ENGL 430: Chaucer
Term: Spring, 2012
Class meetings: M/W 2:10-4:00, Rm. 34-228
Office: 47-35G, tel. 756-2636 
Office Hours: M 1:00-1:50, WR 4:10-5:30; and by appt.
Dr. Debora B. Schwartz 
Main English Office:  756-2597
e-mail: dschwart@calpoly.edu

Calendar of Assignments

PLEASE NOTE that the on-line syllabus (not any print-out you may make) is authoritative.  Assignments may be modified in the course of the quarter.  Check the on-line syllabus regularly (before each class) to ensure that you are completing the correct assignment. It is accessible at http://cla.calpoly.edu/~dschwart/engl430/430syllS12.html

Oral Presentation Schedule

Dr. Schwartz's Guide to Kennedy Library Research Tools

Guided Research Exercises:

Site Navigation

Prequisites: ENGL 430 is a senior-level English seminar.  Enrollment is limited to English majors and Graduate Students in the M.A. in English program.  English majors are normally expected to have completed ENGL 203, the Medieval Core class, which is a prerequisite for upper-division work in medieval literature.  Please be aware that all students enrolled in ENGL 430 are assumed to have acquired a basic familiarity with  medieval literary practices and to have read some Chaucer in their ENGL 203 class.  ENGL 430 is designed to build upon that knowledge and should not normally be undertaken by English majors who have not yet completed ENGL 203. 
Course Objectives:

In this seminar, we will use Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, the major literary landmark of the English Middle Ages, as a vehicle to explore medieval literary production. Readings have been chosen as examples of the major literary genres practiced in the Middle Ages, to illustrate key themes, or to showcase Chaucer's literary talent, his innovation, and his considerable wit. Students will explore a topic in depth in a research paper. 

By the end of the quarter, you should feel confident of your ability to read Chaucer in Middle English.  In addition, you will have gained an understanding of how medieval literature differs from modern literature (and from modern notions of what literature is): e.g. the distinction between a printed edition and a medieval manuscript; the different definitions of what constitutes a literary work in manuscript and print cultures; the tension between Latin and vernacular literatures; the emphasis on literature as an on-going process rather than an end product (and thus the inappropriateness of notions such as "originality" or "intellectual property" in the medieval context); the sort of decisions facing the editor of a medieval text (and in particular, those facing an editor of the Canterbury Tales).  You will know something about Chaucer's life and about Middle English literature at the end of the fourteenth century.  You will be able to identify and distinguish between the various genres read in class. 

Additionally, you will have experience using a number of electronic and print research tools to identify, locate and access useful research materials at Cal Poly, at other institutions, and on the Web, and you should know how to document these sources correctly in a research paper. You will be aware of some of the pitfalls and pleasures of doing research on the Web, and at Cal Poly.

Overall goals:  to convince you that medieval literature in general, and Chaucer in particular, are neither boring nor "too hard"; that this stuff is fun to read; and that this is a book you'll want to keep at the end of the quarter! 


You are expected to have an email account and to check it regularly.  Important announcements will be sent over the class email alias.  The class email alias is automatically generated using the email address of each enrolled student found in the Cal Poly Directory server. If your Cal Poly email account is NOT your preferred email address, you must

  • Log into http://my.calpoly.edu/ and click on "Grades and Personal Information" (the "Personal Information Channel") to change your Email Delivery Address. Once you have done so, any email sent to <yourusername@calpoly.edu> , including all postings to the class alias, will be forwarded to the address you have designated.
Remember: you are responsible for any information sent over the class email alias (e.g. changes in assignments; other class-related announcements), so be sure to check your email regularly.  You may also use the alias to send a query or comment to the whole class (including your instructor).  Please do not use the alias for matters unrelated to class.

You are also expected to facilitate collaboration with your classmates by submitting regular research progress reports and records of works ordered via LINK+  or ILL to the Class Research Archive, and by submitting at least one item to the Class ILL Article Repository.  The Class Research Archive and ILL Article Depository are located in a Polylearn "Discussion Board."  To access Poylearn, log in at MyCalpoly, go to My Classes and select "ENGL 430" from the classes you are taking; then click on the link to the "ILL Article Repository" or to the Reserach Archive for the topic you are interested in.  There will be an Archive set up for each reading on which there are oral presentations. Research reports are due to the archive no later than the date listed on the class calendar (generally, either the FRIDAY or the SUNDAY after the day on which the assignment is listed on the Class Calendar.  Keep a copy of your research reports in case of technological glitches. Be sure to check after each posting to verify that your submissions have made it into the archive.  If you have trouble posting to the archive, contact the Help Desk (756-7000) and let me know at our next class meeting. Your complete set of Research Progress Reports and your posting(s) to the ILL Article Repository will factor into the participation component of your final course grade

Attendance Policy:  Due to the twice-weekly seminar format, any absence causes you to miss a substantial chunk of material. Regular and punctual attendance is required.  Please note that EVERY absence will affect the participation component of your final course grade

Occasional absences for personal reasons are understandable . . . but not excused!Each student starts out with a 4.0 for attendance.  This component of your final grade drops by .3 for the first UNEXCUSED absence; the penalty increases by .1 for each subsequent unexcused absence (from A [4.0] to A- [3.7] to B+ [3.3], to B- [2.8], etc.).  Additionally, it drops .1 for the first EXCUSED absence (4.0 to 3.9) and .2 for the second excused absence (3.9 to 3.7).  Excused absences in excess of two (a full week, 10% of the class) count the same as unexcused absences.

Please note that only absences resulting from illness, a family emergency, or circumstances truly beyond your control count as excused.  Absences taken for personal convenience are a matter of choice rather than necessity; they will be recorded as unexcused. Please note that deadlines for other courses, work conflicts and job interviews are NOT valid reasons for missing class.  Exception:  a graduating senior will be granted ONE excused absence for an out-of-town job interview. 

FOR ANY ABSENCE TO BE EXCUSED, YOU MUST SUBMIT A SIGNED, WRITTEN NOTE with course number, date missed and an explanation of the circumstances leading to your absence.  (An e-mail or a phone message will not suffice; a written statement with your signature is required for an absence to be excused.) 

Required Textbooks:
  • The Riverside Chaucer, 3rd edition, ed. Larry D. Benson (Houghton Mifflin)
  • The Canterbury Tales, tr. Nevill Coghill (Penguin Classics) [=CT]
  • Joseph Gibaldi and Walter S. Achtert, MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, (preferably the 6th ed. [2003])
Note:  you must use the SPECIFIC TEXTS ordered for this class.  DO NOT SUBSTITUTE another edition / translation!

Other required readings will be accessed electronically, as .HTML files through links on this website, or as .PDF files that have been placed on "electronic reserve" in the Library Resources section of Blackboard. Please note that ALL required electronically accessed readings should be PRINTED OUT, PLACED IN A COURSE BINDER, AND BROUGHT WITH YOU TO CLASS. To access Blackboard, log in at MyCalpoly, go to "Blackboard Access" and select "ENGL 430-01" from the classes you are taking. Click on the links in the Electronic Reserves section (under "Library Resources") to download, read and/or print the .PDF files using Acrobat Reader. To access online readings in .html files, click on the link on the Calendar of AssignmentsALWAYS BRING HARD COPY OF ASSIGNED TEXTS WITH YOU TO CLASS!

Recommended Texts: (some on Reserve for ENGL 430)
  • Helen Cooper, Oxford Guides to Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales (Oxford University Press; available for purchase at El Corral and on reserve for ENGL 430)
  • Laura C. and Robert T. Lambdin, Chaucer's Pilgrims: An Historical Guide to the Pilgrims in the Canterbury Tales (Westport, CN: Praeger; available for purchase at El Corral and on reserve for ENGL 430). 
  • Derek Pearsall, The Canterbury Tales (Routledge). 
  • Beryl Rowland,  A Companion to Chaucer Studies, rev. ed. 
You may also find it helpful to listen to the Chaucer Studio Recordings of one or more of the assigned Canterbury Tales (which may be available for purchase at El Corral under ENGL 430 or ENGL 512).

Readings are to be completed BEFORE coming to class on the date assigned. You are expected as a matter of course to read the introductory Explanatory Notes for each reading (found in the Appendices of the Riverside Chaucer), as well as the footnotes in the text, assigned pages in the general introduction, and any assigned online readings or handouts. You should be aware of, and consult as needed, the more detailed explanatory notes (listed by line number in Appendix 1) and should consult the textual notes for your tale (found in Appendix 2) when preparing your class presentation and writing your research paper. Be sure to read the background material FIRST -- it provides a context within which the primary readings will be more meaningful. 

Remember:  reading a modern translation is NOT cheating -- that's why a translation is a required text for this class!  You are advised to BEGIN with the translation and refer back to it as you read the Middle English.  But if you ONLY read the translation, you will not do well in ENGL 430. Any quizzes and passages on both midterm exams are based on the original Middle English text as printed in the Riverside Chaucer.  You must refer to that edition (not to a translation) in class discussion, in your oral presentation, and in your research paper

Be prepared to DISCUSS readings in class. Note that the length and difficulty of assignments vary, so look ahead in the reading list when you are planning your time. Queens DebateYou will be responsible for ALL the assigned readings, whether fully discussed in class or not, as well as for the additional background material presented in lectures, online readings, handouts and in class discussion.

All students will be required to READ ALOUD IN CLASS, with reasonably correct Middle English pronunciation and inflection, the first 42 lines of the General Prologue AND a total of at least 20 lines of their own choosing from another tale (as part of their Oral Presentation). Readings will be graded pass/fail. Only non-performance will earn an F (averaged into the Participation component of your final grade), but quality of reading will be recorded as a "+" or "-" used to help decide borderline grades at the end of term.  Particularly energetic or enthusiastic recitation earns applause, smiles, good will -- perhaps even cookies? 
(Extra credit  for memorization!!)

Graded Work:

In 400-level classes, I assume a certain level of commitment from my students, since no one is required to take a given seminar.  For this reason, I typically do not use reading quizzes in a seminar.  The one exception has been this Chaucer seminar, where I have in the past used reading quizzes to keep tabs on students' progress in mastering Chaucer's language.  This quarter, I have decided to try an experiment:  I will dispense with the reading quizzes, and instead begin class with oral discussion of the material that might have been on a quiz, and group translation of a passage from the assigned reading. 

BUT. . . if I perceive that students are NOT doing the readings -- or appear to be reading ONLY the modern English translation -- I reserve the right to BEGIN class with an unannounced READING QUIZ.  Quizzes will consist of two parts: factual questions based on assigned background readings (e.g. biographical information on Chaucer; important concepts and terms presented in background readings or associated with primary readings -- genres of tales, sources of tales, dates of tales if known, the fragments of the CT, the "marriage group," the "Bradshaw shift," etc.).  There may also be IDs of key characters or terms found in primary readings.  Part two will consist of passage IDs from the assigned primary reading(s), including brief translations of selected Middle English lines. If we end up having reading quizzes, there will be some element of choice in each section; you will have the opportunity to answer extra questions for additional points; and your quiz average (after dropping the lowest score) will be factored into your in-class work grade.

Should I end up reinstituting reading quizzes in ENGL 430 this quarter, please be aware of the following: 

  • You should do well on any quizzes if you keep up with readings, read the Middle English texts carefully (including the footnotes), and review the names of main characters and background information before class. 
  • You will NOT do well on quizzes if you read only the translations!! 
  • Quizzes may not be made up and no extra time will be given to late arrivals -- so come to class ON TIME! 
  • If you miss a quiz, you will receive a copy to use as a study guide for the two midterm exams.
MIDTERM 1 AND MIDTERM 2 EXAMS: in class on M 4/30 and W 5/30. Closed book. The objective exam will consist of factual questions (from introductory materials, online readings, handouts and lectures), item IDs, passage IDs, and translations of selected Middle English lines in the passage ID section.  Additionally, the first midterm exam (but not the second) will include an essay.

RESEARCH EXERCISES and REPORTS to the CLASS RESEARCH ARCHIVElinked to the right-hand column on the calendar of assignments are a series of guided research exercises designed to walk you through the process of library research at Cal Poly.  Accessing and  following the instructions in these guided research exercises will ensure that:

  • you are familiar with (and have in fact used) the most important research tools available through the Kennedy Library
  • you have adequate and appropriate secondary source material on hand to meet the research requirements for your oral presentation , annotated bibliography, and final research paper; and
  • you receive a 4.0 for the component of your final course grade based upon your reports to the Class Research Archive!
Research reports are typically due the Sunday of the week on which they are listed as the research assignment on the Class Calendar. Failure to post the required research reports or to contribute to the class ILL Article Repository has a significant negative impact on the collaborative aspect of this seminar. Your research reports provide a "roadmap" for classmate(s) who may wish to incorporate the text you have researched into their final projects; they also allow seminar participants to pool their resources and "share the wealth" they have found in their individual research, without tormenting classmates by recalling the books they have checked out or wasting the library's limited financial resources by having multiple classmates make identical Interlibrary Loan and Link+ requests. 

Because your complete set of archived Research Progress Reports will be an important resource for your classmates, they are an integral part of your participation grade. Each required research report that DOES NOT FOLLOW DIRECTIONS (as outlined in the guided research exercises) or which is not submitted by the deadline listed on the course calendar (generally, either the FRIDAY or the SUNDAY after the day on which they are listed as the research assignment on the Class Calendar) will cause a PENALTY to be applied to the RESEARCH REPORT component of your final course grade at the end of the quarter. Failure to submit a report will will result in a 1.0 penalty (taken off of a potential 4.0 grade) for each missing report.  Likewise, failure to contribute an article to the class ILL Article Repository will cause a 1.0 penalty to be applied to the Research Report component of your final course grade.

Initial Research Meeting:  All students must meet with me by the end of week 3 of the quarter --  after having read through the text they will be presenting in class! -- to discuss possible angles for the research presentation and report any problems they are having with the first few research assignments. This initial meeting must take place by the end of week 3 at the latest!  Failure to do so will cause an "F" to be averaged into the Oral Presentation component of your final course grade.

NOTE to the research-challenged or easily intimidated: even if you have no prior experience using Kennedy Library research tools, following the instructions in the guided research exercises is simply not that difficult. (You are all English majors and presumably know how to read!)  Failure to submit research reports to the archive would be a truly unnecessary way to lose points in this class.  If you are worried about the research component of this seminar:

  • -- get started on your research early -- BEFORE our initial research meeting by the end of week 3. 
  • -- After that initial meeting, keep at it --  DO NOT put off the remainder of your research until the week before your presentation!;
  • -- READ THE INSTRUCTIONS in the guided research exercises and FOLLOW THEM!;
  • -- come SEE ME for help trouble-shooting any problems you may have; and 
  • -- POST YOUR REPORTS to the ARCHIVE in a timely manner so that they can be of benefit to both you and your classmates! 
Please endeavor to complete the various assignments by the target dates on which they appear on the syllabus.  And COME SEE ME if you are having difficulty getting started or just are not finding what you need! 

ORAL PRESENTATION: Starting in week three, each reading will be introduced by a student presentation prepared by one student (or two students working together to avoid repetition); sign-ups for presentation topics will occur the at the first three class meetings (see Oral Presentation Schedule). These brief presentations (15-20 min. for a single presenter, or approx. 1/2 hour total if there are any joint presentations) will be the starting point for class discussion, led jointly by the presenter(s) and the instructor. The presentation should illuminate some aspect of the reading, suggesting one or more thematic, stylistic or structural approach(es) to the work (or to one or more of its episodes, motifs or characters) which enhance our understanding or appreciation of the primary text. Each presenter must read at least 20 lines of his/her text aloud in the original Middle English as part of the Oral Presentation. Students are encouraged (but not required) to develop presentation topic more fully in the final research paper. Please note: you are NOT expected to become a world expert on your assigned text; you are merely responsible for helping to introduce it to your classmates! See the Oral Presentation Guidelines for more information. 

Each presenter will prepare and distribute an ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY of at least five secondary sources dealing with the primary reading. Entries should be alphabetized as on a List of Works Cited and should begin with full citations in correct bibliographic format (see Dr. Schwartz's Guide to Research Tools) followed by an indication of the mode used to access the work and a brief summary of the primary thrust of the article or essay (not a critique of it). Among the five items on the Bibliography, you should include at least one of each of the following types of resources: journal articles, essays in edited book collections, and single-author books; also, you must include items obtained using each of the following modes of access: an item found in hard copy in Cal Poly's print collections (state "Cal Poly" and give call number in parentheses at end of the bibliographic citation); an item ordered through LINK+; an item ordered through ILL (state mode of access in parentheses at end of citation); and an item accessed electronically from a subscription database in the Kennedy Library's collections (full-text journal article or e-book).  The Annotated Bibliography will be graded for complete and correct bibliographic references (formatted according to MLA guidelines for a List of Works Cited entry); for the distribution of items over the required types of resources and modes of access; and for the expression and quality of the summary.  See the Oral Presentation Guidelines for more detailed information.

Your Oral Presentation and Annotated Bibliography will count as part of your in-class work grade

Please note:  you will need to start researching your topic immediately in order to obtain required materials through LINK+ and Interlibrary Loan.  All students should meet with Prof. Schwartz (and with joint presenters, if applicable) by the end of the third week of class to discuss the focus of their presentations. 

PAPER PROSPECTUS: Normally ungraded; due by the end of week 6 (hard copy in class on Wednesday 5/2 or as an email .doc file attachment no later than midnight on  Sunday, May 6).  Prospectus must include a working title which clearly identifies work(s) discussed as well as topic of your paper; a fully articulated explanation of the interpretation you intend to argue (not just a statement of general topic); a tentative outline of paper; and a working bibliography of at least eight sources (alphabetized and in correct MLA bibliographic format, but without annotations). NOTE: If an acceptable Prospectus is submitted on time, it will be used solely for feedback to help you write a stronger final research paper; it will be returned to you in an individual conference held some time in weeks 7-8 (appointment sign-ups in class).  BUT: if no prospectus is submitted or if the prospectus does not fulfill the requirements of the assignment, it will be graded and will count for 10% of your final course grade. In that case ONLY, the Research Paper component of your final grade will decrease to 25%.  (So: failure to submit a prospectus will result in 10% of your final course grade = F!)  See the Prospectus Guidelines for more detailed information.

RESEARCH PAPER: 12-15 pp. long, using at least 6 secondary sources (Senior Project Students: 15-20 pp. and 8 secondary sources).  Final paper may be connected to oral presentation.  Due at time of Final Oral Exercise.  Worth 35% of final course grade (except as noted above).

FINAL ORAL EXERCISE: During or on the week-end immediately preceding Exam Week, there will be a required final oral exercise: a brief presentation to your classmates of the premise and conclusions of your final research paper (due at that time). While the presentation will be ungraded, failure to complete the Final Oral Exercise will result in a grade of "F" being averaged into the 35% of your course grade which is based upon the two Midterm Exams.  If possible, the Final Oral Exercise will take place at my home in conjunction with a celebratory meal (to be scheduled no later than Wednesday of exam week).   If we are unable to find a date and time for a final class dinner, the Final Oral Exercise will take place in our classroom, sans meal, at our normally scheduled final exam time: M 6/4/12 from 1:10 to 4:00 PM.


10%  Participation (including attendance and archived research reports / ILL Article Repository). NOTE: Failure to read aloud the required Middle English passages in class will result in an F being averaged into this component of your final course grade.
20% In-class work: equal weight to Oral Presentation and to the annotated bibliography. NOTE 1: Failure to meet with Dr. Schwartz by the end of week 3 of the quarter to discuss focus of oral presentation will result in an F being averaged into this component of your final course grade. NOTE 2: should we end up having Reading Quizzes, they will be factored into this component of your final course grade.
35% Midterm Exams (cumulative total for midterm 1 and midterm 2). NOTE:Failure to participate in the final oral exercise will result in an F being averaged into this component of your final course grade.
35% Research PaperNOTE: If an acceptable Research Paper Prospectus is submitted on time, it will be considered an ungraded exercise designed solely to provide feedback to help you write a stronger final paper.  But if the prospectus submitted does not fulfill the requirements of the assignment, or if it is submitted late, it will be graded and will count for 10% of your final course grade. In that case, the research paper itself will be worth only 25%.  Failure to submit a prospectus will result in 10% of your final course grade = F!!

Extra Credit is available for reciting from memory (rather than reading aloud) the required Canterbury Tales passages in a reasonable approximation of Middle English.  You may do so either during a class meeting or at our final class dinner. 


Sure you can -- if you keep up with the readings and don't put off starting your research!  But DON'T assume that the class will "take care of itself."  If you have a heavy course- and/or work-load, please be sure to budget time for this class . . .   Finally. . . remember that I LOVE teaching this stuff, and I'm told that my enthusisam makes my classes more fun!


Rest assured, we'll take a break each day.  Feel free to bring along a caffeinated (or non-caffeinated) drink -- whatever it takes to keep you alert through two hours.  If there is sufficient interest, rotating cookie duty will be arranged!


Research Tools:

Schwartz Web pages:
 Chaucer Web Resources: