Imagine a writer who is equally at home with romantic adventure and devotional meditation, or who brings the fullest measure of brilliance to ribald comedy and grave tragedy alike. Add a talent for creating unforgettable characters and keenly painting social relationships. Top it all off with$1#$ a gift for expression so pure and scintillating that no less an authority than Edmund Spenser was moved to laud this writer's works as a "well of English pure and undefiled."$2#$
Now you have Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340-1400), one of our grandest and most enduring poets; an architect of our vocabulary and our literary style.
By examining texts from his short love lyrics to the copious profusion of character and incident that is The Canterbury Tales, this course prepares you for the challenges of Chaucer's oeuvre, and provides an understanding of what makes him the "father" of English poetry.
With Stanford University's award-winning Professor Seth Lerer, you plumb the richness and depth of Chaucer's poetry and explore his life, the range of his work, and his impact on English language and literature.
You examine Chaucer in virtually all the varieties of literature available to him:
- classical epic
- domestic farce
- ribald comedy
- saint's life
- beast fable
- romance adventure
- personal lyric
- devotional prayer
- philosophical and religious prose.
Discover the Works of Geoffrey Chaucer: The Father of English Poetry
Over the course of these 12 half-hour lectures, Dr. Lerer explains Chaucer's life, and the world and language in which he wrote.
You'll learn how Chaucer uses relationships between men and women, humans and God, social "insiders" and "outsiders," and high and low desires to explore our "ticklish" world, and the way life takes shape from literary forms, be they marriage vows, the verses of Scripture, or stories told by plain folk.
Chaucer illuminates the tensions between the realms of our existence—the public and the private, the political and the literary, the imaginary and the experiential, the spiritual and the corporeal—and shows how these tensions reveal character.
Chaucer's poems are fascinating social documents in their own right, equally concerned with everyday human interaction and once-in-a-lifetime moments. In these lectures, you'll meet some of the most vibrant characters in all of literature:
- the bawdy Wife of Bath
- the manipulative Pandarus (whose very name gave rise to the term "pandering")
- the upright Knight
- the ambiguous Pardoner
- the Miller, all agog at the sheer surprising "ticklishness" of God's plenteous creation.
A Master Teacher as Your Guide
A master of dialect and accent, Professor Lerer also teaches the Great Course, The History of the English Language. Dr. Lerer has received many awards for his scholarship, writing, and teaching, including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Guggenheim Foundation, the Beatrice White Prize of the English Association of Great Britain (for Chaucer and His Readers), and the Hoagland Prize for undergraduate teaching at Stanford.
Customers agree, writing: "Seth Lerer presents his lectures with much enthusiasm and pizzazz. His content and delivery are excellent. He is the best speaker I've ever heard." "Professor Lerer is articulate, enthralling and enthusiastic."
Professor Lerer's goal in this course is that you'll learn to enjoy more fully a poet whose works mark a watershed in the history of our language.
"Chaucer is a great poet of human expression and social relationships, and the theme of this course is how Chaucer understands the social function of poetry: that is, how poetry brings people together into communities of readers and listeners," says Dr. Lerer.
He leads you deeply into the texts, so that you learn about their sources and syntax, and the rich repertoire of poetic techniques they display. Professor Lerer makes it clear that these texts remain eminently worth reading today.
Yet he also does full justice to their medieval context, whether the question is how Chaucer's sense of history differs from our own, how people of the Middle Ages viewed the social order, or how those same people understood the role of stories and literature in life.
Hear Chaucer's Canterbury Tales Quoted in the Original Language
To hear the name "Chaucer" is to think, naturally, of The Canterbury Tales, and Dr. Lerer devotes six lectures to this most famous of Chaucer's works.
There are about 80 surviving manuscripts of The Canterbury Tales, which is a mark of the importance of Chaucer's poetry, since making a manuscript copy was a laborious process.
In his recitations of Chaucer's Middle English, Dr. Lerer's talent for reading aloud is fully on display to add to your sense of detail and comprehension.
You'll range from an account of the medieval literary tradition of "quitting" (telling one story in response to another) to a close reading of the first 18 lines of the "Prologue," surely among the most famed passages ever written in English.
The course is also a lesson in the English language itself. You'll hear Professor Lerer's examinations of crucial Chaucerian themes such as "sentence" (serious instruction) and its counterpart "solaas" (humorous entertainment), or "earnest" (gravity) and "game" (levity).
You learn how Chaucer sets characters—and whole tales—of widely differing types alongside one another; his larger purpose as an artist being to examine as many sides of human nature as possible, to take the full measure of the crooked but wondrous timber of our common humanity.
Chaucer's Life and Work: A Brief Overview
Chaucer was probably born in about the year 1340; he died in 1400. During his life, he was first and foremost a public servant, holding various positions in the English royal court.
But there are absolutely no records of Chaucer as a poet: that is, we have no external historical evidence for Chaucer's work as a poet.
What we do have are a collection of manuscripts (but not signatures), all of which appeared roughly between 1415-1420, after Chaucer's death, which identify him as the author of a body of literary works.
Thus, more than simply seeing Chaucer's life as marginal to his work, or more than simply understanding Chaucer as a public servant who wrote poetry in his spare time, we need to understand some important things about his work:
- The relationship between public service and the private imagination is not just a problem for Chaucer's own life, but a theme of his writings.
- Throughout Chaucer's poetry, the tensions between the public and the private, the political and the literary, the experiential and the imaginary, are the key problems for the characters who tell his tales and the characters who act within them.
- In charting Chaucer's life, too, we need to see him as a European, as well as an English poet.
Professor Lerer lays bare these themes through well-organized lectures that leave you with a lasting sense of Chaucer, both as a writer of his time and a poet for the ages.
This course is, he says, "an invitation to the modern reader to find ways of enjoying, valuing, and responding to a poetry as vivid now as it was six centuries ago."