>This post is in part a follow up to the post before last, in which I lamented my boredom with doing the same-old, same-old in the big medieval class. It is also, in part, for Meg, who asked, in another context, for ideas for new stuff to do in her Chaucer class.
Now a class on Chaucer is hard to change very easily. Your big questions are: Do I try and do a little of everything (Troilus and Criseyde, a dream vision or two, a selection of The Canterbury Tales, maybe even some of the short poetry or a single legend from The Legend of Good Women)? Or do I stick to The Canterbury Tales? (This is your choice unless, that is, you’re teaching at a school with separate Canterbury Tales and Troilus-and-everything-else courses. Oh, and I suppose you could just do the Troilus-and-everything-else course, but I can’t bring myself not to do the Tales at least in part.) I alternate between those two options, and in the little-bit-of-everything version, I change the Tales or the selections from the other works when I get bored.
But now I’ve been doing that and I’m bored again. So now I’m futzing with *how* I teach it all — from the emphases I give the course to the assignments I give. Last year I borrowed and adapted a writing assignment sequence from Jeffrey Cohen that builds skills from comprehension of Middle English (through translation) to analysis of passages, to arguments with other critics. To that I added one of my own favorite assignments, in which I ask students to write a modern imitation of a Chaucerian dream vision (albeit in prose), which is an exercise in genre analysis in disguise. I think I may keep most of that this time around, though I may be getting rid of the dream visions this time around, so no imitation. And in the last go-round, I assigned the passages for translation and analysis, but I may let students pick their own next time, because trying to figure out what’s worth talking about in close detail is an analytic and interpretative skill, too.
But the big change I’m thinking about making is kind of wacky. And I’m wondering what you all think. I’m thinking about focusing on transmission and adaptation, from the manuscript to early print editions to later imitations and adaptations of Chaucer’s work (and also Chaucer’s adaptation of his sources), and so I’m thinking of having the class read Henryson’s Testament of Cresseid and Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida after we’re done with Troilus and Criseyde. And I’m thinking of giving a day over to discussion A Knight’s Tale; of using some or all of the BBC’s fairly recent adaptations (I have the Wife of Bath episode on VHS); of playing some of Baba Brinkman’s hip-hop Chaucer along the way; and of utterly traumatizing students with a bit of Pasolini’s Racconti di Canterbury at the end of the semester, if I can get my hands on either a tape or DVD of it. Or maybe instead of Pasolini at the end, we could read one of the 15th century continuations of the tales in the TEAMS edition edited by John Bowers. But I’d also assign critical articles as “adaptations,” too, because part of the point of this would be to talk about adaptation as interpretation — and so, interpretation as adaptation. And in the writing assignments and other discussion we’d be talking about translation as adaptation and interpretation, too.
Out of 16 weeks, this would take away three weeks (six classes) from Chaucer “proper” — the rest would be blended in and done in excerpt alongside Chaucer “proper.” It would mean a lot of reading, but I think it might enrich the discussion of Chaucer’s own works immensely, and put them in broad context of reception and interpretation. And that might also help students put themselves and their interpretative activities in context and in a greater conversation, too. I worry, often, that when I teach Chaucer only in his 14th century contexts — as cool and interesting as that can be — that students consciously or unconsciously feel justified in filing him away as “classic.” Shudder. That’s such a deadly word. Although I bring in the present or the very recent past all the time in all my classes, I think maybe a smattering of adaptations from the centuries immediately following Chaucer and our own age would make the point better that “Chaucer” is not confined to the 14th century.
What do you think?