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Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales: A Catholic Understanding

The most misunderstood of great Catholic moralists, Chaucer’s comedy points to the need for charity and chastity. His characters boast and strut until they have convicted themselves out of their own mouths. We’ll look at tales told by three virtuous and one venal character.

Total classes: 12

Prerequisite: The ability to read and enjoy the works.

Suggested grade level: 11th to 12th grade. Advanced 9th and 10th grade students accepted. 

Suggested credit: One full semester Literature or Medieval Literature. For a full-year credit, follow with Medieval Literature for Modern Catholics in the spring. 


Chaucer was the master at making Medieval Catholic nobles laugh at the failings of others until they realized those characters were a lot like themselves. This great moralist, like a comic Dante, lets his characters boast and strut until they have convicted themselves out of their own mouths. Let him introduce you to the virtues and vices of his Canterbury Pilgrims in the “General Prologue.” Then, in “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale”, we can see how Chaunticleer the Rooster teaches us about predestination, undeserved Grace, and the Church of God. To read Chaucer well is to see how subtly his typological allegory can be constructed. “The Pardoner’s Tale” is a nihilistic view of life told by a man who has sold his soul for money. The Knight tells a longish tale of love and genuine friendship, one much loved by most readers. Finally, we will see the holiness which is Chaucer’s real goal, by reading just a bit of this longest writing called “The Parson’s Tale”.


Week One: Chaucer’s Biography and Typology

Week Two: Characters in the General Prologue

Week Three: Characters in the General Prologue

Week Four: “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale”

Week Five: “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale”

Week Six: “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale”

Week Seven: “The Pardoner’s Tale

Week Eight: “The Pardoner’s Tale

Week Nine: “The Knight’s Tale”

Week Ten: “The Knight’s Tale”

Week Eleven: “The Knight’s Tale”

Week Twelve: Selections, “The Parson’s Tale”

Materials and Homework

Materials: Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” (Selected) An Interlinear Translation. Vincent E. Hopper. Barron’s Educational Series. ISBN: 9780812000399 / 0812000390. This can be found affordably used – see BookFinder.com. What students cannot obtain, the instructor will post as free printable files.

Homework: You will read 20-40 pages per week. The material will be in interlinear modern English and Middle English. That way, you can try reading and pronouncing the poetry in Middle English, but be sure to get all the words from the modern translation. There will be auto-graded quizzes, a Midterm, and a Final.

Important Dates

Class dates: Thursdays, September 12 to December 12, 2024. (No class Oct. 17 or Nov. 28)

Starting time: 10:00 AM Eastern (9:00 Central; 8:00 Mountain; 7:00 Pacific)

Duration: 55 minutes

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