Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Academic Year
Intended for use in future years
ENM0120 and ENM0220 plus three other MA option modules
good honours degree

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Seminars / Tutorials 5 x 2 hours


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment Essay: 1 x 5,000 words  100%
Supplementary Assessment Resubmit any failed elements and/or make good any missing elements. Where this involves re-submission of work, a new topic must be selected.  1 x 5,000 words 

Learning Outcomes

On completion of this module, students should be able to:

1. demonstrate mastery of one or more selected major English works by Chaucer and/or Gower;

2. employ advanced interpretative skills in reading late medieval English texts from a historical perspective;

3. demonstrate advanced interpretative skills in applying contemporary theories about class, gender and politics to medieval English texts;

4. demonstrate familiarity with current debates in late medieval literary studies generally, and in Chaucer and Gower studies in particular.

Brief description

This module looks in detail at some of the works of two major late medieval authors, Geoffrey Chaucer and his contemporary, associate, and literary executor, John Gower. It focuses on those works by Chaucer which tend to be overlooked, or to be studied in insufficient depth on undergraduate courses, either because they are generically unfamiliar (the dream poems) or because of their sheer length (the romance, Troilus and Criseyde). It also considers John Gower's neglected long English poem, Confessio Amantis. Reference will, however, be made to other work by these authors, including the Canterbury Tales, Vox Clamantis, and Miroir de l'homme. Both Chaucer and Gower were poets in the court of Richard II, although Gower notoriously swapped his allegiance to the future Henry IV (a political manoeuvre which is reflected in the changes he made to the prologue og the Confessio). The works of both writers examine, if to varying extents, the political, religious, social and ethical systems of their day. Chaucer only occasionally or indirectly alluded to contemporary catastrophes, such as the Black Death. Gower, in contrast, frequently referred to conflicts in the Church, such as the Great Schism or the spread of Lollardy, as well as in the State, and his vivid depiction of the Peasants' Revolt in Vox Clamantis is well known. This module will consider these poems by Chaucer and Gower in their wider historical and ideological contexts.


Session 1: Patronage and Reputation
The Book of the Duchess and The House of Fame
Chaucer'r shorter poems have been characterized as obscure and elusive narratives, lacking formal unity. The House of Fame in particular is full of disjunctions, and barely makes sense on first reading. This seminar will consider the following questions in relation to The Book of the Duchess and The House of Fame. How might we begin to interpret them? How important is the historical context of these poems? Are they occasional pieces or personal allegories? Why is the author identified with the dreamer? Does an understanding of the patronage system throw any light on their meaning? What is the relationship between love, death, and fame?

Session 2: Society and Gender
The Parliament of Fowls and The Legend of Good Women
These questions will be revisited in our discussion of The Parliament of Fowls and The Legend of Good Women, but in this seminar we will also consider the politics (including the sexual politics) of the poems. Of particular interest is the way in which Chaucer, in these two poems, transforms his classical sources and makes intertextual references to a variety of works, including Dante'r Divine Comedy. Does Chaucer offer a utopian vision of social harmony in The Parliament, a satirical attack on women in The Legend or are the poems more similar than they might appear at first glance?

Session 3: Romance and Gender
Troilus and Criseyde
Our exploration of Chaucer'r romance, Troilus and Criseyde, will pick up some of the issues already examined in relation to the dream poetry; in particular the representation of women and women'r reputations, the connection between love poetry and (Boethian) philosophy, the transformation of sources, the relationship of the author to his authorities, the role of the author/narrator, and Chaucer'r anxieties concerning literary fame.

Session 4: Men and Love:
Confessio Amantis prologue and books 1-4
In this seminar we will discuss the position of Gower'r major vernacular work in relation to his trilingual corpus (Gower wrote in Latin and Anglo-Norman as well as English) and consider the political and religious implications of his decision to write in English. We will also examine the confessional framework of Confessio Amantis (which is structured around the notion of the seven deadly sins), and consider some problematic aspects of the exemplary narratives embedded within the first half of the text, looking for example, at stories concerned with incest, homosexuality and cross-dressing.

Session 5: Patronage and Anxiety
Confessio Amantis books 5-8
Certain issues already raised in relation to the first half of Gower'r Confessio Amantis, will be reexamined in the light of the second half. Again we will focus on narratives which seem to challenge gender norms, and we consider how they might be linked to the Advice to Princes section in book 7, and to the overt references to contemporary politics elsewhere in the text. In this seminar we will also consider Gower'r problematic relationship to his royal patron(s), and his anxieties concerning his literary predecessors and contemporaries (including Chaucer).


This module is at CQFW Level 7