ENGL 330 Virtual Quarter / ENGL 330 face-to-face quarter / ENGL 512: Medieval Literature
Dr. Debora B. Schwartz
English Department, California Polytechnic State University

The Canterbury Tales I: 
The General Prologue (GP)
[page numbers refer to NA 9th ed., 2012; for page numbers in 8th ed., 2006, click HERE]

General: Background Information

Review class notes from our unit on Troilus and Cressida.  Reread the general background information NA 13-17 (on the Fourteenth Century), 19-24 (for help in navigating Chaucer's Middle English in assigned NA passages), 25 (last paragraph only, on characteristics of Chaucerian verse) and 238-243 (headnotes to Chaucer, the Canterbury Tales and the General Prologue).  Also consult the e-reserve reading the Tips for Pronouncing Chaucer's English and the Map of the Pilgrimage Route/Chart of the Four Humors (on e-reserve).  If necessary, consult NA A10-A27 to look up unfamiliar literary terminology. Know the significance of the following names/terms: dream vision, the Romance of the Rose, Boethius (esp. his Consolation of Philosophy), Boccaccio (esp. his Decameron), the Tabard, Saint Thomas Becket, Canterbury Cathedral.  Know dates for Chaucer's birth and death (NA 238) and for the composition of the Canterbury Tales collection as a whole (NA 241-2). What was Chaucer's social class? Was his life experience limited by his birth? How did he come by his familiarity with other aspects of fourteenth-century English society? What factors contributed to his formal and informal education? What languages did he read and how was he likely to have learned them (NA 238-40)? Know meaning of the term "frame narrative" and what Italian work (author and title) was a model of this genre (if not a source) for Chaucer (see NA 241-2). Know what is meant by the "fragments" of the Canterbury Tales (NA 242). How many Canterbury Tales were originally planned? How many of the projected tales were actually written? What sort of verse is used for the Canterbury Tales? What was its metrical form? (know the correct term and be able to define it -- number of syllables and stress pattern -- see NA 25, and if necessary the appendix, NA A10-A27, for unfamiliar literary terms).

You are also responsible for the headnote, NA 340, on the close of the Canterbury Tales (some quarters we will discuss the ending of the collection at the same time that we discuss the General Prologue; other quarters we may not discuss it until the end of the Canterbury Tales unit). Know how the theme of pilgrimage is used at the end of the work; consider how it has changed from its use at the beginning. What is the symbolic value of that change? Know what time of day is evoked at the end of the tales and the symbolism associated with that time of day. Know what is meant by Chaucer's "Retraction."  Be sure to read Introduction to the Parson's Tale and the Retraction both in translation (pp. 339-342 in the Portable Chaucer when it is a required textbook, or available on e-reserve) and in Middle English (NA 340-343).  In the NA excerpt from the Introduction to the Parson's Tale, pay particular attention to the following lines: 1-9, 30-51.


Read assignments FIRST in modern English translation; THEN read assigned *Middle English passages* in the Norton Anthology (indicated by LINE NUMBER before the study questions for each individual reading).  YOU WILL NEED TO CONSULT FOOTNOTES AND MARGINAL GLOSSES. Remember: it can be helpful to read Middle English aloud. Be sure to allow yourself ADEQUATE TIME to read assigned passages in the middle English text.

In ALL of your readings, don't forget to look for and note any mentions of the key terms/themes GENTILESSE (adj. GENTIL) and TROUTHE (adj. TREWE). Review Chaucer's poems "Gentilesse" and "Truth", NA 317 and online reading; translations are on e-reserve or consult The Portable Chaucer pp. 602-4.  Keep in mind differences between the values and world view of the Old English and Middle English periods; note also differences in tone, subject and purpose between the secular literature of Chaucer and the religious works of the Middle English period which we have read thus far.

Contents of this and linked pages Copyright Debora B. Schwartz, 1999-2020

Click here for specific Study Questions for the General Prologue

Click here for specific Study Questions for the Knight's Tale

Click here for specific Study Questions for the Miller's Tale

Click here for specific Study Questions for the Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale

Click here for specific Study Questions for the Franklin's Tale

Click here for specific Study Questions for the Nun's Priest's Tale

Click here for specific Study Questions for the Pardoner's Prologue and Tale

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