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Michael Stoff, Director 305 East 23rd St, CLA 2.102, (G3600) Austin, TX 78712-1250 • 512-471-1442

Spring 2007

T C 357 • The Art of The Book: Picturing the Canterbury Tales 1400-1930

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
43405 TTh
12:30 PM-2:00 PM
CAL 200

Course Description

Chaucers 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 Chaucers 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. Englands 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 Chaucers 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: Caxtons second edition of the Canterbury Tales (1483); William Morris Kelmscott Chaucer (1896); ); the Medici Societys 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.

Grading Policy

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


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