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Inventing English Literature: The Story of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales

Weekend All-Day Lecture/Seminar

Saturday, May 11, 2024 - 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. ET
Code: 1J0363
This online program is presented on Zoom.
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The Wife of Bath illustration, 1889

Geoffrey Chaucer is often called the “father of English literature” because of his groundbreaking work, The Canterbury Tales, written between 1387 and 1400, a remarkable collection of stories that contains a wealth of narrative innovations and captivating literary forms. Joseph Luzzi, professor of literature at Bard College, explores what makes this masterpiece tick. He explains the defining elements of Chaucer’s style and examines the social and cultural issues informing his aesthetic vision. Special attention is paid to how Chaucer created such compelling characters as the Wife of Bath, a pioneering figure in the construction of modern female identity, and how his work influenced a range of later authors.

10–11 a.m.  Geoffrey Chaucer: From Personal Drama to Literary Success

The dramatic events of Chaucer’s life, including his time as a member of Parliament and work as a customs officer for the port of London, are considered in relation to his literary innovations and the major social and political developments of this turbulent period in English history.

11:15 a.m.–12:15 p.m.  Chaucer, High and Low: Narrative Elements

Luzzi considers how Chaucer uses a dazzling array of literary styles and techniques while mixing lofty language with salty everyday expressions. The focus is on the tales of the Knight, Miller, Reeve, Man of Law, Prioress, and Monk.

12:15–12:45 p.m.  Break

12:45–1:45 p.m.  Literature’s First “Real Woman”? The Wife of Bath

The focus on the tale of the Wife of Bath covers such issues as notions of gender and female sexuality. Luzzi also delves into the remarkable influence of Chaucer’s Wife of Bath over the centuries and into the present.

2–3 p.m.  Rethinking Tradition

Luzzi examines the tales of the Clerk, Friar, Summoner, and Parson. After discussing Chaucer’s reworking of literary traditions, especially works from the early Italian Renaissance, Luzzi concludes with insights into how and why The Canterbury Tales remains vital reading today.

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