Chaucer and the English Tradition

Module code: EN2010

Module co-ordinator: Dr Anne-Marie D'Arcy

This module will introduce you to one of the most important periods in the development of English literature, the 14th and 15th centuries. Geoffrey Chaucer is known as the 'father of English poetry', but we will question the validity of this label.

We will investigate how Chaucer's dizzying mixture of different voices and strands of thought make it difficult to claim his work as the bedrock of any single, cohesive tradition. We will explore how the porous boundaries of his work, which draws equally from Italian, Latin and French, challenge the notion of a securely 'English' literature. In later weeks we will look beyond Chaucer and consider a number of his contemporaries, such as the radical visionary William Langland. Since these poets were often working in other poetic forms for different audiences and reasons, their work again highlights the problems of referring to a singular, seamless English tradition. By engaging closely with the poets' use of language and genre, and by considering their work from a variety of critical viewpoints, you will gain an appreciation of the richness and complexity of medieval poetry, and of the incipient English tradition it produced.

Topics covered

The module focuses on a selection of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and other late medieval works. From Chaucer, you will read:

  • The General Prologue
  • The Knight's Tale
  • The Miller's Tale
  • The Reeve's Tale
  • The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale
  • The Franklin's Tale
  • The Prioress's Tale
  • The Man of Law's Tale

Alongside these texts you will study selected extracts from Langland's Piers Plowman and other works. These span the genres of dream vision, romance, fabliau, hagiography and estates satire, which will be discussed in detail in lectures and seminars.




  • Passage analysis (20%)
  • Exam, 2 hours (80%)