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The Life and Writings of Geoffrey Chaucer

Take a fascinating look at Chaucer's life, his world, and the language in which he wrote.

Life and Writings of Geoffrey Chaucer is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 46.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very interesting. I have been very with this purchase. I didn't know much about Geoffrey Chaucer so I'm learning a lot and am finding it interesting.
Date published: 2024-06-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant This series is nothing short of brilliant. It is in the best 3 of the 70+ courses that I have purchased.
Date published: 2022-09-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good historic background Fills in a lot of blanks in the evolution of story telling.
Date published: 2022-09-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Way too short This course is way, way, way too short. It should be at least 24 lectures. So much more to say!
Date published: 2022-08-03
Rated 3 out of 5 by from More info, less middle/olde English readings. I bought to review this piece of literature. Way too much actual reading in middle/olde English, I appreciate his ability, but enough is enough. More facts and background.
Date published: 2022-07-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Powerfully Engaging Professor Lerer's obvious passion for the subject is infectious. His delivery is so compelling and evocative, I ended up reading the complete major works of Chaucer... in Middle English. He connects the writings to the past, Chaucer's own fera, and all that came after. I read Chaucer in high school, but for the first time, the text came alive for me.
Date published: 2021-08-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved this series! I loved this series. Dr. Lerer held my attention and interest throughout the lectures.
Date published: 2021-08-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course Excellent compact overview of Chaucer's works as well as his cultural and historical context. A pleasure to hear Prof. Lerer speak Middle English.
Date published: 2021-08-12
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The Life and Writings of Geoffrey Chaucer, award-winning Professor Seth Lerer's masterful course on one of Western literature's most enduring poets, is a fascinating look at Chaucer's life, his world, and the language in which he wrote. By examining texts, from his short love lyrics to the copious profusion of character and events that compose "The Canterbury Tales," this course prepares you for the challenges of reading Chaucer's life work and provides you with a strong understanding of the reasons he's considered the "father" of English poetry.


Seth Lerer

Anyone who comes to know English as a child in school, or as an adult who speaks another language, is invariably confronted by the strangeness of its spelling.


University of California, San Diego

Dr. Seth Lerer is the Dean of Arts and Humanities at the University of California, San Diego. Before taking this position, he was the Avalon Foundation Professor in Humanities and Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Stanford University. He also taught at Princeton University, Cambridge University, and Washington University in St. Louis. Professor Lerer earned his B.A. from Wesleyan University, a second B.A. from Oxford University, and his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. Professor Lerer's research interests include medieval and Renaissance studies, early Tudor literary culture, textual criticism, Old and Middle English literature, and children's literature. He has published 10 books, including Chaucer and His Readers and Inventing English: A Portable History of the Language. Professor Lerer won the 2010 Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism in Memory of Newton Arvin for his book Children's Literature: A Reader's History from Aesop to Harry Potter. The book also won the 2009 National Book Critics Circle Award. He is also the author of more than 100 scholarly articles and reviews. Professor Lerer received many awards for his scholarship and teaching, including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Guggenheim Foundation, the Beatrice White Prize of the English Association of Great Britain (for Chaucer and His Readers), and the Hoagland Prize for Undergraduate Teaching at Stanford.

By This Professor

Introduction to Chaucer's Life and World

01: Introduction to Chaucer's Life and World

This introductory lecture places Chaucer's work and life in the contexts of medieval English literature and social history. We look forward to the approach of the course, focusing largely on "The Canterbury Tales" and on the poet's later impact on English literature and literary history. This course of lectures seeks to understand how and why we think of Chaucer in these ways, and why we still continue to read and value his poetry today.

32 min
The Scope of Chaucer's Work

02: The Scope of Chaucer's Work

This lecture surveys the range of Chaucer's literary production. It identifies and describes the five kinds of modes in which Chaucer wrote, and summarizes the content of his major poems other than "The Canterbury Tales."

31 min
Chaucer's Language

03: Chaucer's Language

This lecture introduces the student to Middle English. It identifies key features of Chaucer's language: historical contexts in the development of the English language, and local contexts in the particulars of Chaucer's regional dialect, level of education, and blend of literary and intellectual discourses. The lecture concludes with a close reading of the first sentence of "The General Prologue of the Canterbury Tales" to illustrate his language at work.

31 min
Chaucerian Themes and Terms

04: Chaucerian Themes and Terms

In this lecture, we explore some vocabulary and narrative stances Chaucer uses by examining closely two short poems. "Truth" was the most popular of his short poems in the centuries after his death, and "Adam Scriveyn" has long been taken to exemplify the problems of the author in an age before print, in a manuscript culture. These poems help us understand the conditions of that manuscript culture: what it meant to be an author in a time of handmade manuscripts, when language and texts were more variable than they are now.

31 min

05: "Troilus and Criseyde"—Love and Philosophy

This is the first of two lectures on Chaucer's long, classically inspired, deeply humanist poem "Troilus and Criseyde." This lecture shows how Chaucer explores the problem of love from a philosophical perspective. It illustrates how Chaucer appropriates material from mythology and from near-contemporary Italian poets to create a rich synthesis of the inheritance of European literature.

31 min

06: "Troilus and Criseyde"—History and Fiction

This lecture looks more closely at "Troilus and Criseyde" to understand Chaucer's controlling interests in the way history works. It attends to Chaucer's narrative reflections in the poem on how the passage of time changes language and social habits. In this lecture, the poem will be framed by discussions from medieval intellectual texts, which inform his discussions and help us place Chaucer's project in his time.

31 min

07: "The Canterbury Tales"—The General Prologue

This lecture introduces the student to "The Canterbury Tales". It begins with the "General Prologue" introduction and the portraits of the 29 pilgrims who will make up the tale-telling structure of the pilgrimage. Central to this poem, and to its opening, is a sense of order. We will look at three representative portraits.

31 min

08: "The Canterbury Tales"—The First Fragment

This lecture describes the major features of the first section of "The Canterbury Tales": the Tales of the Knight, Miller, Reeve, and Cook. The theme of this so-called First Fragment is language and control: how language comes to degenerate in the course of the sequence of tales, and how all hope of controlling human social and linguistic behavior ultimately fails in the face of individual desire, aggression, anger, and wit. Finally, this lecture explores how Chaucer is funny: where the humor goes right and where it goes wrong.

31 min
The Wife of Bath

09: The Wife of Bath

This lecture presents Chaucer's Wife of Bath as a central character in "The Canterbury Tales." Her General Prologue portrait, her own long Prologue to her tale, and her tale itself, come together to describe a lusty, willful woman. But these elements also illustrate what Chaucer sees as central problems of relationships among men and women. She has been taken by some modern critics as a proto-feminist; by others as Chaucer in drag. Whatever or whoever she is, she is one of the most memorable characters in all of literature.

30 min
The Pardoner

10: The Pardoner

In this lecture, we meet the Pardoner in full, who is, along with the Wife of Bath, another of Chaucer's memorable, infamous, challenging, and perhaps disturbing creations. Is he a "gelding" or a "mare" (a eunuch or a homosexual)? Is he a drunkard, too, and is his story of the revelers at the tavern also a story about the link between inebriation and inspiration? And just why does his final address to the Host bring forth such a wild, angry, and obscene response? We will confront the very essence of Chaucer's literary art itself, and its power to move, anger, and productively disturb us.

31 min
“God’s Plenty”—The Variety of

11: “God’s Plenty”—The Variety of "The Canterbury Tales"

This lecture surveys the range of "The Canterbury Tales" to illustrate the richness and variety of Chaucer's literary imagination. It also points the student to some particular problems and perspectives in Chaucer's work to provoke him or her to read more in Chaucer and appreciate the power of his verse and the compelling quality of the worlds he has created.

31 min
Chaucer's Living Influence

12: Chaucer's Living Influence

Chaucer's importance in the 15th century was so great that, at introduction of printing into England, he was one of the very first writers printed. Spenser and Shakespeare. This course of lectures closes with both an invitation and an injunction for the student to return to Chaucer as the founder of English vernacular literary culture itself.

31 min