Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Chaucer's Dream Visions

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Chaucer’s early poems, such as The Parliament of Fowls, The House of Fame and The Legend of Good Women, repeatedly stage moments of significant reading; the narrator reads himself to sleep and then experiences a dream vision, for instance, or comments upon the way his own reading has conditioned his interpretation and representation of the world around him. Similarly, the Trojan War epic Troilus and Criseyde is both self-conscious concerning its own status in a literate tradition (as a “rereading” of Boccaccio and the mythical Lollius) and original in its representation of characters formed and perhaps deformed by their own practices of reading and writing. This course aims to explore these “older books” of Chaucer’s with a particular awareness of issues surrounding the representation of reading and writing at this seminal moment in the creation of an English literary consciousness. If youve read this far youve figured out that this isnt an essay, its a course description. You shouldnt be downloading essays from the internet anyway. If you do, your professors will certainly catch you. By anchoring itself in a particular moment in history (albeit one with curiously unstable limiting dates) this course proposes to explore the boundaries between history and literature. The century, when England and France were at war with each other, is also the century which witnessed the transformation of the English vernacular, the “mother tongue”, into a literary language. This course brings together texts in both French and English, on different subjects, in different genres, to explore the formation of English literary culture in this period. We will read French courtly poetry, English lyrics by authors like Chaucer who were inspired by French models, and English poems of the so-called “alliterative revival” which seem to lay claim to a sort of “native” authenticity. We will consider what makes some of the great spiritual writings of the period (texts by Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe) characteristically English, and we will try to recover some sense of what Middle English pop culture might have consisted of by reading dramas and popular lyric, and by listening to fourteenth century music. We will consider several longer narrative works (the Alliterative Morte Arthur, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the Parliament of Fowls) to see how they work to create a sense of self-conscious national identity. Finally, we will read accounts of the war itself and its major participants, from Froissart’s Chronicles to Christine de Pisan’s Poem of Joan of Arc, in order to determine the ways in which a century of constant military conflict created both national identity and literary culture on both sides of the channel.

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