by School of Arts, Histories and Cultures
Available as a free choice unit? No


The course focuses on a selection from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, along with some writing by Chaucer’s contemporaries. We will consider such central themes as genre, gender, constructions of the self and community. The lectures will provide a context for the selected texts and will aim to raise central issues and to stimulate debate. One-hour weekly workshops will help you to read Chaucer’s Middle English and will also engage in close reading exercises. Seminars will support a more detailed study and analysis of the primary texts, taking in to consideration historical and cultural contexts but focusing in particular on criticism. 


  • to develop students’ exploration of the Middle English period through study, in the original language, of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales
  • to develop a further understanding of relevant historical and cultural contexts
  • to engage students with published criticism on Chaucer and to current critical debates in relation to his works
  • to study other writing of the period
  • to develop students’ research skills
  • to develop a range of skills appropriate to a second year level of understanding medieval writing: written (including electronic forms) and verbal forms of expression; reflective or critical thinking; and the ability to organize material appropriately including into a coherent literary argument.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course unit the successful student will have demonstrated:

  • a capacity to read Chaucer in the original language and an understanding of the range and variety of his works
  • an ability to engage critically with a range of Chaucer’s writing through the detailed study of particular tales and their place in a wider context
  • an understanding of relevant cultural, historical and critical matters
  • an ability to deploy a range of skills appropriate to a level 2 unit in understanding medieval writing: to work independently towards both the examination and the essay
  • developing the following range of skills: research, critical or reflective thinking, oral/aural (active listening), electronic retrieval; and to organize a coherent argument by paying attention to both close reading techniques and informed by an awareness of current critical debates

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Students taking this unit will be able to analyse and evaluate arguments and texts. Above all, committed students will emerge from this course unit with an advanced capacity to think critically, i.e. knowledgeably, rigorously, confidently and independently.
Group/team working
Students taking this unit will be able to work courteously and constructively as part of a larger group.
On this unit students are encouraged to respond imaginatively and independently to the questions and ideas raised by texts and other media.
Students on this unit must take responsibility for their learning and are encouraged not only to participate in group discussions but to do so actively and even to lead those discussions.
Project management
Students taking this unit will be able to work towards deadlines and to manage their time effectively.
Oral communication
Students taking this unit will be able to show fluency, clarity and persuasiveness in spoken communication.
Students on this unit will be required to digest, summarise and present large amounts of information. They are encouraged to enrich their responses and arguments with a wide range of further reading.
Written communication
Students on this unit will develop their ability to write in a way that is lucid, precise and compelling.

Assessment methods

2,500 word essay (50%); two-hour unseen exam (50%)

The use of dictionaries in the examination is prohibited. This rule applies to all categories of students, including all Visiting Students.

Feedback methods

Written and face-to-face (upon arrangement)

Recommended reading


The set text is V.A. Kolve and Glending Olson, eds. The Canterbury Tales: Seventeen Tales and the General Prologue, 3rd ed. (New York: Norton, 2018).

Note that this edition has been selected to give you the maximum assistance in reading Chaucer’s Middle English, so please don’t be tempted to buy any other. Online editions (while they have their uses) are not acceptable for this course.

You should begin by reading the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales. Although the precise details of the reading changes slightly each year, in 2018-19 we will certainly be looking at the prologues and tales of the Miller, Reeve, Cook, Wife of Bath, and Pardoner.

If you want to get ahead on critical reading and general context, you could begin with David Wallace, Geoffrey Chaucer: A New Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017). For Chaucer’s immediate context, see Paul Strohm, The Poet’s Tale (Profile, 2015). 

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 165

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
David Matthews Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Timetable for 2019/20:

Lecture: Mon 12pm - 1pm

Lecture: Tue 2pm - 3pm

Seminar 1: Wed 9am - 10am

Seminar 2: Thu 10am - 11am

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