Saturday, 2 March 2013

Project 1 cont'd.

The poetry of chivalry.

The workbook directs the student to read the General Prologue to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales available here.
I tried. I really did. On my first attempt I managed the first seven lines;

Here bygynneth the Book of the tales of Caunterbury

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licóur
Of which vertú engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth

At this point I decided against trying to continue with the following several hundred lines of the General Prologue because I couldn't decipher what was being said. I turned to the very helpful Spark Notes site which was full of information about Chaucer and the context, plot, analysis and summary of his Canterbury Tales. I knew absolutely nothing about either so it made for interesting reading. Spark Notes suggested trying to read the Middle English language aloud as this can help to clarify meaning. I tried this but got no further than previously. So to be perfectly honest I gave up on even trying to read anymore and focused instead on getting a grasp of the salient points. 
   Ironically, it seems that Chaucer (possibly influenced by Florentines, Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio, who wrote in the Italian vernacular) was one of the early English poets to write in the vernacular Middle English of the time, making poetry linguistically accessible to all. (Or at least all who were literate). This was a radical departure from the usual Latin or French that had superceded the original English language.
The Canterbury Tales was a work produced in his retirement and it's not known whether he intended to leave it an incomplete work or if he died prior to its completion. The following key facts are copied verbatim  from the SparkNotes website linked here. As they were so comprehensive it seemed pointless to re-write them.

Key Facts

Full title · The Canterbury Tales

Author · Geoffrey Chaucer

Type of work · Poetry (two tales are in prose: the Tale of Melibee and the Parson’s Tale)

Genres · Narrative collection of poems; character portraits; parody; estates satire; romance; fabliau

Language · Middle English

Time and place written · Around 1386–1395, England

Date of first publication · Sometime in the early fifteenth century

Publisher · Originally circulated in hand-copied manuscripts

Narrator · The primary narrator is an anonymous, naïve member of the pilgrimage, who is not described. The other pilgrims narrate most of the tales.

Point of view · In the General Prologue, the narrator speaks in the first person, describing each of the pilgrims as they appeared to him. Though narrated by different pilgrims, each of the tales is told from an omniscient third-person point of view, providing the reader with the thoughts as well as actions of the characters.

Tone · The Canterbury Tales incorporates an impressive range of attitudes toward life and literature. The tales are by turns satirical, elevated, pious, earthy, bawdy, and comical. The reader should not accept the naïve narrator’s point of view as Chaucer’s.

Tense · Past

Setting (time) · The late fourteenth century, after 1381

Setting (place) · The Tabard Inn; the road to Canterbury

Protagonists · Each individual tale has protagonists, but Chaucer’s plan is to make none of his storytellers superior to others; it is an equal company. In the Knight’s Tale, the protagonists are Palamon and Arcite; in the Miller’s Tale, Nicholas and Alisoun; in the Wife of Bath’s Tale, the errant knight and the loathsome hag; in the Nun’s Priest’s Tale, the rooster Chanticleer.

Major conflict · The struggles between characters, manifested in the links between tales, mostly involve clashes between social classes, differing tastes, and competing professions. There are also clashes between the sexes, and there is resistance to the Host’s somewhat tyrannical leadership.

Rising action · As he sets off on a pilgrimage to Canterbury, the narrator encounters a group of other pilgrims and joins them. That night, the Host of the tavern where the pilgrims are staying presents them with a storytelling challenge and appoints himself judge of the competition and leader of the company.

Climax · Not applicable (collection of tales)

Falling action · After twenty-three tales have been told, the Parson delivers a long sermon. Chaucer then makes a retraction, asking to be forgiven for his sins, including having written The Canterbury Tales.

Themes · The pervasiveness of courtly love, the importance of company, the corruption of the church

Motifs · Romance, fabliaux

Symbols · Springtime, clothing, physiognomy

Foreshadowing · Not applicable (collection of tales)

If I was a student of literature I might be prepared to slog through the whole thing, but only if I really had to. I think I've learned enough to understand Chaucer's role in the poetry of chivalry, and the place of the poetry of chivalry in the overall historical context of poetry. It is interesting to see how each era influences the succeeding one, with the language and traditions amalgamating and evolving.

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