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Lecture 5

ENGL 200 Lecture 5 - The Canterbury Tales.docx

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English (Arts)
ENGL 200
Wes Folkerth

The Canterbury Tales – General Prologue Background and Structure of the Work  We know quite a lot about Geoffrey Chaucer  He was born in the 1340s to a wealthy family (not noble) who had connections  Therefore, he spent the majority of his life in the intersection of nobility. Therefore, he saw society in a unique way  This is the first work (that we are studying) that surrounds our current social realities  The tale focuses on people who are recognizable  Listening to the voice of the characters is a recognition of their personalities (but not a savage recognition) – where they are and their role in society  CT is unfinished, but still a very large work  CT follows the work of Decameron, where Boccaccio tells of people who leave the city because of the plagues o These aristocrats then tell stories to each other, 10 stories each o This is a popular kind of literary work  In CT, Chaucer decides to make an occasion – the pilgrimage to Canterbury from London (in an area outside the proper limits of London)  This area in London was like a Red Light District in London  All of the pilgrims would congregate at the inn, and they are heading to Canterbury because Sir Thomas Beckett, a recognized saint who was murdered in the Canterbury Cathedral, is buried there.  STB was wearing hair-shirt (sort of like a wool-shirt, and is really itchy to wear), which are worn by those in penance, and the monks find him wearing it after he was found dead.  To take advantage of the situation, they took his body parts and placed them into a barrel that was full of water, and sold the water as having some medicinal and miracle properties  This was a great alternative at that time, since if you were sick, it was likely that you would be bled to death  People would walk or ride to Canterbury and reinvigorate their spirituality by visiting this dead body  However, there was also a large commercialization of the pilgrimage: o Sometimes innkeepers would take advantage of these pilgrims o The cathedral itself was like an exhibition: to visit a particular site in the cathedral, you had to pay some entrance fees. These fees really added up if you had visited all of the places to see in the cathedral.  The goal of the pilgrimage varied: o Some people (knights) would go for spiritual duty o Some people (church-people) would go for the money (wrong reasons), which is ironic  There were 30 people in the CT who were going to make this Canterbury pilgrimage, and they travelled in a large group for safety  Therefore, this would amount to 120 stories, if each person told 4 stories, 2 on the way there, and 2 on the way back  We are largely unsure of the plan of Chaucer in this tale, but it is important to see who was talking and what they were talking about  Sometimes, it is quite important to note how they were telling the story  This is a general prologue, where a little bit of each individual is introduced by the narrator, through the opinions of the narrator (who seems to know quite a lot) The General Prologue Pg. 218 Lines 1-18 “Whan that April with his (its) showres soote (fresh), The droghte of March hath perced to the roote And bathed every veine in swich (such) licour (liquid), Of which vertu engendred is the flowr; Whan Zephirus eek (also) with his sweete breeth Inspired hath in every holt (grove) and heath (field) The tendre croppes, (shoots) and the yonge sonne Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne, And smale foweles (birds) maken melodye, That slepen al the nyght with open eye- So priketh hem (them) Nature in hir corages- Thanne longen folk to goon (go) on pilgrimages And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes To ferne halwes, couthe (known) in sondry londes; (various) And specially, from every shires ende Of Engelond, to Caunturbury they wende, The hooly blisful martir for the seke That hem hath holpen, (helped) whan that they were seeke. (sick)”  Here, you get a good awakening of nature, the stillness of it. The earth is described as dry until the April showers. Is March dry? Well, I guess so, but it precedes Easter, when we re-awaken. Spring awakens the world.  Chaucer begins the tale with nature (birds, plants) and then only proceeding to deal with humans. They are the center of the world.  Chaucer believes that it is this time in the year that we must reawaken and reconnect with our spirituality  Chaucer is the author, and thus narrator, but both of them should not be confused, especially their personalities. The narrator is the person who is telling us the story, the person who is going on the pilgrimage, but he is not Chaucer per se. They are not the same people, and there should be a difference between them. Pg. 219 line 35-42 “But nathelees (nevertheless), whil I have tyme and space, Er (before) that I ferther in this tale pace, (proceed) Me thynketh it acordaunt to resoun To telle yow al the condicioun Of ech of hem, so as it semed me, And whiche they weren, and of what degree, (social rank) And eek in what array that they were inne; And at a knyght than wol I first bigynne.”  Here, Chaucer tells us how he is going to tell this story: he is going to give each person’s condition and degree  Degree is their social status (starting from the top with the knight, because the knight is the most socially elevated)  However, condition is very different. It comes from the German word “Konditorei” (which is actually a confectionary shop to have afternoon tea in)  Therefore, all of these characters have flavors to them – they are marinated with personality  Chaucer is the first author in English literature to create really good depictions and portraits of human people and humanity o The Wife of Bath, for example, feels very real to us  This is quite a complex business, since our behavior is a function of our social function, who we want ourselves to be and who we feel we are  We are a function of our social arrangement, we are negotiating the many desires that we have – we are really complex creatures  We are imbued by this social context, and we are all condition with social identities The Knight  The first encounter is with the knight  Line quotation “the beginning of the knights speech” Pg. 219-220 Lines 44-78 “A knyght ther was, and that a worthy man, That fro the tyme that he first bigan To riden out, he loved chivalrie, Trouthe and honour, fredom and curteisie. Ful worthy was he in his lordes werre, And therto hadde he riden, no man ferre, As wel in Cristendom as in Hethenesse, And evere honoured for his worthynesse. At Alisaundre he was, whan it was wonne; Ful ofte tyme he hadde the bord bigonne Aboven alle nacions in Pruce; In Lettow hadde he reysed, and in Ruce, No cristen man so ofte of his degree. In Gernade at the seege eek hadde he be Of Algezir, and riden in Belmarye; At Lyeys was he, and at Satalye, Whan they were wonne; and in the Grete See At many a noble arive hadde he be. At mortal batailles hadde he been fiftene, And foughten for oure feith at Tramyssene In lystes thries, and ay slayn his foo. This ilke worthy knyght hadde been also Somtyme with the lord of Palatye Agayn another hethen in Turkye, And
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