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Chaucer’s “General Prologue”

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1 Chaucer’s “General Prologue”
ENGL 203 Dr. Fike

2 Review on Your Own List some major characteristics of the Anglo-Saxon/Old English period of British literature. What problems are built into the comitatus relationship? What was the role of Christianity in England's development? What is the difference between ethopoeia and prosopopoeia?

3 What We Are Leaving Out Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: Arthurian romance Everyman: morality play, allegory The Second Shepherds Play: mystery play (vs. miracle play), pageant wagons, cyclic drama, Margery Kempe, The Book of Margery Kempe Julian of Norwich, Showings (“Jesus as Mother”) Chaucer, "The Miller's Tale," "The Nun's Priest's Tale”: fabliau, beast fable

4 Look Up These Terms in Harmon and Holman
Romance Morality play Allegory Miracle play Fabliau

5 Romance “In common usage, it refers to works with extravagant characters, remote and exotic places, highly exciting and heroic events, passionate love, or mysterious or supernatural experiences. In another and more sophisticated sense, romance refers to works relatively free of the more restrictive aspects of realistic verisimilitude” (Harmon and Holman).

6 Fabliau “The Miller’s Tale” is a fabliau.
Fabliau: “A humorous tale popular in medieval France…humorous, sly satire. These stories, often bawdy, dealt familiarly with the clergy, ridiculed womanhood, and were pitched in a key that made them readily understandable to anybody” (Harmon and Holman).

7 Example One day this Frank went home and found a man with his wife in the same bed. He asked him, “What could have made thee enter into my wife’s room?” The man replied, “I was tired, so I went in to rest.” “But how,” asked he, “didst thou get into my bed?” The other replied, “Well, I found a bed that was spread, so I slept in it.” “But,” said he, “my wife was sleeping together with thee!” The other replied, “Well, the bed is hers. How could I therefore have prevented her from using her own bed?” “By the truth of my religion,” said the husband, “if thou shouldst do it again, thou and I would have a quarrel.” --qtd. in Harrison, Galic Salt

8 Norman Conquest Battle of Hastings: 1066. William the Conquerer won.
Edward the Confessor lost. How William stacked up against the four criteria for kingship: Genealogy (no) The voice of the dying king (no) The vote of the Witan or wise men (no) Who was closest and had the biggest army (army, yes, but in France) William had only two dubious promises: one not written down, the other extorted under duress.

9 More on Norman Conquest
Not an immediate take-over: Wm gradually worked his way north, and he strengthened existing institutions and added his own rather than stamping them out (cf. St. Augustine’s strategy in an earlier century). Wm strengthened the throne and became head of state and chief lord; that is, he introduced feudalism: every man was a man of the king—if you owned land, you owned it by the king's consent. Mutual respect, cooperation, intermarriage. 1204: King John lost Normandy to France, leading to psychological unity of English people. : The Hundred Years War with France led to English nationalism.

10 Linguistic Change For 200 years French was the language of the upper classes. Low folk still spoke English. Around 1200 lots of upper-class folks knew English, and low folk were familiar with French. The language decayed. No literature written in English from the conquest till after 1349. In 1300s English was adopted in courts and schools. By the 15th century, little knowledge of French: but French had transformed Old English into Middle English.

11 Particulars Re. This Transformation
More than 10,000 French words were adopted. Many inflections were lost (endings that indicate grammatical features like number, person, and tense). Literature was disseminated by scribes and minstrels. But then in 1476: William Caxton set up the first printing press in London. His standard: the English spoken by Chaucer. English was now poised for a resurgence.

12 Canterbury The center of the Roman church in England.
Point: church a major force in Middle English period.

13 St. Thomas à Becket St. Thomas à Becket was Archbishop of Canterbury (appointed by King Henry II). He and the king disagreed on the authority of church courts and church law. The king wanted to curb the clergy's special privileges. Becket defied him. After being condemned by the royal court, he fled the country. King called home all students in Paris to deny Becket support. They founded Oxford University in A group split off in 1209 and founded Cambridge University. After Becket got backed up by the Pope and excommunicated some of Henry's chief counselors, four of his soldiers killed Becket in Canterbury cathedral. Cf. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral. Thus Becket became a martyr, and his shrine was frequently visited. That's where Chaucer's pilgrims are going.

14 Most Famous Quotation from Eliot’s Play
The last temptation is the greatest treason: to do the right deed for the wrong reason.

15 Look up on your own in Harmon and Holman
Chivalry: Knighthood was glamorized and idealized; knights were supposed to embody a variety of virtues like courage, piety, and generosity. See SGGK. Courtly love: the kind of love you'd associate with chivalry (called "fin amour" or "fine love" in the middle ages; "amour courtois,“ or courtly love, was a term coined in 1883 by Gaston Paris). Man obeys his beloved. Emotional disturbance. Secret, illicit love (think Guinevere and Launcelot). Marriage does not prevent romantic involvement with another. The beloved woman is chaste and cruel (remember this when we get to Shakespeare’s Sonnets). Point: You don’t see romantic love in Anglo-Saxon literature. This is something new.

16 Terms Directly Related to Chaucer
Reverdie: Old French, regreening Zephyrus: the west wind Gentilese: gentleness, gentility, nobility of spirit Breton lay: a short romance Curtain lecture: lecture given by a woman to her husband in bed (i.e., behind the bed curtain) April 17th: first day of pilgrimage to Canterbury and the date of Noah’s flood (the latter is relevant to “The Miller’s Tale”)

17 Get and Read This Handout
This document summarizes a lot of important information on the “General Prologue.”

18 Group Activity Compare and contrast the beginning of the “General Prologue” and the beginning of The Wasteland. Question: What points emerge from a comparison of Chaucer’s opening lines with Eliot’s? How does “Western Wind” illuminate Chaucer’s opening?

19 Contrasts Chaucer Renewal is natural, psychological, and spiritual—nature and supernature. Life is a pilgrimage ending in heaven (see “The Parson’s Prologue”). April: not just spring (eros) but the month of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection (agape): these types of love animate the tales. Eliot Renewal is in nature only. Folks go south in the winter, but there’s nothing spiritual about avoiding lousy weather. “April is the cruellest month” because nature is coming back to life, but the human psyche and spirit are not. Note that the participles and enjambment at the ends of lines, suggest that there is energy in natural processes; this is appropriate to spring.

20 More Chaucer Zephyrus, the west wind, calls the earth back to life (“small rain” in “Western Wind” is the healing rain that comes in spring). March is not a dry month in England; the drought is metaphorical, and it harkens back to classical literature’s references to March as dry in Mediterranean countries. A female March vs. a male April: “And pierce the drought of March.” Phallicism A hint of Christian baptism Eliot There is “a shower of rain” here, but it is merely an opportunity to stop for coffee.

21 Still More Chaucer One long sentence: 18 lines: Eliot
High style (“When…then,” etc.) Subordinate clause  main clause. Transition to low style at line 19. Western tradition of celebrating spring  a local event: general  particular. Healthful physical vigor  sickness in line 18. Spring restores the earth as the saint restores the sick (Christian healing is physical AND spiritual). Eliot Whereas Chaucer’s opening is subordinated, Eliot’s opening is merely additive. Whereas Chaucer’s long sentence suggests order, Eliot’s style just piles one experience on top of another. The repetition of the word “And”—it is used five times—suggests that the intelligence that speaks the opening is fragmented. Whereas Chaucer draws in European tradition and then focuses on a local English event, Eliot seems to begin in one place and then branch out linguistically and geographically—again, fragmentation.

22 The “Ecclesiastical Group”
Question: What’s wrong with the following characters? Is one of them positive? Prioress (122ff.) Monk (169ff.) Friar (212ff.) Parson (487ff.) Summoner (641ff.) Pardoner (689ff.) As you try to figure this out, remember that Chaucer the poet is not = Chaucer the pilgrim. In fact, the poet Chaucer places the pilgrim Chaucer in with the prologue’s rogues.

23 Prioress—Madam Eglantyne
She does not understand her duties, which do not include: Being elegantly feminine Having pets (she feeds them better than the widow in the Nun’s Priest’s tale eats) Going on pilgrimages In short, she should not be doing anything for which the pilgrim Chaucer admires her, and the poet Chaucer knows this. The poet took her etiquette from Le Roman de la Rose, in which an old woman offers shrewd advice on how a girl can snare a man. Amor vincit omnia: eros or agape? The nuns of Stratford ran a brothel, the Unicorn, in Southwark. Chaucer’s Prioress is from this convent.

24 Monk His virility appeals to the pilgrim Chaucer.
Violates the rules of his order: By hunting By dressing lavishly By not staying in his cloister He should serve God, not the world. POINT: Irony results when a character deviates from a known standard.

25 Friar Hubert Violates the moral standards of his profession:
Avoids the sick and the poor. Cultivates friendships with franklins (land owners), tavern owners, and women. Knocks up young women and then marries them to cover his tracks. Hears confession and sells absolution: this interferes with the work of the parish priest and degrades the penitential system of the Church. He is supposed to be a “Limiter,” a begging friar. Faux-Semblant, a hypocrite in Roman, contributed to Chaucer’s portrait of the Friar.

26 Pardoner and Summoner Summoner summons people to justice and judgment.
Pardoner offers divine forgiveness, mercy, love.

27 Pardoner “a gelding or a mare”—line 710.
A eunuch: physical deformity signals spiritual deformity. He perverts love, both human and divine. Homosexual relationship with the Summoner (?): “Come hither, love, to me!” Lechery in line 644 describes the Summoner. Associated with animals: rat, hare, goat, pigs’ bones; and he makes “monkeys” out of victims at line 726.

28 Parson An ideal figure:
“Who truly knew Christ’s gospel and would preach it” (491) “The true example that a priest should give” (515) “He stayed at home and watched over his fold” (522) “He was a shepherd and no mercenary. / Holy and virtuous he was” (524-25). “I think there never was a better priest” (534). “Christ and His Twelve Apostles and their lore / He taught, but followed it himself before” (537-38).

29 Critical Quotation Re. Pardoner & Summoner vs. Parson
“The song…becomes both a promiscuous and perverted invitation and an unconscious symbolic acknowledgement of the absence of the need for love, love that comes neither to the grasping physical endeavor of the Summoner nor to the physical incapacity of the Pardoner—nor to their perverted spirits…the song of the Summoner and the Pardoner is a superb dramatic irony acknowledging the full extent of their need and loss, the love of God which they ought to strive for, the love which they desperately need.” --Arthur Hoffman, “Chaucer’s Prologue to Pilgrimage: The Two Voices,” in Edward Wagenknecht’s Chaucer: Modern Essays in Criticism, page 41

30 Types of Love Physical Love Squire Prioress Wife Friar Pardoner
Summoner Divine Love The shrine of Becket Knight Parson Plowman These guys suggest divine love most closely.

31 Types of Love Agape—spiritual love, sacrificial love, love of the other in spite of ugliness. Philia—brotherly/sisterly love. Eros—erotic love, love of the other for the sake of oneself. END

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