Reading Chaucer's 'The Canterbury Tales' in AP Literature

Most CHAH students have heard about, and probably read, works by William Shakespeare.  Geoffrey Chaucer, however, was relatively unknown in Mr. Dickhudt’s senior Advanced Placement Literature class.  Chaucer’s influential, epic narrative poem The Canterbury Tales was written in 1390 and solidified Chaucer as “The Father of English Literature” some 200 years before Shakespeare was born. 

AP Literature student Cindy Gonzalez describes The Canterbury Tales as “…an interesting book that we haven’t done before here at CHAH.  It’s a classic that was written in Middle English, which is something that we don’t really understand.  It’s not about reading it so much as it is about analyzing it and breaking it down.  That’s making us better critical thinkers and analyzers of literature.”

Chaucer wrote in Middle English, a now dead language that was spoken in Medieval England from about 1100 – 1400 AD.  Shakespeare wrote in what scholars actually consider to be Modern English.  Beowulf was written in about 900 AD in Old English and requires a translation.  Chaucer’s Middle English can be read relatively well without a translation, as the CHAH AP Literature students are doing.  Contemporary versions, however, are much easier to navigate.

Monica Franco, a student in the class, says about the original version, “I need to use the translation, but the Middle English is really nice to hear.  It’s really pretty.   The Knight’s Tale is very plot heavy and it’s fascinating how everything seems random but it all connects in the end.”

Her classmate, Jan Michael Guzman says “I like discussing it in class.  Chaucer really understood his society.  He described how life was back in his time and, what’s really amazing, is that a lot of the things he wrote about still apply today.”

“At first it was difficult, but now I’m getting used to the Middle English language,” says Eddie Santana.  “It makes more sense now.  The Miller’s Tale is one of the funniest stories I’ve ever read!”

Mr. Dickhudt explains the reason he includes The Canterbury Tales on his AP Literature syllabus saying, “By the time the class reads Shakespearean English in the comedic play Twelfth Night, they’ll think its really easy compared to Chaucer.” 

In the meantime, Marcos Cortez clearly states, “I like the difficulty of it.”