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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.

Course Breakdown

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:

Um, when we signed up for this pilgrimage, they promised us gargoyles.

(Source)
  • 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.