Chaucer

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This course offers an introduction to the language and literature of Chaucer's writings. No prior knowledge of Middle English is expected or required, but we will read all texts in the original. This means taking considerably more time to read a single passage of Middle English than you would take to read a page of Modern English. In practical terms, it means confronting language that is both arcane and unfamiliar, words such as soote (‘sweet’) or eek (‘also’), as well as a number of words from Old English and French that are no longer used or whose meaning has changed (‘silly,’ for example, originally meant ‘innocent’). You’ll also encounter language that most of the world today considers to be ‘Shakespearean,’ words such as hath (‘has’) and thou (‘you’), which have their roots in Old English. You’ll get used to this quick enough and the fact that there is no consistency in spelling in Middle English. Scribes of the period wrote words the way they ‘sounded’ (in a phonemic spelling system) and so they didn’t worry if a word was spelled the same way in a given passage or even a given line, so long as it sounded right. As if this weren’t enough, this is poetry, which means jumbled syntax (the order of words) and an assortment of elevated diction.

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