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Poets and Power in the Late Medieval England

In 1374, poet and administrator Geoffrey Chaucer, later author of The Canterbury Tales, was granted by the king a jug of wine every day for the rest of his life. This somewhat odd historical circumstance inaugurates the tradition of the poet laureate, a poet appointed to compose for the state, in England. This course looks at the heritage of English literature after Chaucer in the context of poetry’s relationship with political power. We will investigate how poetry of the late Middle Ages—the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries—communicates not only literary concerns, but deals also in political, philosophical, ethical and scientific matters. This course will survey the formation and consolidation of the “Chaucer tradition,” the writers who admired and imitated Chaucer, and the development of English literature at the end of the medieval and the beginning of the early modern period. Texts will include works by Chaucer, Gower, Hoccleve, Lydgate, Skelton, Lanyer, and Jonson. Some course texts will be in Middle English. There will be three papers, periodic reading quizzes, and one exam.


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