E 376 • Chaucer - Honors
12:30 PM-2:00 PM
The Art of the Book: Picturing the Canterbury Tales, 1400-1930-- Chaucer's Canterbury Tales is one of the cornerstones of the English literary tradition. Its collection of various literary genres, both serious and comic, are voiced by individual narrators, like the Wife of Bath, almost as famous as Chaucer himself. Since its authors death in 1400, the Canterbury Tales has been available to a reading audience in a variety of textual forms, which themselves trace the history of bookmaking from hand-copied manuscript and elaborately produced illustrated edition to contemporary pulp fiction. This course seeks to introduce students to the witty and sophisticated complexity of Chaucer's story collection and to the history of the book.
We will examine Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in the cultural context provided by the transition from medieval manuscript to early modern print culture. Tracing the origin of that culture from the period immediately following Chaucer's death, we will begin with the famous Ellesmere manuscript (now Huntington Library MS EL 27 C 9) available in full color facsimile in the HRC. England's first printer, William Caxton, produced an edition of the Canterbury Tales (1478) as one of his first four books to be offered to the London public. Reading through some of the woodcut illustrated fifteenth-century prints (also available in the HRC and through online sources), we will trace the print history of Chaucer's most famous work into the early twentieth century, the great age of the art book. We will focus particularly on a number of famous illustrated texts: Caxton's second edition of the Canterbury Tales (1483); William Morris' Kelmscott Chaucer (1896); ); the Medici Society's edition illustrated by Russell Flint (1913); the Golden Cockerel Press edition of the Canterbury Tales illustrated by Eric Gill (1929-31); and the Covici-Friede editions illustrated by Rockwell Kent (1930). A number of our classes will be held in the Seminar room of the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, where we can examine hand-copied manuscripts, early and later landmark editions, fine art books, and various facsimiles. No experience reading in Middle English is required, though a willingness to learn is necessary.
1 short essay (3 pages), 10%
1 longer essay revising the first paper (5 pages), 15%
1 annotated bibliography, 10%
1 research paper (10-15 pages), 40%
1 peer-review (on an early draft of the research essay), 5%
Informal in-class writing, 10%
Regular and consistent classroom preparation and participation, 10%
The Canterbury Tales, Complete, ed. Larry Benson (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000)
The Canterbury Tales, Derek Pearsall (NY: Routledge, 1993)
Ornamentation and Illustrations from the Kelmscott Chaucer, William Morris (NY: Dover, 1973)
Sourcebook of secondary readings available at Speedway in the Dobie Mall or on reserve