This course will study Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, including its influential source texts, its unforgettable narratives, and its historical context within Medieval England.
Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is among the most influential works of English literature. The frame narrative revolves around a storytelling competition that features tales of every genre: the romantic quest of the chivalrous knight; the perilous voyage into the unknown; the bawdy plot of the trickster’s prank; and the magical transformation of the landscape, among several others. Chaucer’s pilgrims craft stories that test the boundaries of social possibility, weighing the competing claims of allegory and realism; chivalry and commerce; and traditional authority and individual experience. As we read through the Canterbury Tales, we will ride along with the Canterbury pilgrims on our own journey through the Middle Ages.
Led by an emerging scholar of medieval literature, Margaret McCurry, this course will guide participants through prominent selections from the Canterbury Tales. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will enjoy learning about the historical and cultural background of the celebrated text and studying its insight into the human condition. This course is intended for participants with little to no prior experience in studying medieval literature; translations in Modern English will be provided.
You may also be interested in A Second Literary Pilgramage Through the Canterbury Tales: A Six-Part Course with Margaret McCurry. The two courses can be taken in tandem or independently in any order.
Lecture 1: The General Prologue
What compels this motley group of pilgrims to travel to Canterbury? By studying the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, this lecture will introduce the text’s frame narrative, as well as provide an overview of the history, culture, and language of early Medieval England.
Lecture 2: “The Knight’s Tale”
This lecture explores “The Knight’s Tale,” which follows two knights whose friendship is put to the test when they fall in love with the same princess. This tale will introduce the literary landscape of the medieval era as well as the provocative themes of chivalry and courtly love.
Lecture 3: The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale
As the only laywoman among the thirty pilgrims, the Wife of Bath commands attention when it is time to tell her Tale. Her Prologue, however, is longer than the Tale itself; it relates her intimate personal history, which describes her five marriages, her desire to gain sovereignty over her partners, and her insatiable appetite for sex. In this lecture, we will analyze the intricacies of the Wife of Bath’s Prologue—especially its conflicting themes of experience and authority. We will also study the history of antifeminism within the medieval church.
Lecture 4: The Prologue to and Tale of Sir Thopas, and the Host’s Interruption; “The Tale of Melibee”
The final lecture will study the tales told by “Geffrey,” the intentionally unflattering literary representation of Geoffrey Chaucer himself. Geffrey’s first tale, “The Tale of Sir Thopas,” is so simplistic and clichéd that it is interrupted by the other pilgrims, who ask that he tell another tale. His second tale, “The Tale of Melibee,” is equally, if not more maladroit. By reading Geffrey’s clumsy tales as tongue-in-cheek literary commentary, we will learn about the ironic genius of Geoffrey Chaucer.
About Your Expert
Margaret McCurry holds a master's degree in English Literature from New York University, where she is currently working towards completing her doctorate degree. She is an emerging scholar of medieval literature, particularly of the medieval mystical tradition. Fascinated by the moments when words fail to fully capture or articulate meaning, her theoretical interests lie in non-verbal linguistics, musicology and sound studies, and disability studies.
How does it work?
This is a four-part series held weekly and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture.
Is there a reading list in advance?
Though the course is open to participants with no background on Chaucer, there are suggested readings for further investigation. You will receive this soon after course registration.
How long are the lectures?
Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time for Q&A.
How much is the course?
The course is $140 for four lectures.
Is a recording available?
Yes. If you need to miss a lecture please let us know and we can arrange for a recording for that session on an individual basis.
This conversation is suitable for all ages.
90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.
I greatly enjoyed this course. It rekindled my interest in Chaucer and increased my appreciation for the Canterbury Tales. Margaret is a true delight. An enthusiastic teacher and fan of Chaucer, she provides interesting insights in an entertaining, charming style. I look forward to taking her future courses.
I signed up for this series to fill in a gap in my education & quickly became entranced by Chaucer & his Tales. The credit goes to Margaret McCurry, who shared insights into the stories, with great clarity & enthusiasm. She also provided rich background info on Middle Ages in England: humor, dress, role of women & clergy. Margaret is such a gifted presenter, such a joy to listen to, that I will be signing up for any Context courses she teaches.
I have taken a number of courses and seminars with Context, and Ms. McCurry is the best lecturer I have had. She expands the subject to consider related literary works and historical context. She is articulate and displays a love and enthusiasm for her subject. Her analysis of the material is insightful.
This was an excellent course which held my interest throughout.
This was part 2 of Chaucer. I know most of the history, culture and political and social system. Notwithstanding that, I learned more about Chaucer writing , plus I knew little about The Knight's Tail. I learned a lot about that and more about the book in general.