Miceal F Vaughan
Seminar study of special topics in language and literary study. Limited to seniors majoring in English.
Closure in Chaucer (and Beyond)
The idea of ‘closure’ attracts attention from those interested in both formal and psychological analyses of literary (and other) works of human art. Some of the satisfactions of finishing a book (or a piece of music) derive from our sense of its completeness, whether it seems to fulfill its author’s and readers’ expectations and provide a convincing ‘sense of an ending.’ Some readers enjoy works that are firmly concluded; others prefer works that are open-ended, which invite readers to imagine multiple possibilities for the characters and narratives. In the case of Geoffrey Chaucer’s works, the matter is complicated by the historical fact that some of his works have come down to us in what seems to be incomplete form, the result (arguably at least) of problems with the scribal ‘publication’ and transmission of his texts. Others of his works, however, which don’t appear to be fragmentary, play with layered or polyphonic endings. This may suggest that some of his ‘incomplete’ texts may in fact have been intended by him to be so. In this seminar, we will begin with a classic book on literary closure (Kermode’s 1967 Sense of an Ending) and then turn our attention to some examples in Chaucer’s earlier works: e.g., Book of the Duchess, House of Fame, Troilus. After that, we’ll look at some of the Canterbury Tales. Students will be required to provide weekly response papers discussing our readings, to produce (and revise) a couple of longer papers, and lead a seminar session discussing closure in a work of interest to them (one of Chaucer’s or someone else’s).
NOTE: Since much of our reading will be in Middle English, successful completion of ENGL 321 (Chaucer), or permission of the Instructor, will be a prerequisite for enrollment in the seminar.
Kermode, Frank . The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction. New Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN: 0-19-513612-8
Geoffrey Chaucer. Dream Visions and Other Poems. Ed. Kathryn L. Lynch. New York: Norton, 2007. ISBN: 0-393-92588-9
Geoffrey Chaucer. The Canterbury Tales: Fifteen Tales and the General Prologue. Ed. V. A. Kolve and Glending Olson. Second Edition. New York: Norton, 2005. ISBN 0-393-92587-0
Geoffrey Chaucer. Troilus and Criseyde. Ed. Stephen A. Barney. New York: Norton, 2006. ISBN 0-393-92755-5
Recommended texts (choose at least one):
McGerr, Rosemarie P. Chaucer's Open Books: Resistance to Closure in Medieval Discourse. University Press of Florida, 1998 ISBN: 0-8130-1860-9
Sklute, Larry. Virtue of Necessity: Inconclusiveness and Narrative Form in Chaucer's Poetry. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1985. ISBN: 0-8142-0404-X
Raybin, David, and Linda Tarte Holley, ed. Closure in the Canterbury Tales: The Role of the Parson's Tale. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2005. ISBN: 1-58044-012-6
Student learning goals
Conduct an independent research project in literary analysis
Produce a substantial and original term paper
Have an advanced understanding of the problems associated with ideas (and forms) of closure
Be able to speak intelligently about endings in Chaucer's works
General method of instruction
Previous experience with reading earlier forms of English and familiarity with some of Chaucer's works in Middle English are crucial prerequisites.
Class assignments and grading
varied short writing assignments; oral presentations in seminar; (oral report/draft and) term paper
Active participation in the oral and written discourse of the seminar will be essential. Individual (shorter) written contributions will be used to test ideas and obtain feedback from others in the seminar; these will lay the groundwork for the final (oral report and) paper, on which at least half the course grade will depend.