Universities Developed 1100-1200, starting in Bologna and Paris Outgrowth of schools in towns, cathedrals, monasteries Began as groups of “masters” teaching competitively to paying students Evolved into regulated associations of masters and students of “all subjects” (universitas = everything) Lower studies in the Liberal Arts, the trivium (verbal arts: grammar, rhetoric, and logic) and quadrivium (math, geometry, music, astronomy), ages 14-21 Higher studies in law, medicine, philosophy, theology, notionally ages 21-28 Natural sciences included under philosophy Much of the curriculum except theology and law organized around Aristotle’s comprehensive studies of knowledge Entirely masculine (mostly down to nineteenth century!)
Oxford and Cambridge Oxford officially founded early 1200s, Cambridge mid 1200s. Oxford twice the size of Cambridge. Only two English universities into nineteenth century. Followed collegiate model, each college a separate foundation with its own professors, students, endowment, created with private money. Students a mixture: some monks, friars and other religious; some looking for careers as priests; many looking for careers as bureaucrats in government service; also many lawyers, doctors, etc. Not socially exclusive. If you could afford to go you could go. Oxford a place of radical thought in C14, especially in philosophy: epistemology (theories of knowledge), hermeneutics (theories of understanding) cast doubt on human ability to gain knowledge of the world with any certainty. Growth of observation and experiment-based knowledge systems via the natural sciences, but emphasis on production of knowledge via argument. Major figures William Ockham (early C14) and John Wyclif (later C14). Wyclif was a political/religious radical, reacted against epistemological uncertainty by insisting on centrality of religious revelation via the Bible. Associated with the Wycliffite Bible, full translation of the Bible into English, highly controversial
Oxford in the Miller’s Tale With hym ther was dwellynge a poure scoler, Hadde lerned art, but al his fantasye Was turned for to lerne astrologye … His almageste, and bookes grete and smale, His astrelabie, longynge for his art, His augrym stones layen faire apart, On shelves couched at his beddes heed; His presse ycovered with a faldyng reed; And al above ther lay a gay sautrie, On which he made a ‑ nyghtes melodie So swetely that all the chambre rong; And Angelus ad virginem he song. The folk gan laughen at his fantasye; Into the roof they kiken and they cape, And turned al his harm unto a jape. For what so that this carpenter answerde, It was for noght, no man his reson herde. With othes grete he was so sworn adoun That he was holde wood in al the toun; For every clerk anonright heeld with oother. They seyde, the man is wood, my leeve brother; And every wight gan laughen at this stryf.
Town and Gown in the Miller’s Tale After the scole of Oxenforde tho, And with his legges casten to and fro, And pleyen songes on a smal rubible … In al the toun nas brewhous ne taverne That he ne visited with his solas, Ther any gaylard tappestere was. The moone, whan it was nyght, ful brighte shoon, And Absolon his gyterne hath ytake, For paramours he thoghte for to wake. And forth he gooth, jolif and amorous, Til he cam to the carpenteres hous A litel after cokkes hadde ycrowe … He syngeth in his voys gentil and smal, “Now, deere lady, if thy wille be, I praye yow that ye wole rewe on me,” This clerk was cleped hende Nicholas. Of deerne love he koude and of solas; And therto he was sleigh and ful privee, And lyk a mayden meke for to see. A chambre hadde he in that hostelrye Allone, withouten any compaignye, Ful fetisly ydight with herbes swoote; And he hymself as sweete as is the roote Of lycorys, or any cetewale. … And thus this sweete clerk his tyme spente After his freendes fyndyng and his rente. **************************************************** Now was ther of that chirche a parissh clerk, The which that was ycleped Absolon. … A myrie child he was, so God me save. Wel koude he laten blood and clippe and shave, And maken a chartre of lond or acquitaunce. In twenty manere koude he trippe and daunce
Nicholas versus Absalom How do we know that Nicholas is cooler and more desirable than Absalom? What does this tell us about ‘town versus gown’ in the Miller’s Oxford? University versus Parish. Academic life versus the Miracle Plays
The Reeve’s Tale: More of the Same Miller’s TaleReeve’s Tale John the Carpenter Alisoun Nicholas Absalom One woman, three men Married man is old One young man is gown, one is town Symkyn the Miller Mrs Symkyn Daughter of Symkyn [plus baby] Alan John Married man is middle-aged Two women, three men One of the women is also middle-aged Both young men are gown, not town In terms of Fragment A as a whole, the Reeve’s Tale thus returns, sort of, to the character structure of the Knight’s Tale. Symkyn is like Thesus: note that he is also a warrior. Alan and John are kin, like Arcite and Palamon. However, here, “Hippolita” as well as “Emily” is “swyved” in the course of the tale. The fabliau genre keeps the two tales apart.
The Green Man, Trumpington (fourteenth and fifteenth century) Trumpington Parish Church (thirteenth Century)
The quiting of the Miller’s Tale Thus is the proude millere wel ybete, And hath ylost the gryndynge of the whete, And payed for the soper everideel Of Aleyn and of John, that bette hym weel. His wyf is swyved, and his doghter als. Lo, swich it is a millere to be fals! And therfore this proverbe is seyd ful sooth, “Hym thar nat wene wel that yvele dooth”; A gylour shal hymself bigyled be. And God, that sitteth heighe in Trinitee, Save al this compaignye, grete and smale! Thus have I quyt the millere in my tale. (4313)
Symkyn the Miller Big brute of a guy, local hot-shot: 3925ff Married to the illegitimate daughter of parish priest Economic/social success story Grinding monopoly; opportunities to steal corn (see Vignette: Bread) However, see Miller’s lodgings: 4136ff Social tension with John and Alan just behind tone Now it’s the Miller, initially, who does the “begiling” Miller’s scornful awareness of students: 4047ff, 4120ff Thus “town” here is truly formidable: significant contrast from John the Carpenter and Absalon Symkyn’s standing in the story “turns” with the snoring scene: 4149ff “The gretteste clerkes been noght wises men, As whilom to the wolf thus spak the mare” (4054-55) (allusion is to Aesop’s Fables)
Seymour Chwast, The Reeve’s Tale from The Canterbury Tales
John and Alan Students at Solter Hall, perhaps part of Trinity College From “Strother,” somewhere in north of England (4014) Speak in northern dialect (“Alan” is northern name) Actively engaged in town/gown competition (4002ff) Pretentious: “Nede has na peer!” (4026ff.) Seem to be studying law (4169ff) Also lusty in standard way
Parish Religion: Mrs Symkyn and her daughter Mrs Symkyn : Nunnery-educated bastard daughter of the local parish priest. Counts as “aristocracy” in her own and her father’s and husband’s minds. Family trying to rise socially by making good marriage for daughter using dowry based on priest’s possessions. Illegal (the church’s property can’t be used like this) and probably unrealistic, but not necessarily wholly unrealistic. If the daughter were a babe like Alisoun… Alan’s good night with Malyne (the daughter) and her parting-gift to him: 4234ff Symkyn’s response: “A, false traitour, false clerk,” quod he, “Thow shalte be deed, by Goddes dignitee! Who dorste be so boold to disparage My doghter that is come of swich lynage!” (4268-71)
Punishments A Mystery Passage Alan and Symkyn both injured, Alan by Symkyn, Symkyn by his own wife and both Alan and John. Alan’s punishment is for diminishing “value” of Symkyn’s daughter. John’s sex with Mrs Symkyn seems not to matter nearly so much. What is the meaning of Mrs. Symkyn’s confusion of John with her husband? … and she stirte up also, And knew the estres bet than dide this John, And by the wal a staf she foond anon, And saugh a litel shymeryng of a light, For at an hole in shoon the moone bright; And by that light she saugh hem bothe two, But sikerly she nyste who was who, But as she saugh a whit thyng in hir ye. And whan she gan this white thyng espye, She wende the clerk hadde wered a volupeer, And with the staf she drow ay neer and neer, And wende han hit this aleyn at the fulle, And smooth the millere on the pyled skulle, That doun he gooth, and cride, harrow! I dye! (4296)