Virtual Course | Poetry and Pandemic: New Readings of Chaucer

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Date / Time

  • October 9, 2020
    6:30 pm - 8:30 pm
  • October 23, 2020
    6:30 pm - 8:30 pm
  • November 13, 2020
    6:30 pm - 8:30 pm



Before the first meeting, the Rosenbach will send the Zoom link for course meetings.


Geoffrey Chaucer survived the great pandemic of 1348 when he was about five years old, saw plague return every ten years, and likely died of it in 1400. Giovanni Boccaccio, from whom Chaucer borrowed most, lived through the 1348 pandemic– which killed half the population of Florence, including his father (a sanitation official). Boccaccio’s Decameron, which opens with the most famous description of the plague, is actually extraordinarily positive: poets and writers may help regenerate human society, it suggests, through powers of art, and through laughter.

We will begin this short Friday night course by discussing Boccaccio’s “Introduction” to the Decameron, and also Chaucer’s Shipman’s Tale– a story of sex and money, religion and marital politics that is very Boccaccian in style. The second meeting will be dedicated to the Friar’s Tale, which is spookily Halloweenish. The third will move on to the Miller’s Tale, an Oxford Tale of bums, a window, a red-hot poker, and feared eco-catastrophe (a second Noah’s flood).

We will be reading a lot of Chaucer aloud, in the original Middle English, but no previous experience is required! And, in good Chaucerian fashion, all are welcome. Verray welcome.

Poetry and Pandemic: New Readings of Chaucer syllabus


About the Instructor

David Wallace has been Judith Rodin Professor of English and Related Literature at Penn since 1996. He lives on Delancey Street, three blocks from The Rosenbach. He served as President of the Medieval Academy of America in 2018, and in 2019 was awarded the Sir Israel Gollancz Prize by the British Academy. His most recent book is Chaucer: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2019).


About Rosenbach Courses

Revisit beloved classics or experience new ones with Rosenbach courses. Book lovers delve into fiction, history, and poetry with the guidance of a literary expert and the company of other readers. See all upcoming courses.