Chaucer Writing Assignment Topics


Research Paper

Write an original research paper which discusses a particular topic or theme relating to the Canterbury Tales. You should explore the historical context of your topic and describe the way this context manifests in the Canterbury Tales. You should use this as a background for a discussion of the meaning of the aspect of the text with which you are dealing. For guidance on doing research and constructing your argument, see the the Research Paper FAQ.

The research paper should be approximately 2000-3000 words long (2500-3500 for graduate students). Papers slightly under or over this length are acceptable as long as they contain discussion with substance appropriate to this average length.

This paper will be graded substantially on your ability to write and format clear and effective scholarly prose. My general policy is to read essays as a potential employer would read a job application; poor spelling, grammar, punctuation, formatting, and proofreading—as well as mastery of the discourse of the profession—pretty much disqualify you from the ‘job’. Potential employers would just throw away the application, but since I can’t do that, I make these the primary criteria for grading (and, needless to say, the result is a poor grade). The more mechanical problems you have, the more I make them the criteria for grading. If there are so many that I cannot pay attention to other aspect of the paper, then your grade will be based only on these criteria. So be forewarned. This is important, and it is worth your effort to may attention to these details. For guidelines on formatting and other mechanical matters, see my Essay Advice Pages. You may also find the tutorials on the Chaucer Pedagogy Page ( useful (but note that where it says to underline titles, you should italicise them, if possible).

Due Date: 23 May. Please slide your essay under my door (Sierra Tower 803) by 5:00 pm.

Paper Topics

Here are some sample Research Paper topics. All must be related directly to the Canterbury Tales. You are free to come up with your own topics, as long as you get them approved by me first.

  • Courtly Love
  • Boethian Philosophy
  • The Fabliau Tradition
  • Antifeminism and Medieval Attitudes about Women
  • Fidelity in Marriage
  • The Relationship between Tale and Pilgrim Narrator
  • Physiognomy and Characterisation
  • The Medieval Estates
  • The Medieval Church and/or Clergy
  • Medieval Manuscripts
  • Medieval Pilgrimages
  • Beauty and/or Fashion in the Fourteenth Century
  • Medieval Students and Universities
  • Medieval Beast Fables
  • Medieval Ideas about Dreams
  • The Use of the Bible
  • Medieval Rhetoric
  • Fragments and the Arrangement of the Canterbury Tales

Please have your topics selected by the end of Spring Break and e-mail them to me with "Chaucer Essay Topic" as your subject line. I will get back to you with my approval or comments within the week.

Assignment 2

Read the two short articles held on reserve in the library. Use the course password is 8646 to access these texts on electronic reserve (you will also need the bar code on your library card). Click on the titles and then "View Electronic Reserve Item". Pay special attention to the way the authors of these texts integrate quotations into their discussion. Try to name three principles the authors follow in integrating quotations into their text. Due to the potential strike action on April 25-26, I am not assigning any written work for this assignment. However, please bring the short texts to class after Spring Break, as we will be discussing them in class.

You should also begin reading the Oxford Illustrated History of Medieval England extracts, available on reserve (in paper form) in the library--or you may wish to purchase it in bookstores. This will help you with historical background for your research paper.

Common Problems in Assignment 1 (click the link)

Assignment 1

Read pp. xiii-xxv in the introduction to The Canterbury Tales: Complete. Then write a 1-2 page essay in which you describe how some feature of the General Prologue or the Knight's Tale relates to Chaucer's life. You may choose the precise topic. Keep in mind that the length of the essay means that you should not try to treat the subject exhaustively. The only requirements are that your essay must have the following characteristics:

  1. It must contain no typographical, spelling or grammatical mistakes.
  2. It must contain at least one semicolon and one colon, used properly (click the links for help).
  3. It must contain at least one quotation from the introduction and at least one quotation from the Canterbury Tales, cited properly. For help on citation format, see my essay advice on quotations and citations.

The purpose of this assignment is to introduce you to the background to Chaucer's life and to the techniques of writing about Chaucer, as well as the expectations of good writing style which you will be graded on in the final assignment (so take these exercises VERY seriously). There will be numerous such short exercises designed to help prepare you for the final research paper.

Assignment 1 will be due on Tuesday, 27 February 2007.

General Prologue
1. Using Chaucer's Prologue to The Canterbury Tales, describe the rising middle class of fourteenth-century England. In the essay, include the variety of occupations, the degree of wealth, the level of education, and the beginnings of political power represented among the pilgrims.

2. Contrast a corrupt clergyman from the Prologue with the Parson.

3. Select three characters from the Prologue whom Chaucer seems to be satirizing (i.e., the Wife of Bath, the Summoner, the Prioress). Using some direct quotations, explain the satire.

The Knight's Tale
1. Explain the features of this tale which characterize it as a romance.

2. An "anachronism" is a literary "slip" in which the author inserts something into a work which could not have happened or which could not have existed at the time the work is set. Explain the anachronism in The Knight's Tale.

The Miller's Tale
1. Contrast The Knight's Tale with The Miller's Tale.

2. Fully describe the character Absalom.

The Reeve's Tale
1. Explain how The Miller's Tale and The Reeve's Tale might be said to reveal a situation that medieval men really deplored and dreaded.

2. What might surprise the modern reader about the language surrounding sexual activity in The Miller's and The Reeve's Tales?

The Man of Law's Tale
1. Describe what commentary about marriage seems to be made through this tale.

2. Name one element of the story that is drawn from each of the narrative types that Chaucer utilized for this tale.

The Shipman's Tale
1. Of the six tales told thus far, including the Cook's fragment, four have been fabliaux. What is the significance of the large number of fabliaux?

2. Discuss the two contrasting...

(The entire section is 799 words.)

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