The Canterbury Tales Illumination Project: Stage 1

The Interlinear Gloss

Do you want students to appreciate Middle English without feeling overwhelmed?

Try this project for insight into the process a medieval manuscript might have undergone.

Introduction: I first did a more complex version of this project in graduate school at NYU. For high school students, I use a 10-15 line character description from the "General Prologue" to The Canterbury Tales (in the original middle English!). Students are surprisingly receptive to the process, and they take great pride in the final results.

Text: Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales

Grade: Sophomores

Difficulty: Difficult (I only do this with Honors students)

Applications: You could use any middle English text for the basis of this project.

Note: This project was developed by Professor Martha Rust, NYU English Department.

This project is designed to replicate, for you, the process by which medieval students and scholars studied, or glossed, a text.


gloss (n.): a word inserted between the lines or in the margin as an explanatory equivalent of a foreign or otherwise difficult word in the text; hence applied to a similar explanatory rendering of a word given in a glossary or dictionary. Also, in a wider sense, a comment, explanation, interpretation.


gloss (v.): to insert glosses or comments on; to comment upon, explain, interpret.


During the Middle Ages, a text--especially an academic one--would acquire a gloss in several stages or layers. The first layer of glossing--or at least the one that served the most elementary purpose--was the interlinear gloss, which provided basic assistance for the reader. The academic text you'll gloss will consist of a few lines from Chaucer's "General Prologue" to The Canterbury Tales, written in the original Middle English.


Your interlinear gloss should do the following:


1) Unravel any word order that seems confusing by restating the order in your own words above the line in question.


2) Make clear to whom different pronouns are referring.


3) Provide synonyms for unusual or archaic words that you do not understand the meaning of. You might accomplish this by looking up words at on-line sites such as Basic Chaucer Glossary, Chaucer Glossary.


Basically, at this stage, you are merely providing a glossary for the average reader, not commenting upon the text itself. After you hand it in, it will be passed onto another one of your classmates for the next layer of glossing.


For the next stage, click on the link below:

Illumination Project Stage 2:Marginal Commentaries and Illustrations