Who killed Chaucer, and why should we care?
Terry Jones, perhaps best known as a member of the Monty Python comedy ensemble, is also a reputable medieval historian. The title of the 2004 book Jones co-authored with Robert Yeager, Alan Fletcher, Juliette Dor, and Terry Dolan, Who Murdered Chaucer? A Medieval Mystery, asks a rhetorical question that presumes a continued popular interest in Chaucer and his work. In addition, the title’s qualification of “mystery” with the word “medieval” suggests a modern audience for things specifically identified as such.
What circumstances allow the book’s authors to make such presumptions? What, if anything, can a course on Chaucer and the Middle Ages add to the study of science, technology, and culture in contemporary society? In what forms do Chaucer and the Middle Ages persist in the modern cultural landscape? These are just a few of the questions that will guide our work in this class.
In addition to the biography by Jones, et al., texts will include a selection of Chaucer’s major works and a few other canonical Middle English texts. We will ease into the Middle English by starting with selections drawn from The Canterbury Tales in a facing-page Modern English translation. We will also study multimedia artifacts medieval and modern that relate to Chaucer and his historical period, things like maps, illuminated manuscripts, video, sound recordings, graphic novels, and digital editions. Working together for the major project, we will create a modern manuscript edition of some of Chaucer’s shorter poetry, which we will then digitize to create an online edition.