Faculty of Arts


Middle English Popular Literature

Please note: this is archived course information from 2018 for ENGLISH 264.


This course introduces the study of medieval popular narrative in a new vernacular, English, centred on tales by Chaucer, the greatest English poet of the Fourteenth Century and one of the finest narrative poets in the language. Chaucer depended for his success as a poet on the increasingly sophisticated uses to which English was put in his generation; in turn, his writing made such an impact in England and in Northern Europe that he may be said to have confirmed the value and place of English as a “national” language.

Our course, however, also ranges across a number of genres with which more openly popular writers and audiences engaged. So, along with Chaucer tales, we study a number of short romances, mostly anonymous, that display the narrative possibilities of the genre—a typical interest in adventure and passion—as well as textual practices employed by poets in a manuscript or performance culture. We also read works of popular religion—since religion in this period is truly popular—including tales by Chaucer, but also lyrics and especially plays drawn from a burgeoning medieval theatre. We conclude with narrative poems that embody various senses of the popular in medieval culture, but also install a traditional subject of modern popular fiction, tales of Robin Hood. In this context, Chaucer’s tales seem richer because of their immediate relations with other stories; correlatively, Chaucer’s take on the popular is instructive for an understanding of the popular in medieval culture. Furthermore, our study of popular medieval literature aims to raise questions about elite and popular cultures today, at both conceptual level and experiential levels.

Aims and Outcomes

Students should aim for the ability to read literary texts from the English Middle Ages with insight and pleasure, grounded in a confident knowledge of medieval English language. 

The course supports advanced study in the medieval and/or early modern periods. It also serves a wider reading of English literature. 

This course satisfies the historical requirement for an English major.

View the course syllabus

Availability 2018

Semester 2


Coordinator(s)  Roger Nicholson


Geoffrey Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales, Fifteen Tales and the General Prologue, ed. VA Kolve and Glending Olson  (Norton Critical Editions)

Middle English Verse Romances, ed. DB Sands (University of Exeter Press, Exeter Medieval Texts and Studies)

Other texts will be supplied as Departmental (electronic) handouts, when needed.


Coursework only


ENGLISH 264: 15.0 points


30 points at Stage I in English



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