Dr. Alan Lupack, Curator of the Robbins Library,
University of Rochester, presents
Library Resources on Medieval Topics
Kara L. McShane
University of Rochester
Geoffrey Chaucer already appears on many high school and college syllabi, particularly in British Literature classes. Yet helping students appreciate Chaucer’s humor, wisdom, and continued relevance often proves difficult, as it can be challenging to make students see past the linguistic and contextual unfamiliarity of Chaucer’s work.
Because Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales are most commonly taught, this bibliography focuses most of its attention on resources and strategies for teaching the Tales. This is not because Chaucer’s other works cannot be used in the classroom; his short poetry, for example, would be very helpful to give students “microbursts” of Middle English language, and shorter stand-alone works such as the Book of the Duchess or the Parliament of Fowls, often reserved for college classrooms, could be fruitfully taught to younger students. Unfortunately, there is something of a cyclical problem in teaching these works. Because they do not exist in good adaptations, they are not as commonly taught in K-12 settings; yet because teachers rarely teach them, there is no call to produce new adaptations. I have included some materials here that could help teachers to bring Chaucer’s other works into their classrooms.
Due to the enormous amount of material available on Chaucer, this bibliography cannot, of course, be comprehensive. This bibliography provides some sense of the scope of materials available, and in many cases it prioritizes materials that can provide teachers with yet more resources to help them tailor their teaching to the specific needs of their classrooms. I have attempted to include a wide range of representative, easily accessible materials for a range of ages.
The Canterbury Tales in particular is useful for teaching because the tales make for natural excerpts and divide fairly easily for reading over an extended period of time, and tales could be selected around a theme to be used in a variety of courses. While Chaucer is most likely to be taught in high school and college courses, many of his works could be appropriate for younger audiences, and versions for younger students are available. One might extract the so called “marriage group” of the Wife of Bath’s Tale, the Clerk’s Tale, and the Franklin’s Tale; the Knight’s Tale could be integrated into a unit on classical myth (or be taught as a bridge between classical and medieval literature); or the Nun’s Priest’s Tale could be taught in conjunction with other animal fables. The possibilities are limitless. In addition, the tales can provide ways to approach the medieval world; the General Prologue’s portraits are famous for representing an array of figures, for example, and the Canon Yeoman’s Prologue has an exceptional detailed description of alchemical practices. Either of these could be used to help students understand imagery and writing using details, making them accessible for students at any age.
Chaucer’s English has long been considered a critical point in the development of modern English; however, its seeming unfamiliarity may discourage students, and some teachers are not comfortable reading Middle English aloud. There are, of course, at least as many ways to teach Chaucer as there are editions of his works, and teachers have several options to balance helping students experience Chaucer “in the original” with their students’ needs and their own comfort. For teachers who choose one of the many excellent translations of Chaucer’s works, fine art editions and manuscript facsimiles could be used as visual aids to give students some experience of Middle English. For teachers who choose to integrate Middle English further into their teaching of Chaucer, there are many good, well-glossed Middle English editions of the Tales, but there are also many facing page editions which will allow more advanced students to explore Middle English while making the tales accessible. If you are comfortable reading aloud in Middle English, you may choose to read selections aloud to your students; if you are not, fortunately, there are many audio materials available. Many of these language resources are available on the web; see the “online resources” section of this bibliography for more information. These could be brought into the classroom to share with students or used in advance to help teachers prepare.
Editions of the Canterbury Tales
Middle English versions
Chaucer, Geoffrey. Dream Visions and Other Poems. Ed. Kathryn L. Lynch. New York: W. W. Norton, 2007.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. Ed. V. A. Kolve and Glending Olson. New York: W. W. Norton, 2005.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. Troilus and Criseyde. Ed. Stephen A. Barney. New York: W. W. Norton, 2006.
The Norton editions include selected articles at the end of each work; this gives students a way to begin exploring the criticism on a particular work. This makes these editions particularly appropriate for older students (and a valuable resource for teaching college students who are beginning to critically engage with scholarly arguments). Though they include some apparatus for language understanding, they are essentially Middle English versions of the text. However, for teachers teaching only particular works of Chaucer, they are invaluable, since they save the expense of The Riverside Chaucer (below) while providing excellent editions.
The Riverside Chaucer. 3rd ed. Ed. Larry D. Benson. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.
This is the edition of Chaucer’s works most commonly used in college classrooms and by scholars. It includes Chaucer’s complete works in Middle English, along with extensive notes. In addition, the volume provides valuable short introductions to each of Chaucer’s works which it might be helpful to extract for students, as well as comprehensive introductory material. This is available in a paperback version, but it is still fairly expensive and very large.
Modern versions and translations
The Canterbury Tales. Ed. Geraldine McCaughrean. London: Puffin, 1997. (Translated into Spanish as Cuentos de Canterbury. Ed. Geraldine McCaughrean. Trans. Pedro Guardia. Barcelona: Vicens Vivens, 2000.)
McCaughrean’s adaptation includes a section of brief background on Chaucer and the Canterbury Tales as well as adapted versions of the Prologue, Knight’s Tale, Miller’s Tale, Nun’s Priest’s Tale, Reeve’s Tale, Clerk’s Tale, Wife of Bath’s Tale, Pardoner’s Tale, the Tale of Sir Thopas, Franklin’s Tale, Manciple’s Tale, Canon Yeoman’s Tale, Friar’s Tale, and Merchant’s Tale, along with an epilogue in which the pilgrims enter Canterbury. The edition includes a brief vocabulary section, notes, and comprehension and discussion questions in the back of the book. The adaptation would be appropriate for middle or high school readers. In addition, McCaughrean’s adaptation has been translated into Spanish, and this Spanish-language version could be used to help bilingual students or English language learners engage Chaucer’s work.
The Canterbury Tales. Ed. Diana Stewart. Illust. Dan Hubrich. Milwaukee: Raintree, 1981.
This version includes the Wife of Bath’s Tale, the Pardoner’s Tale, and the Canon Yeoman’s tale. There is also a biographical note on Chaucer. These versions would be best suited to intermediate readers, perhaps middle-school aged students. In addition, because it includes only a sampling of tales, this adaptation could be taught in its entirety to give students a sense of the Canterbury Tales without being too long for a single unit.
The Canterbury Tales: An Illustrated Selection. Trans. Neville Coghill. New York: Penguin Books, 1978.
Coghill’s translation is a classic, and it certainly conveys the sense of the Middle English tales. Overall, it is a readable translation for older students. However, the translation is somewhat out of date for contemporary students and may still require vocabulary support for unfamiliar or antiquated words; in particular, I would not recommend it for English Language Learners or international students. One advantage to this translation, however, is that it is inexpensive and readily available (indeed, it is likely to be the edition already owned by some high schools).
The Canterbury Tales: A Selection. Ed. Donald R. Howard. Foreword by Frank Grady. New York: Signet Classics, 2005.
This edition includes an invaluable section designed to guide pronunciation of Chaucer’s English. The text itself is in a type of hybridized Middle English which modernizes spelling in some cases, though not when it is necessary to preserve it for pronunciation, and it is heavily glossed; as a result, it might be a very useful text for teachers who are “trying out” Middle English with their students. However, this also makes it a text better suited for high school and/or college readers. Grady’s introduction provides an overview of the tales covered as well as some history of Chaucer’s reception; the bibliography and chronology included in this volume are short, but helpful. Like many editions, it includes a glossary of words common in Chaucer’s poetry. This edition includes the General Prologue, the Knight’s Tale, the Miller’s Tale, the Reeve’s Tale, the Shipman’s Tale, the Prioress’ Tale, the Tale of Sir Thopas, the Monk’s Prologue (though not his tale), the Nun’s Priest’s Tale, the Wife of Bath’s Tale, the Clerk’s Prologue (but not tale), the Merchant’s Tale, the Franklin’s Tale, the Pardoner’s Tale, the Parson’s Prologue, and Chaucer’s Retraction.
The Canterbury Tales (No Fear). Ed. John Crowther. New York, NY: SparkNotes, 2009.
This “No Fear” edition, produced by the makers of SparkNotes, prints a middle English and modern English facing page version. This is an excellent edition for giving students some access to Chaucer, particularly for students who are not confident readers. However, its translations take a lot of interpretive possibilities away from the text, making it less useful for courses where literary analysis is the goal. The book includes the tales of the Chaucer pilgrim, the Knight, the Miller, the Wife of Bath, the Pardoner, and the Nun’s Priest.
Clark, Charles Cowden. Tales from Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer: Selected Tales Told for Young People. Ill. Arthur Szyk. New York: Heritage Press, 1947.
Because the language is somewhat archaic and/or dated, this edition is probably best suited for high school readers (and would, like Coghill’s translation, require some additional support for students). This version includes the tales of the Knight, the Man of Law, the Clerk, the Wife of Bath, the Squire, the Pardoner, the Nun’s Priest, the Canon Yeoman, and the non-Chaucerian Tale of Gamelyn.
Hastings, Selina. The Canterbury Tales. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1988.
The introduction of this version also provides context as to what a pilgrimage is and how it was understood. It places a short adaptation of the character’s general prologue portrait with the tale in each case, and has a very brief “prologue” that sets out the guidelines for the tale-telling competition. This version is appropriate for younger students, perhaps chapter book readers, and is replete with charming illustrations. It includes the tales of the Knight, the Miller, the Reeve, the Nun’s Priest, the Pardoner, the Wife of Bath, and the Franklin along with with a brief introduction on Chaucer himself.
Lorenz, Lee. Scornful Simkin: Adapted from Chaucer’s The Reeve’s Tale. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1980.
This children’s retelling is considerably modified; the Miller’s daughter, for example, is not present, and the young clerks are simply trying to regain the flour that the Miller stole from them. It contains cartoon-like color illustrations. The story might be a good way to introduce younger readers (elementary school students) to Chaucer, though it is a somewhat unusual choice of tale to adapt!
Malcolmson, Anne. A Taste of Chaucer. Ill. Enrico Arno. New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace, & World, 1964.
This version includes the Prologue and the tales of the Monk, Nun’s Priest, Clerk, Manciple, Franklin, Sir Thopas, Man of Law, Canon Yeoman, and Pardoner, in addition to a glossary and an introduction to Chaucer. It removes large chunks of the tales, and the author provides a great deal of information about Chaucer and his life. There is considerable apparatus supplied by the author/adaptor, though this is itself dated (she refers, for example, to “families of substance”). The verse translations, however, are good, though probably best suited to high school readers. The glossary provided in the back of the book is helpful with some of the trickier or more dated words (for example, troth, visage, and many of the saints and locations).
Miller, Margaret J. Knights, Beasts, and Wonders: Tales and Legends from Mediaeval Britain. Ill. Charles Keeping. New York: David White, 1969.
This collection of stories includes a version of the Franklin’s Tale. (The other works in the volume are Gower’s Tale of Adrian and Bardus, Sir Orfeo, Havelok the Dane, and two excerpts from Malory’s Morte d’Arthur.) The language is a little awkward for younger readers, but this version might be suitable for advanced chapter book readers, particularly those with a blossoming interest in the medieval period.
Osborne, Mary Pope. Favorite Medieval Tales. Ill. Troy Howell. New York: Scholastic, 1999.
This short book contains children’s versions of several famous medieval tales, including Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Beowulf. It includes a version of the Nun’s Priest’s Tale, here called “Chanticleer and the Fox.” The book also has a short introduction that provides a rough overview of the development of English and a section of notes that provides some more information about the larger work that each tale is extracted from. (This version keeps the overarching story intact and includes the closing moral delivered by the Nun’s Priest.)
The Selected Canterbury Tales: A New Verse Translation. Trans. with an introduction by Sheila Fisher. New York: W. W. Norton, 2011.
The translation is designed in the vein of Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf and Marie Borroff’s Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, both of which are already in use in many classrooms; Fisher’s goal is to make the text accessible to students while preserving the spirit of the original. Her translation is excellent, and she includes a marvelous introduction and suggestions for further reading. She includes many of the “classic” tales that teachers may wish to use with students: the Knight, the Miller, the Reeve, the Cook, the Wife of Bath, the Clerk, the Merchant, the Franklin, the Pardoner, the Prioress, Sir Thopas and the prologue to Melibee, the Nun’s Priest, and the Parson’s prologue, along with Chaucer’s retraction. There is now a paperback edition available, making the book yet more classroom-friendly.
Williams, Marcia. Here Bygynneth Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Cambridge: Candlewick Press, 2007.
This edition is targeted toward ages 10 and up. It retells select tales – the Franklin, Clerk, Miller, Summoner, Pardoner, Nun’s Priest, Reeve, Wife of Bath and Knight – in primarily visual form, comic strip style. In addition to the retelling, contained within panels, each page contains border figures who offer comments on the story being retold. (Characters being illustrated, however, speak in Middle English lines often taken directly from Chaucer.) Given the content of these tales – they are replete with fart jokes and mild sexual content – and the fact that this edition does not “clean up” the tales, the age range seems appropriate.
Background and Context
Because Chaucer lived over six hundred years ago, students often have difficulty understanding both language and content. Chaucer’s work is replete with strange concepts, people, and places. The materials included below are designed to help teachers as well as students master these elements quickly and easily; they would also be valuable starting places for students doing beginning research on Chaucer, his works, and his world.
Andrew, Malcolm. The Palgrave Literary Dictionary of Chaucer. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.
This dictionary includes entries on Chaucer’s works, contexts, contemporaries as well as on concepts and figures important to understanding Chaucer’s works. This resource is particularly useful because it includes the locations within Chaucer’s works where the term in question appears. Within each entry, any terms that are also included in the dictionary are marked with an asterisk. The volume also includes a brief timeline of Chaucer’s life and a useful bibliography.
Chaucer Illustrated: Five Hundred Years of The Canterbury Tales in Pictures. Ed. William Finley and Joseph Rosenblum. New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Press, 2003.
This resources provides illustrations and other images that demonstrate how readers since the Middle Ages have envisioned Chaucer’s works as well as articles describing the impact of specific illustrations of Chaucer’s works. These essays shed a great deal of light on Chaucer’s reception by artists and writers who followed him; this resource would be exceptionally useful in discussions of medievalism.
de Weever, Jacqueline. Chaucer Name Dictionary: A Guide to Astrological, Biblical, Historical, Literary, and Mythological Names in the Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. New York: Garland, 1988.
The Chaucer Name Dictionary provides information on the personal names in Chaucer’s works, including authors he mentions. It has references to where in Chaucer’s work a figure appears; perhaps most helpful, however, is its brief bibliographical information that accompanies each entry. The work provides books or articles for a student who wishes to know more about a particular figure. Because it is such a valuable resource for cultural references, this volume might be especially helpful for English language learners.
Dillion, Bert. A Chaucer Dictionary. Boston, MA: G. K. Hall and Co., 1974.
This dictionary includes major characters and concepts featured in Chaucer’s writings. It also serves as a concordance, providing references to the places within Chaucer’s work where the concept or name in question appears. Its dictionary entries are quite good and it is very thorough; this makes it a very valuable resource for those writing on Chaucer, but it is fairly technical and perhaps less accessible for non-specialists.
Rogers, Shannon L. All Things Chaucer: An Encyclopedia of Chaucer’s World. 2 vols. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2007.
This two-volume set is definitely appropriate for students to use when starting their own research. The encyclopedia includes many images to help students understand the concepts in question. In addition, it has a lengthy bibliography and an index to make it even easier to navigate.
Rossignol, Rosalyn. Chaucer A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Works. New York: Facts on File, 1999.
This reference includes major characters and concepts in Chaucer’s work as well as a section on Chaucer’s language and historical context. Rossignol’s work is brief but informational and very accessible for beginning researchers, yet still useful for teachers. Like many of these reference works, the majority of the book is encyclopedic in nature.
Life in Chaucer’s England
In addition to the need for general background, teachers and students unfamiliar with Chaucer’s world may wish to consider consulting some of the materials below to gain a more complete understanding of Chaucer’s works. This material could be particularly useful for a unit on the Middle Ages (as part of a British Literature survey or a history course, for example). For more extensive resources on everyday life in the middle ages, see Ryan T. Harper’s “Daily Life in the Middle Ages: An Annotated Bibliography” in The Once and Future Classroom 7:1 (Spring 2009), available at http://www.teamsmedieval.org/ofc/SP09/daily.php. [http://once-and-future-classroom.org/archives/?page_id=564 (4/4/2017, C.L.R.)]
Barron, Caroline M. London in the Later Middle Ages: Government and People, 1200-1500. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
This book provides more detailed information than most students will need; it includes sections detailing the relationship between the city and the king, the economic infrastructure of London, the local government structures, and the urban environment itself. However, it is a valuable resource for slightly more advanced scholars or for any who are interested in what Chaucer might have experienced in London during his lifetime.
Chaucer Life-Records. Ed. Martin M. Crow and Clair C. Olson. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966.
The Life-Records catalogue all the historical documents that reference Chaucer to provide a biography of his life. While this would not necessarily be a productive resource for students themselves, it is the definitive resource on Chaucer’s life and may be of use to teachers preparing to teach a unit on Chaucer.
Childress, Diana. Chaucer’s England. North Haven, CT: Linnet, 2000.
Childress’ book is informative and fairly easy to read; it would definitely be accessible for high school readers. It includes information on education, social classes and social change, daily life, and the economy during Chaucer’s lifetime. In addition, it includes a brief author’s note; a section “for more information” and a list of works consulted; an index; and a timeline of Chaucer’s life. It is a very useful resource for students as well as teachers.
Forgeng, Jeffrey L., and Will McLean. Daily Life in Chaucer’s England. Second ed. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2009.
This work features sections on Chaucer’s society, material culture, clothing, entertainment, and historical background, as well as a brief timeline of major events that occurred around Chaucer’s lifetime. The work is meant for “practical” purposes (that is, for recreating the time period), and so it might be of use to teachers who wish to give students a sense of how life in the Middle Ages was lived or as a reference for activities one could bring into the classroom.
Hubbard-Brown, Janet. Chaucer: Celebrated Poet and Author. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2006.
This resource, appropriate for chapter book readers, provides a biography that fills in the blanks in our knowledge of Chaucer with the best information it has access to. It is speculative, as a result, but does provide some context on the medieval period. The book is included here because there are relatively few materials focused on Chaucer that are appropriate for this particular reading level; however, teachers should be warned that the book is decidedly anti-Catholic in its sentiments and may need to be used with caution. It includes comprehension quizzes at the end of chapters to help gauge student understanding. It might be useful in conjunction with other materials to help balance its particular perspective.
Kallay, Zelma. Kings, Queens, Castles, and Crusades: Life in the Middle Ages. Parsnippany, NJ: Good Apple, 1997.
Appropriate for older elementary school students, this book includes activities and worksheet pages that would be useful for teachers. The book provides a larger context for the Middle Ages, including sections on knights, the Crusades, Joan of Arc, medieval money, and Chaucer himself. While it definitely oversimplifies, especially in its descriptions of medieval texts, it provides an engaging, interactive introduction to the period for younger students.
Serraillier, Ian. Chaucer and his World. New York: Henry Z. Walck, 1968.
Serraillier’s book is older than Childress’s, as well as less extensive and less readable. However, it is still a valuable potential resource to give students some background on Chaucer’s world. Serraillier’s book does contain a lot of interesting images which might be useful as visual aids for students.
Swisher, Clarice. Understanding the Canterbury Tales. Farmington Mills, MI: Lucent Books, 2003.
This resource, appropriate for high school students, is organized around major themes in the Canterbury Tales. It cites many major scholars and critics, which makes it a useful way for advanced students to become aware of the critical discussion about Chaucer’s tales. In addition, it includes extensive notes and resources for further information, so that students may use it as a way to begin research on Chaucer.
General Reference Guides
Dictionary of the Middle Ages. Ed. Joseph R. Strayer. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1982-1989.
This thirteen-volume reference set (with an added supplement) provides an enormous amount of information useful to students and teachers at the high school level and beyond. If teachers have access to it, it is a veritable mine of information on topics relevant to the Western medieval period.
Medieval England: An Encyclopedia. Ed. Paul E Szarmach, M. Teresa Tavormina, and Joel T. Rosenthal. New York: Garland, 1998.
More specific (and less ambitious in scope) than the Dictionary of the Middle Ages, this volume is especially useful for teachers and likely less so for students. It is particularly helpful because each entry provides not only a bibliography, but also cross-lists other articles that may be of interest. (For example, the entry on Chaucer cross-lists entries on Comic Tales, Dream Vision, and Women in Middle English Literature, among others.) This encyclopedia might be a useful tool for engaging with terms that are common in Chaucer scholarship but less familiar to non-specialists.
Middle English Dictionary. Ed. Frances McSparran. Last updated 18 December 2001. http://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/med/
This is the online version of the print Middle English Dictionary, maintained by the University of Michigan. The MED provides quotations and dates for the word’s usage along with definitions, and it is an invaluable resource for students and teachers working with Chaucer’s original language; it is, however, strictly a language dictionary and thus far less helpful for students and teachers working with translations or other adaptations of Chaucer’s works.
Over the course of several hundred years, much has been written about Chaucer’s works. I include the material below as a starting point for teachers; while advanced students may be ready for some of these materials, they are included to help teachers quickly become aware of the field of Chaucer studies before bringing Chaucer into their classrooms.
The Cambridge Companion to Chaucer. Ed. Piero Boitani and Jill Mann. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
Like most critical collections, the Cambridge companion contains various critical articles on Chaucer’s work and context, as well as a section for further reading. Most of the works in this volume, however, focus on a particular one of Chaucer’s works. (Five of them, for example, discuss various aspects of the Canterbury Tales.)
Chaucer: An Oxford Guide. Ed. Steve Ellis. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
The Oxford guide is broken into four major parts – historical contexts, literary contexts, readings of Chaucer, and Chaucer’s afterlife – each containing multiple articles. It also includes study resources which will help students find further resources.
A Companion to Chaucer. Ed. Peter Brown. Oxford: Blackwell, 2000.
The Blackwell companion contains articles on various elements of Chaucer’s life and works written by major scholars in Chaucer Studies. Some of its topics include the afterlife, narrative, geography and travel, personal identity, crisis and dissent, and many others. Each article includes further reading and references, helpful to teachers or students wishing to conduct more research.
Geoffrey Chaucer: The Writer and His Background. Ed. Derek Brewer. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1990.
This volume contains essays on Chaucer’s use of history, relationship to writing in other languages, and a guide for readers interested in Chaucer criticism. Brewer’s volume is an excellent resource for teachers who might be looking for a variety of approaches to Chaucer that could be used in a classroom setting; its articles would provide ample background to teachers unfamiliar with elements of Chaucer’s work. Topics include “Chaucer and Science,” “Chaucer and the Visual Arts,” “Chaucer and Fourteenth-Century English,” and “The Historical Chaucer,” among others.
The Oxford Companion to Chaucer. Ed. Douglas Gray. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.
This companion, which features entries on major concepts in Chaucer’s work, includes a helpful list of entries, a reader’s guide, a chronology, and maps. Gray’s volume is designed to be informational, rather than critical, and so it would be a valuable resource for planning lectures. The writing is approachable for high school researchers, who would find this encyclopedia-style companion useful for quickly obtaining basic information on unfamiliar concepts.
Rossignol, Rosalyn. Critical Companion to Chaucer: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 2007.
This volume is an excellent starting place for those unfamiliar with Chaucer. The book contains a biography, entries on each of Chaucer’s works, and an extensive section discussing people, places, and topics relevant to Chaucer’s writing. It is accessible for high school students beginning to do to research.
The Yale Companion to Chaucer. Ed. Seth Lerer. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006.
Lerer’s companion provides updates to long-standing “truths” about Chaucer in light of more recent scholarship. This volume would primarily be useful to teachers (perhaps those who last studied Chaucer some time ago) as it provides new critical perspectives on Chaucer’s historical context and major works. The volume also includes an overview of Chaucer scholarship, which may be helpful, and appendixes that include maps, a timeline of Chaucer’s life, and previous guides to studying Chaucer.
Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales have been reimagined and redesigned by the many readers who have encountered them; as new media develop, creative minds have adapted the tales afresh. These adaptations provide invaluable ways for teachers to breathe new life into teaching Chaucer. I have included here a sampling of materials that teachers might bring into their classrooms; notably, very few film adaptations of the CT have been created to date. However, audio readings of the CT are common. In addition, in recent years, blogs and other media have also adapted Chaucer; I have included several of the most inventive Chaucerian reimaginings here.
Manuscript and Art Editions
The Canterbury Tales: A Facsimile and Transcription of the Hengwrt Manuscript with Variants from the Ellesmere Manuscript. Ed. Paul G. Ruggiers. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1979.
This facsimile of the Hengwrt manuscript, one of the two major manuscripts of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, might be used to give students a sense of what a medieval book looked like, which is particularly important if teachers are teaching the tales entirely in translation.
The Ellesmere Manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales: A Working Facsimile. Ed. Ralph Hanna. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1989.
The Canterbury Tales: The New Ellesmere Chaucer Monochromatic Facsimile. Ed. Daniel Woodward and Martin Stevens. San Marino, CA: Huntington Library, 1997.
The Ellesmere Miniatures of the Canterbury Pilgrims. Ed. Theo Stemmler. Second ed. Mannheim: English Dept. of the University of Mannheim, 1977.
The Ellesmere manuscript contains the famous portraits of the Canterbury pilgrims, which might be useful to teachers who wish to bring visual materials into their classrooms.
A Facsimile of the William Morris Kelmscott Chaucer, With the Original 87 Illustrations by Edward Burne-Jones, Together with an Introduction by John T. Winterich and a Glossary for the Modern Reader. Cleveland: World Pub. Co, 1958.
This facsimile of a nineteenth-century edition of Chaucer’s works, printed by William Morris’s Kelmscott Press, features intricate woodcuts. This edition could be used to give students a sense of Chaucer’s “afterlife” in later centuries. Editions are rare, however, and expensive; fortunately, images are available at the British Library’s website (http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/landprint/kelmscott/index.html) and at the McCune collection online (http://www.mccunecollection.org/kelmscott_chaucer.html).
Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives. Perf. Terry Jones. BBC Worldwide, 1998.
This film provides excellent (and reliable) background on the Middle Ages, presented in an engaging format appropriate for high school students. Jones dispels myths about the medieval period through presentations of social classes such as kings, priests, knights, and peasants. This resource would be especially useful to give students some historical context as part of a short unit on Chaucer, since Jones’s presentation of a relevant social class could be extracted for in-class viewing.
The Canterbury Tales. Perf. Julie Walters, Paul Nicholls, Billie Piper, Dennis Waterman, John Simm, Chiwetel Ejiofor. Prod. Kate Bartlett. BBC One, 11 September 2003 – 16 October 2003.
This BBC series of six dramas presents updated versions of the tales, taking place in contemporary Britain. The adaptations cover the Knight’s Tale, the Miller’s Tale, the Pardoner’s Tale, the Wife of Bath’s Tale, the Shipman’s Tale, and the Man of Law’s Tale. Though these versions are decidedly reimaginings, they might be useful supplements to reading the tales, and they would be particularly fascinating if one is considering Chaucerian adaptation. The series is available on DVD, but teachers should confirm that they have the means to play region 2 discs in their classrooms; it does not seem to be available in region 1 format.
A Knight’s Tale. Dir. Brian Helgeland. Perf. Heath Ledger, Rufus Sewell, Shannyn Sossamon, Paul Bettany. Rated PG-13.
This film is by no means a retelling of Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale; it is a decidedly modern reimagining of class mobility during the medieval period and does not necessarily strive for accuracy. I include it here, however, for its incorporation of many medieval plots and its accessibility for students. (It includes a plot point from twelfth-century writer Chretién de Troyes, part of the description of Chaucer’s Knight, and many other allusions to medieval source material.) It is also worth noting that Chaucer features as a character in the film and is thus reclaimed as a “modern thinker.” Despite its flaws, the film provides many ways for students to engage with Chaucer; to provide one example, I have taught it in conjunction with excerpts from the Chaucer-pilgrim’s self presentation, inviting students to compare these “multiple Chaucers” through short writing assignments. The film earned its rating for violence, sex-related language, and moments of nudity.
Many recordings of scholars (and others) reading Chaucer’s works are available and could be used in classrooms. I have included here several professional readings; however, many others are available on amazon.com and iTunes.
Alan Gaylord Reads Chaucer: Miller’s Tale and Friar’s Tale. Chaucer Studio, 2008. CD.
The Clerk’s Tale. Chaucer Studio, 1994. CD.
The Franklin’s Tale. Chaucer Studio, 1990. CD.
The General Prologue. Chaucer Studio, 2003. CD.
The Knight’s Tale. Chaucer Studio, 1994. CD.
Live at Kalamazoo: The Nun’s Priest’s Tale. Chaucer Studio, 2010. CD.
The Man of Law’s Tale. Chaucer Studio, 1994. CD.
The Manciple’s Tale. Chaucer Studio, 2003. CD.
The Merchant’s Tale. Chaucer Studio, 1988. CD.
Michael Alexander Reads Chaucer: The Cook’s Tale and a Selection of Short Poems. Chaucer Studio, 2007. CD.
The Miller’s Tale. Chaucer Studio, 1996. CD.
The Monk’s Tale. Chaucer Studio, 2001. CD.
The Nun’s Priest’s Tale. Chaucer Studio, 1994. CD.
The Pardoner’s Tale. Chaucer Studio, 2003. CD.
The Parson’s Tale. Chaucer Studio, 2011. CD.
The Prioress’s Tale: Two Readings. Chaucer Studio, 1990. CD.
The Reeve’s Tale. Chaucer Studio, 1996. CD.
The Second Nun’s Tale. Chaucer Studio, 2003. CD.
The Shipman’s Tale. Chaucer Studio, 1996. CD.
Sir Thopas: Two Readings. Chaucer Studio, 1988. CD.
The Squire’s Tale. Chaucer Studio, 2006. CD.
The Summoner’s Tale. Chaucer Studio, 1990. CD.
The Tale of Melibee. Chaucer Studio, 2002. CD.
The Wife of Bath’s Prlogue and Tale. Chaucer Studio, 1994. CD.
Chaucer Studio has excellent, inexpensive recordings available for download or on CD. These readings – multiple works are available – may provide teachers an opportunity to let students hear Middle English being read regardless of a teacher’s comfort reading Middle English aloud. I have included here all the materials available from the Canterbury Tales, though some of Chaucer’s other works are available as well; all of the works are available for purchase at http://creativeworks.byu.edu/chaucer/Default.aspx both on CD and as downloads.
Brinkman, Baba. The Rap Canterbury Tales. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2006.
Suitable for older students, Brinkman’s retellings emphasize the humor of the Canterbury Tales, and they are a fine example of modern adaptation of Chaucer’s work. These versions of the tales (which include the Pardoner’s Tale and the Wife of Bath’s Tale, among others) would make fascinating supplements for high school students to read or hear alongside a more traditional translation or perhaps even a Middle English text of the tales. (For teachers who do not have access to the book or CD – or would like to preview Brinkman’s versions before purchasing either – video of Brinkman performing several tales live is available on YouTube.)
Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog. http://houseoffame.blogspot.com/.
In this parody blog, Chaucer comments on modern-day news and scandals in Middle English. Recent entries have included a message from the Pardoner about Netflix and a post including Canterbury Pilgrim style sketches of Star Wars characters. The blogger, scholar and critic Brantley Bryant from Sonoma State University, has also authored a book that includes some of his most famous posts, published by Palgrave Macmillan.
As with most topics, a quick internet search will unearth a huge number of resources on Chaucer, all of them of varying levels of helpfulness. One major advantage to online resources is that they are inexpensive and very accessible to teachers who may be limited by prep time, budgets, and many other factors; many of them are also useful to students. But the number of them is somewhat overwhelming, and so I have selected here several of the most helpful or unique resources. These resources are meant as a gateway of sorts; many of these sites include other links, for example, as well as texts, images, sound files, and other materials designed to aid students and teachers.
Chaucer MetaPage. http://englishcomplit.unc.edu/chaucer/.
The Chaucer MetaPage seeks to gather links relevant to Chaucer studies from across the web, though it provides no other resources of its own. It includes helpful links for those teaching Chaucer as well as a valuable page of bibliographies. Though this website is fairly old, the links it contains are checked; moreover, it is ever-growing, as it invites users to suggest additions and contribute resources.
Harvard Geoffrey Chaucer Page. http://www.courses.fas.harvard.edu/~chaucer/index.html. Updated 3 Oct 2010.
The page is generally considered one of the best Chaucer sites available. Harvard’s Chaucer page has fairly extensive audio files of Chaucer’s works being read by scholars in Middle English, which can be used to introduce students to Chaucer’s language. Much of the page includes interlinear translations of selected tales to help students learn to work with the Middle English originals. The page also includes sections on Chaucer’s contemporaries and influences and major themes in his works.
“Geoffrey Chaucer.” Luminarium: Anthology of English Literature. http://www.luminarium.org/medlit/chaucer.htm.
Luminarium is an exceptional web resource for students and teachers. In addition to background information on Chaucer, his time, and his works, Luminarium contains a large selection of essays and articles that may help beginning researchers. The site’s links section may be particularly helpful to teachers as it provides access to an enormous number of additional medieval resources on the web.
“Geoffrey Chaucer: Lesson Plans for The Canterbury Tales.” Web English Teacher. http://www.webenglishteacher.com/chaucer.html.
This page is designed to help teachers bring Chaucer into their classrooms and is filled with valuable resources, including some potential activities and lesson plans. While these resources are interesting, the site only includes material for the Knight, the Miller, the Pardoner, and the Wife of Bath. The overview materials include several excellent resources, however, including a Canterbury Tales Remix project, a vocabulary list from the tales, and directions for a heraldry project.
NeCastro, Gerard. eChaucer: Chaucer in the Twenty-First Century. http://www.umm.maine.edu/faculty/necastro/chaucer/. Updated 15 June 2011.
NeCastro, who is affiliated with the University of Maine at Machias, maintains this collection of texts, tools, images, and other websites for the study of Chaucer and his works.
Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies. http://www.the-orb.net/.
On the ORB, teachers will have access to a huge number of materials that might help in preparing to teach or giving students a place to begin research. The ORB also has a section of resources for teachers that includes sample syllabi, study questions, and subject bibliographies. It also includes a section of resources specifically for nonspecialists, which deals with topics in medievalism (and popular culture materials).
The World of Chaucer: Medieval Books and Manuscripts. http://special.lib.gla.ac.uk/exhibns/chaucer/index.html.
This site is the web version of an exhibition catalogue for an exhibition of materials from the Glasgow University Library which was on display from May to August, 2004. The online version includes marvelous images which would be useful for teachers as well as an introduction and other materials that would be accessible for older students. If Chaucer is being taught in the context of a larger unit on the Middle Ages, then teachers may also appreciate the information the site includes about Chaucer’s contemporaries, including John Gower, John Lydgate, and others.
Kara L. McShane is a Doctoral Candidate at the University of Rochester. She is currently working on her dissertation, a study of how foreign documents interact with Middle English literary texts to shape developing notions of medieval English cultural identity.
Original Citation: The Once and Future Classroom, Volume XI, Issue 1, Spring 2013 http://www.teamsmedieval.org/ofc/Spring2013Bib.html
NOTE: Links have been corrected and/or deleted. No editing to the actual texts has been done since their original publication.