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EH 650: The Ecological Chaucer (graduate)

If we believe the literary historian John Fisher, then Geoffrey Chaucer was the face of a vernacular movement in the early-fifteenth century set about by the Lancastrian regime and King Henry V to implement English as the official and national language of Britain. Chaucer, then, stands at the threshold of the development of English both as a modern language and as a language of conquest and empire for the next six centuries. The goal of this course is to immerse you in the works and world of the late fourteenth-century poet Chaucer, who has been called the “Father of English Poetry.” We will read across Chaucer works touching on most of his poems.

Specifically, this semester, we will focus our discussions of Chaucer within an ecological frame. Chaucer, himself, was once a forrester and his poems maintain an at times conventional and at times peculiar sense of Nature, the environment, and the animal. To this end we will use Greg Garrad’s introduction to ecocriticism as a foundation for ecocritical study of Chaucer’s works. We will read, further, various twentieth- and twenty-first century literary ecocritics’ interpretations and close-readings of Chaucer’s works, as well as other medieval texts. These critical readings are meant to enhance discussion as well as provide models for sound close-reading, the writing of close-reading essays, and larger critical essays.



Helpful Links:

Middle English  Dictionary

Chaucer Online Bibliography

Chaucer Metapage (includes Chaucer texts online, bibliographies, numerous Chaucer websites)

Global Chaucers

In the Middle

Verbs of attribution


Aug. 21 Syllabus and Introduction to Chaucer

HW: Read Garrard Chapters 1 and 2 and Book of the Duchess in Dream Visions


Aug. 26 Book of the Duchess

HW: Read Garrard Chapter 4

Aug. 28 Book of the Duchess

HW: Read Garrard Chapters 3, 6, and 7 and Parliament of Fowles in Dream Visions


Sept. 2 Labor Day

Sept. 4 Parliament of Fowles

HW: Read Susan Crane “For the Birds” and Sarah Stanbury “Ecochaucer” (ANGEL)


Sept. 9 Parliament of Fowles, Karl Steel on Critical Animal Studies

HW: Read Ursula Heise, “Hitchiker’s Guide to Ecocriticism” (ANGEL) and House of Fame in Dream Visions

Sept. 11 House of Fame

HW: Read Timothy Morton, The Ecological Thought excerpt and Kordecki, “A Bestiary Portrait of the Artist” (ANGEL)


Sept. 16 House of Fame and the Ecological Thought

HW: Read “Prologue” to the Legend of Good Women in Dream Visions

Sept. 18 Legend of Good Women

HW: Read Karl Steel, How to Make a Human (ANGEL)  and Legend of Philomela in Dream Visions; see also Ovid’s version of the story from Metamorphoses (ANGEL)


Sept. 23 Legend of Philomela and the Posthuman

HW: Read Lisa Kiser, “Chaucer and the Politics of Nature” and Legend of Dido from Legend of Good Women

Sept. 25 Legend of Dido

HW: Legend of Ariadne and Thisbe in Dream Visions; read


Sept. 30 Reading Response Due, Legend of Ariadne and Thisbe

HW: Read “sample argument article”: Arthur Bahr's "Rhetorical Construction of Narrator and Narrative in Chaucer's Book of the Duchess" (ANGEL)

Oct. 2 Academic Writing

Read Timothy Morton, Ecology Without Nature excerpt (ANGEL), and General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales


Oct. 7 General Prologue

HW: Read The Knight’s Tale and J. Grimes, “Arboreal Politics in the Knight’s Tale” (ANGEL)

Oct. 9 The Knight’s Tale

HW: Read The Miller’s Tale and Cary Wolfe “Moving Forward, Kicking Back: the Animal Turn” (ANGEL)


Oct. 14 The Miller’s Tale and Critical Animal Studies

HW: Read The Reeve’s Tale and Sandy Feinstein, “The Reeve’s Tale: About That Horse” (ANGEL)

Oct. 16 The Reeve’s Tale

HW: finish Close-Reading Essay; Read The Merchant’s Tale


Oct. 21 Close-Reading Essay Due; The Merchant’s Tale

Read: The Friar’s Tale and Eric Weiskot, “Chaucer the Forester” (ANGEL)

Oct. 23 The Friar’s Tale

HW: Read Jane Bennet, Vibrant Matter (excerpt), Kellie Robertson, “Medieval Things” (ANGEL), The Squire’s Tale


Oct. 28 The Squire’s Tale and Object Oriented Ontology

HW: Read The Franklin’s Tale

Oct. 30 The Franklin’s Tale

HW: Read The Man of Law’s Tale and Steve Mentz, “Toward a Blue Cultural Studies” (ANGEL)


Nov. 4 The Man of Law’s Tale and Thalassology

HW: complete draft of abstracts for workshop

Nov. 6 Abstract Workshop

HW: Read The Physician’s Tale


Nov. 11 Argument Abstract and Critical Review Due

HW: Read The Pardoner’s Tale and Ruth Evans “Our Cyborg Past”

Nov. 13 The Pardoner’s Tale

HW: Read Sir Thopas


Nov. 18 Annotated Bibliography Due; Sir Thopas

HW: Read Garrard Chapter 5 and Chaucer’s Retraction

Nov. 20 Apocalypse

HW: Work on seminar essays


Nov. 25 no class

Nov. 27 Thanksgiving

HW: Read Garrard Chapter 8


Dec. 2 Futures; Last Class Day; Surveys

Dec. 4 Seminar Essay Due