Geoffrey Chaucer - Civil Servant and Poet

Ref: C2224301

Geoffrey Chaucer has had an immense influence on British culture during the last six hundred years. We begin by looking at the main events of Chaucer's lifetime (c.1343-1400) and his family background, before turning to aspects of the English and European literary traditions from which he drew and the milieu within which he worked as a 'courtly writer'. We consider contemporary perceptions of society and the groups/types of people of which it comprised, before looking at how Chaucer used this material in The Canterbury Tales. From this will emerge the different Chaucers inside and outside his writings. We then focus on two of the pilgrims and their tales, contrasting characters who tell stories for very different purposes, and we see how each tale links with other parts of the poem. The final sessions bring us back to the 'real' world to consider Chaucer 'the civil servant' and the changing attitudes of people at the end of the fourteenth century.

Course aim

To learn about Chaucer, his family, upbringing and professional life as well as contemporary events and some of the ideas and literary heritage that were the background to his writing.

Do I need any particular skills or experience?

  • Students need a level 2 qualification in English to join this course
  • It is assumed that class members will have limited knowledge of Chaucer but have an interest in history and literature.

By the end of the course I should be able to:

  • State the main events of Chaucer's lifetime.
  • Describe the main phases of Chaucer's life from his early years until his death.
  • Name five (or more) of Chaucer's writings and put them broadly in chronological order.
  • Read Chaucerian English with some understanding and speak his lines in an authentic way.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of how Chaucer's motivation towards his writing changed and how other features of late medieval mentality were changing.

How will I be taught?

  • The WEA tutor will use a range of different teaching and learning methods and encourage you and the group to be actively involved in your learning
  • You will be invited to write a pen portrait of a modern person in Chaucerian style, along the lines of the character descriptions in the General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales.

What kind of feedback can I expect?

  • A range of informal activities will be used by the tutor to see what you are learning which may include quizzes, question and answer, small projects and discussion
  • You will be encouraged to share your work with the group and discuss your learning
  • Confirmation at the mid-point of the course that you are making some (or much) progress, or otherwise. A note about your progress at the end of the course on the Student Learning Record, with suggestions for further research.

What else do I need to know?

  • A selection of materials and basic equipment will be provided but you are welcome to bring additional materials with you
  • It would be helpful if you had access to the internet (Mobile phone, tablet or computer at home or through a library etc.)
  • Hand-outs will be provided, but for Sessions 7 and 8 you should have access to Nevill Coghill's modern English version of The Canterbury Tales (Penguin Classics). Bring a notebook and a pen or pencil to each session.

Pre-course work, reading and information sources

  • No pre reading or pre course work is required
  • No pre reading is required but research on the subject on the internet or in the library may be helpful

What can I do next?

  • Progress to another WEA course
  • You could progress to Higher Education courses. Follow link to the PEARL website for information
  • Progress to more focused (structured) museum visits.

Download full Course information sheet

Geoffrey Chaucer - Civil Servant and Poet


You can if you meet all of the following requirements:

  • are paying the standard fee or are on any of the qualifying benefits
  • are paying with a credit/debit card or are not paying a fee because of a qualifying benefit
  • have a valid email address
  • have been resident in the UK, EU or EEA for the last 3 years
  • are aged 19 years or older on 1st September 2017
  • have read and accept the standard terms and conditions
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