Literary Methods

How do eighty-three handwritten versions—each different from all the others and none written by the author himself—of a long, complicated, and apparently unfinished poem get synthesized into a single copy for people like us to read, study, and teach from? This seminar will use Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales to study the methodology of textual editing and how it matters for—and can even become a form of—literary criticism. Students will read the vast majority of the Canterbury Tales (in Middle English) and become expert in the textual tradition of one of the most interesting Tales (Cook, Wife of Bath, Clerk, Squire, Franklin, Pardoner, Prioress, or Chaucer’s own Tale of Sir Thopas), culminating in a seminar paper that explores how the existence of a single literary work (abstract) across multiple discrete texts (material) creates practical challenges and interpretive opportunities.