ENG 401

Dr. Tamara O'Callaghan
Office: LA 547
Tel: 859-572-6977


Course Description :

This course focuses on two of Geoffrey Chaucer's major works, Troilus and Criseyde and the unfinished Canterbury Tales . We will examine, among other things, why Chaucer chose to write in English (a risky move at the time), his role as a poet for the Court and for the new urban milieu of London , and his relation to the spread of literacy in his day. We will also consider other medieval texts and background material, in particular Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy , which influenced Chaucer and his poetry in order to gain a better understanding of Chaucer and the world in which he lived. Students will develop a basic reading knowledge of Middle English so that they can actually read the original texts and not a modern imitation.

Finally, we will consider the legacy of Chaucer today. To this end, we will read Kicking Tongues (1998) by Afro-Caribbean writer Karen King-Aribisala. Deliberately transposing the story of the Canterbury Tales to modern-day Nigeria , King-Aribisala demonstrates how a culturally dominant author in the English literary canon, such as Chaucer, can influence and ultimately be appropriated by a postcolonial writer.

Nota bene : This course fulfills the pre-1750 course requirement for the Literature major.

Required Texts : [All texts available at Campus Book & Supply]

  1. Rosenwein, Barbara H.  A Short History of the Middle Ages .  Broadview Press, 2002. [ISBN: 1551112906]
  2. Chaucer, Geoffrey.  The Canterbury Tales: Nine Tales and the Prologue .  Norton Critical Edition.  W.W. Norton & Co., 1991. [ISBN: 0393952452]
  3. Boethius.  Consolation of Philosophy .  Trans. Joel C. Relihan.  Hackett Publishing, 2001. [ISBN: 0872205835]
  4. Chaucer, Geoffrey.  Troilus and Criseyde .  Ed. R.A. Shoaf.  Michigan State UP, 2000. [ISBN: 0870135368]
  5. King-Aribisala, Karen.  Kicking Tongues .  African Writers Series.  Heinemann, 1998. [ISBN: 0435912003]
  6. Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers . 6 th ed. (NY: MLA, 1999) [ISBN: 0873529863] (Note : Every English major should own a copy of this book!)

  Course Structure :

Although I will give formal lectures as appropriate, class meetings will be mainly seminar-style discussions of assigned texts and background readings, guided by student presentations and student-developed discussion questions. For details, see the section on "Expert Team" system below.

Course Policies :

Texts. Always bring the appropriate text(s) to class--no exceptions.

Late Work. Simply put, I will not accept late work . The syllabus, assignments, and due dates for this course are sufficiently detailed that there is NO reason for any work to be submitted late. Due dates may only be missed without penalty in extraordinary circumstances (i.e. a medical emergency for which you can provide me with a doctor's note within one week of your absence). If a student misses a class and submits the assignment to the instructor's office or email account after the class, the assignment is considered late. If a student knows he/she must miss class, it is the student's responsibility to get the assignment to the instructor before the start of class or arrange for a fellow student to hand in the assignment during class on the absent student's behalf. Computer malfunctions cannot be an excuse, so please do not wait until the last moment to print an assignment and be sure to keep backup copies on a floppy disk and, if possible, the hard drive of your home computer.

Attendance. Informed participation consists of your attendance, preparation for class, and meaningful contributions to class discussions. Regular attendance is expected and essential for the successful completion of the course. Since this course meets only once a week, three (3) absences will result in an F for the course. I will take attendance at the beginning of class and after the break. Leaving class at the break will count as ½ absence.

Student Responsibilities. Some assignments for this course will require that you use Steely Library, meet with me or your peers outside of the actual class period, attend some extra-curricular event, etc. You may even need to make a special trip to campus to pick materials from my office if you have missed a class. Everyone, including me, will do their best to accommodate each other's busy schedules in order to arrange mutually convenient times to meet or work on campus or in the libraries. However, please understand that it is not an unreasonable requirement to expect you to complete assignments and projects that are outside of the class period and involve dedicating some time and effort on your part. If you feel that your life beyond this classroom will prevent you from fulfilling the requirements of this course, you should seriously reconsider taking this course or even attending university.

Courtesy. Please turn off cell phones and pagers for the duration of the class. In order to maintain an environment that fosters open discussion of appropriate topics in an inviting atmosphere, discriminatory or blatantly rude language will not be permitted, nor will personal attacks on any individual. You are responsible for being respectful and courteous in class discussion and in writing, including your email messages.

Disabilities. Students with disabilities who require accommodations (academic adjustments, auxiliary aids or services, etc.) for this course must register with the Disability Services Office (DSO). Please contact the DSO in the University Center , Room 320, immediately, or call 859-572-6373 for more information. Verification of your disability is required by the DSO for you to receive reasonable academic accommodation. Further details can be found at the DSO website.

Plagiarism. In A Dictionary of the English Language of 1755, Samuel Johnson defines plagiarism as “Theft: literary adoption of the thoughts or works of another.” All work submitted must be written exclusively for this course and is subject to the NKU Student Honor Code. The use of sources (ideas, quotations, argument structures, and paraphrases) must be properly documented. Plagiarism and other forms of cheating will not be tolerated.

The Honor Code is a commitment to the highest degree of ethical integrity in academic conduct, a commitment that, individually and collectively, the students of Northern Kentucky University will not lie, cheat, or plagiarize to gain an academic advantage over fellow students or avoid academic requirements. The full text of the Honor Code is attached to this syllabus.

Expert Teams :

In order to make the class more than a dry "lecture" format, the class will divide itself into five Expert Teams. Nota bene : Teams do not actually have to work together, except to divide up the week's work; please try to respect your teammates' need for or aversion to togetherness . As indicated in the Class Schedule, in most weeks, one of the five teams is responsible for developing a particular expertise and in-depth command of that week's reading. In general, an Expert Team will be "on" twice in the course of the semester. For certain weeks and for certain texts, it may be necessary to fiddle with this schedule. No team will be penalized for my adjustments to the schedule or for variations in the type of work required by different texts and subjects.

The tasks of the Expert Team for a given week are as follows:

Do the reading for their assigned week in advance. Develop at least 4-5 discussion questions on the assigned literary text for that week and distribute those questions to the class via email no later than the Friday before the Monday night class at which the text is to be discussed. There will be an electronic mailing list for the class which will allow for easy distribution of this material. Consequently, it is each student's responsibility to check his/her email account every Friday for the discussion questions for the next class. If you do not have internet access at home, you can check your email account from a computer terminal on campus.

  1. Summarize the key points of any other readings for that week and/or prepare brief presentations on the historical or literary background necessary to appreciate the week's work. These presentations are intended to focus the class on the assigned readings and to initiate discussion; therefore, they should be no longer than 50 minutes in total . Material to be covered in presentations will vary with each text. Team members should consult with me for bibliographical help and planning advice before beginning work on their presentations.
  2. Distribute to the class and instructor brief (no more than 1-2 pages per team) handouts covering the key points of these presentations.
  3. Each team member will write a brief (1 page) report to the instructor describing the team's work and his or her personal contribution to it for that week. ( These reports are confidential .)

My suggestion would be that teams divide the work so that half the team is working on discussion questions and half on presentations in any given rotation. Teams should try to arrange the division of labor so that everyone gets the chance to work on one set of discussion questions and one presentation in the course of the semester. Beyond these guidelines, team members may divide their labor as they see fit and as suits their talents and schedules and the work at hand. I expect to see evidence in the team members' personal reports that everyone has made a substantive contribution to the team's work.

If you are not on the week's Expert Team, your responsibility is, of course, to do the reading and also to prepare detailed notes in response to at least one of the discussion questions provided by the expert team. I will call on students to contribute a response to a question of their choice and I will eventually collect a copy of these notes for inclusion in your portfolio.

Every member of the class must turn in portfolio materials for a given week no later than the beginning of class of the following week. These materials may be emailed to me as MS Word or RTF attachments.

If you were on an Expert Team for the previous class, you should be sure I have:

  1. Copies of any handouts for summaries or presentations to which you contributed;
  2. Copies of any discussion questions to which you contributed;
  3. A very brief narrative (2-3 paragraphs/1 page) describing what you and the other team members contributed to the week's work. ( This is confidential .)

If you were NOT on an Expert Team for the previous class, you should be sure I have:

  1. A copy of your detailed notes in response to one of the week's discussion questions. These may be your original scribbled version or a clean copy, but please do keep a copy for your own study purposes. Notes may be in bullet or outline form or in continuous prose or some other combination. I don't look for perfection or "correctness" in these; I just want to see evidence of your thoughtful engagement with the text(s) and question at hand. ( This is confidential .)
  2. Optional : Any questions you have about the week's work that we didn't cover, or any thoughts about topics you'd like to follow up on, either in class or perhaps in a paper. ( This is confidential.)

Method of Evaluation :

Portfolio (see "Expert Teams" section for details) 25%

Translations Exercises 2 x 5% 10%

Oral Reading 5%

MED Exercise 5%

Annotated Bibliography 10%

Response Papers 3 x 5% 15%

Short Writing Assignment (4-5 pages) 10%

Research Essay (6-8 pages) 20%

NOTA BENE : Failure to complete any assignment will result in an automatic "F"

for your final grade for the course.

Annotated Bibliography. An annotated bibliography provides complete bibliographical information about a collection of works on a particular subject or topic and includes with each one an annotation, or a brief descriptive and critical statement of around 150 words of what the work contains. Annotated bibliographies are tools that can be used to help you keep track of articles you have read and, if maintained over your career as a literature major, can provide you with a substantial resource for use in the future research. You will be expected to produce such an annotated bibliography for this course. Your annotated bibliography need not include the assigned literary texts, but should include all other material—be it book or article, traditional print or online publication, literary or cultural—that you read as background for your study of Chaucer. These may include articles distributed in class or material that you read on your own accord.

Response Papers. During the course of the semester, you will write 3 short "response" papers (3-4 pages). These papers will not require extra research on your part or the use of secondary resources, but rather each one will be a thoughtful response to one of the literary texts read in class so far. Please note: you may choose to analyze one particular episode or character in a text or to discuss a relevant issue, be it cultural, historical, etc., raised by a text; however, your papers must focus on the literary texts and not on any other readings for the course. Since there are 3 response papers, you must write about 3 different literary works (no more than 2 may be on The Canterbury Tales ). When marking your papers, I shall assess (a) your unified, specific, and coherent thesis; (b) your mastery of standard American English, including grammar, punctuation, and syntax; and (c) your critical use of supporting evidence from the text (that means you have to provide direct quotations to support your arguments!).

Short Writing Assignment. This assignment requires you to write a report (4-5 pages) of some extra-curriculum experience or event that relates to this course. It could involve a discussion of medieval material from the visiting exhibit from the Vatican , an examination of the medieval collection at the Cincinnati Art Institute, a study of the stained-glass windows and architecture of the Covington Basilica, or some other relevant event or exhibit. As with other written assignments for this course, I shall grade this assignment with significant consideration of (a) your unified, specific, and coherent thesis; (b) your mastery of standard American English, including grammar, punctuation, and syntax; and (c) your critical use of supporting evidence.

Research Essay. You are to write an academic research essay (6-8 pages) on a topic of your choice that focuses on the literary texts for this course. Please note the word "research" in the title. Regardless of your essay topic, you must use secondary sources (minimum of four) with proper citations throughout your essay and a Works Cited list in MLA form. Appropriate secondary sources can be found in some of the texts and readings assigned for the course, in Steely Library (there are a number of books on reserve for the course), in other libraries ( University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Public Library downtown), and even on the internet. When marking your essay, I shall assess (a) your unified, specific, and coherent thesis; (b) your mastery of standard American English, including grammar, punctuation, and syntax; (c) your critical use of supporting evidence from the literary texts and secondary sources; (d) your documentation of this material in correct and current MLA form; and (e) your careful and thorough handling of the topic's complexities. A draft of the paper is due 2 weeks before the final version is to be turned in to me.

CAVEAT : All of the above is subject to change at the discretion of the instructor