Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales are a major cornerstone not only of Late Medieval English literature, but for the development of literature in English in general. Being an immediate success among Chaucer’s contemporaries, it provided a major reference point for succeeding generations and served an important function for creating and authorising an English literary culture. Making reference to a whole range both of various European intertexts and of different English cultural spheres and sociolects, it does not only achieve something like a crosscut through English society, but at the same time constitutes an anthology of Late Medieval narrative modes. It brings together a number of different genres that range from serious epic to harsh satire and hilariously grotesque tales and in this variety produces a polyphony of contrasting voices and positions that remain highly ambiguous and challenge central positions of Late Medieval society and culture.
In close readings of exemplary tales, this class aims at an introduction to these fundamental social, cultural and literary issues. Special attention will be placed on the institutional and medial conditions of literary production, questions of political and cultural authority and legitimisation as well as the text’s insistent problematisation of gender roles and discourses.