Spring 2021 - ENGL 306 D100

Chaucer (4)

Class Number: 4153

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Tu, Th 10:30 AM – 12:20 PM

  • Exam Times + Location:

    Apr 20, 2021
    3:30 PM – 6:30 PM

  • Instructor:

    Matthew Hussey
    Office Hours: Office hours via Zoom by appointment: feel free to email and we will find a time.
  • Prerequisites:

    Two 100 division English courses, and two 200 division English courses.



The study of selected works by Geoffrey Chaucer, especially The Canterbury Tales, read in the language in which they were written and situated in the context of Fourteenth century European culture.


English 306: Chaucer

The Dead White Men of English Literature appear to think of Chaucer as a tall drink of water: Spenser called him the “well of English undefiled”; Dryden wrote that he “is a Perpetual Fountain of Good Sense”; Joyce said “Of all English writers Chaucer is the clearest.” What does any of this mean?

When we look, we will find a gaggle of birds squabbling about whom an eagle should have sex with, which is also a sublime neo-Platonic dream vision about nature and the nature of language. A high-flown philosophical romance on the clockwork of fate and the meaning of history countered by a treatise on justice that is summed up by an outrageous outburst of laughter and farts. Don’t even get me started on the spinning house made of wicker that shoots true and false stories all over the universe. Chaucer’s diverse poetics reflects the dynamic late medieval world. His England was rocked by political upheaval, traumatized by the Plague, reeling from religious controversy: over 600 years ago and sounding all too familiar.

The finely pointed details—a starry twinkle in a friar’s eye as he budges a cat off a chair he wants—and profound engagement with universal ideas—Divine justice or the meaning of love—make Chaucer’s poetry wild and rich, but certainly not the sensible undefiled clarity he is lauded for.

This course will interrogate these claims, and through close analysis of Geoffrey Chaucer’s works, with reference to his sources and influences, and contextualization in his radically changing world, call them deeply into question. Chaucer’s works are impure in their English language and literary tradition; they are problematic, complex and difficult in sense, and unstable and unclear. These are the very qualities that make Chaucer so exciting, funny, unsettling and marvelous. When we deep-dive into Chaucer’s stories, poetry, games, and provocations, we will find Spenser, Dryden, and Joyce wrong: Chaucer’s not some crystalline pure ice-water, he’s a tankard of strong ale in a working-class pub on the south bank of the Thames in London. Of his time and place and intoxicating.

I am very sorry to not be with you in-person this term. Due to the strictures of the Covid pandemic, we will be studying Chaucer together from afar: via Zoom and Blackboard and Canvas. The health and safety of students, faculty, researchers and their circles are the priority. Being in a room together, bouncing ideas, asking questions, and debating the text would be great, but I hope we can build a scholarly community of readers in these new formats. To do so, I will be teaching this course in ways I never have—just like you’ll be studying Chaucer in ways you never have—and together we can make the best of it.

Format: Each week, there will be two prerecorded asynchronous lectures on the history, culture, ideas, or literary history of the fourteenth century; these will also introduce texts and raise particular issues and questions. Each week, there will be two synchronous sessions, each with half the students in the class. In these smaller groups, we will be able to discuss, figure out, try out ideas, and learn from each other. With these reduced hours (300-level is usually 4 hours in class), there will be some short supplemental readings.
TL;DR: Each week, you will have two asynchronous lectures (about 30-40 minutes each) and one small group synchronous session (about 45-60 minutes each). Plus brief asynchronous reading assignments in addition to the primary texts.


My aims for the course are that you learn to read, pronounce, and appreciate Chaucer’s poetry in Middle English; you critically explore how these medieval texts meant in their historical world, and how they continue to mean in ours; that you hone your research and writing skills, as you sharpen up your abilities to think through complex ideas and express them; and that you REALLY love the literature because it is, objectively speaking, awesome. We can also decide together on what some outcomes should be for the course: I very much want it to be yours.


  • (Almost) Weekly Responses 20%
  • Close Reading 1 15%
  • Close Reading 2 15%
  • Final Research Paper 35%
  • Engagement (preparedness, participation) 15%


Requirements for the course will be similarly designed to keep us thinking about Chaucer, engaged with the ideas of the class, and in dialogue with each other. Each week (or almost every week), there will be short response assignments; some will be writing (100-200 words) on varied topics and some might be more creative responses. These will be marked simply Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory: if they show reflection, thought, and attention, easy S! If not, sad U. These will sometimes be discussed in synchronous sessions, and sometimes may form the basis for a longer writing assignment. Since we will be reading Chaucer’s original Middle English, there will be two shorter essays that research and discuss the details, meanings, lexis, and meaning of his poetry. The term will build to a final research paper on an aspect of Chaucer’s work; this final project is something we will build to over the last weeks of the course.
TL;DR: No exams.



The new Norton Chaucer edited by David Lawton has everything, but it is expensive. Hard copies will be available at the Bookstore, and Norton offers a much cheaper digital access option if you are so inclined. If you have the older scholarly edition, the Riverside Chaucer, that will work too.


Lawton, David, ed. The Norton Chaucer (New York: W.W. Norton, 2019).
ISBN: 978-0-393-42779-0

Department Undergraduate Notes:

IMPORTANT NOTE Re 300 and 400 level courses: 75% of spaces in 300 level English courses, and 100% of spaces in 400 level English courses, are reserved for declared English Major, Minor, Extended Minor, Joint Major, and Honours students only, until open enrollment begins.

For all On-Campus Courses, please note the following:
- To receive credit for the course, students must complete all requirements.
- Tutorials/Seminars WILL be held the first week of classes.
- When choosing your schedule, remember to check "Show lab/tutorial sections" to see all Lecture/Seminar/Tutorial times required.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html


Teaching at SFU in spring 2021 will be conducted primarily through remote methods. There will be in-person course components in a few exceptional cases where this is fundamental to the educational goals of the course. Such course components will be clearly identified at registration, as will course components that will be “live” (synchronous) vs. at your own pace (asynchronous). Enrollment acknowledges that remote study may entail different modes of learning, interaction with your instructor, and ways of getting feedback on your work than may be the case for in-person classes. To ensure you can access all course materials, we recommend you have access to a computer with a microphone and camera, and the internet. In some cases your instructor may use Zoom or other means requiring a camera and microphone to invigilate exams. If proctoring software will be used, this will be confirmed in the first week of class.

Students with hidden or visible disabilities who believe they may need class or exam accommodations, including in the current context of remote learning, are encouraged to register with the SFU Centre for Accessible Learning (caladmin@sfu.ca or 778-782-3112).