The Canterbury Tales
Ye olde Schmope.
A guy walks into a bar... and lands himself a spot on a tour with the most colorful cast of characters ever to fill the pages of English literature.
In this course on The Canterbury Tales, we'll dig in to the life and times of Chaucer and meet a few interesting folks along the way. Among them?
- A desperate housewife who's been schooled by five husbands—and taught them a thing or two, too.
- The medieval version of Superman, cape and all.
- A crafty door-to-door salesman who's in the business of pardons. And body parts.
Sound like a rip-roarin' good time? It will be.
Unit 1. Chaucer's Canterbury Tales
These fifteen lessons will be your crash course in all things Canterbury. You'll read The General Prologue along with all the goods from the Wife of Bath, The Knight, The Miller, and the Second Nun. Add a few Medieval buzzwords into the mix (anticlericalism, anyone?) and you'll be an expert in no time.
Sample Lesson - Introduction
Lesson 2: Hit the Road
The Muppet Movie. Harold and Kumar go to White Castle. Thelma and Louise.The Wizard of Oz. The Lord of the Rings. These classics of page and screen owe a huge debt to the Canterbury Tales, English literature's original road trip story. They all feature the story elements Chaucer pioneered with the Tales:
- A wacky cast of characters thrown together by circumstances. In the Lord of the Rings, it includes tiny men with hairy feet and elves. In the Canterbury Tales, we've got an unscrupulous traveling salesman who looks like a bird, a cook with a huge pustule on his nose, a knight who bears more than a passing resemblance to Superman, the original desperate housewife... the list goes on and on.
- A learning experience. What would The Wizard of Oz be without Dorothy's realization that there's no place like home? According to Chaucer, teaching is the most important thing that stories do, period.
- A destination or goal. Harold and Kumar have a desperate craving for that White Castle burger. Thelma and Louise are trying to make it to Mexico. Kermit's determined to make it to Hollywood and begin his show business career. And the merry band Chaucer meets in a Southwark tavern is trying to make it to Canterbury. There, they plan to say prayers over the body of Thomas Becket, a famous English saint and martyr who met his bloody end in Canterbury Cathedral. To throw a fancy word out there, they're on pilgrimage.
Just as in the road trip stories that followed in its footsteps, the final destination of the Canterbury Tales does more than get the wacky characters to hit the road. It's also an important symbol in the story. But what does it mean? Click on over to the readings to find out.
Sample Lesson - Reading
Reading 1.2: The General Prologue
Even if you've never read the Canterbury Tales, you may have heard its first 42 lines—some of the most famous in English literature. They set the scene and prepare us for all the action that's about to go down.
As you're reading, you'll notice that Chaucer doesn't just give you the facts (as in, "I walked into a tavern, met some pilgrims, and decided to hit the road"). Instead, he spends a lot of time talking about spring: April showers, chirping birds, and enough blooming flowers to make you reach for the Claritin.
So go ahead and read Lines 1-42. (You can just click on the link that says "Introduction" on the left.)
And while you're at it, think about the effect of all this talk of flowers and fowl. Why is it important for us to know that the action takes place in the spring? What might spring symbolize in the story?
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 1.2: Road Trip!
You're about to go on pilgrimage with Geoffrey Chaucer and the colorful cast of characters he meets at a London tavern. What might that be like? In this activity, you'll find out, by writing three journal entries for a medieval pilgrim: one before, one during, and one at the end of your pilgrimage.
Head out on a pilgrimage for all the deets on pilgrimages. That's right: you're undertaking a pre-pilgrimage pilgrimage. Could we possibly get the word pilgrimage in here anymore times? Oh, snap, we just did.
As you peruse the links below, be on the lookout for information about a pilgrim's
- motivations and goals. A medieval pilgrim traded in a warm bed for the dangers of the open road. And this was before the age of highway patrol, so you just know there were plenty of people exceeding the speed limit. And, oh yeah, bandits. A pilgrim had to have had a pretty good reason for undertaking the journey. What was it?
- daily life on a pilgrimage. Who might your traveling companions be? How might an average day go down? What would you wear? Where would you sleep? Eat? How did people make it through a road trip before the Big Gulp?
Your passports to pilgrimage:
- University of St. Thomas's virtual medieval church provides a great, basic intro to the concept of medieval pilgrimage.
- The Metropolitan Museum's page includes a cool slideshow of objects and images related to pilgrimage.
- This comprehensive site from the International School of Toulouse has lots of great information about daily life on a pilgrimage.
Are you pricked in your corage to "seken straunge strondes / To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes" (ll. 13-14)? Tell us how it goes. In the voice of a medieval pilgrim, write three diary entries of 100 words each:
- Course Length: 3 weeks
- Grade Levels: 9, 10
- Course Type: Short Course
Just what the heck is a Shmoop Online Course?
Common Core Standards
The following Common Core Standards are covered in this course:CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.1