Saturday, June 16, 2007

Week 3: Chaucer Fragment A

As Chaucer is fairly long and detailed, I will be breaking my posts up into logical sections. This first post details Fragment A, which contains the General Prologue, The Knight's Tale, The Miller's Tale, The Reeve's Tale & The Cook's Tale. (The latter is a fragment and we are not required to read it -- it is bawdy and ends abruptly. Paul Strohm has made an interesting connection for it considering the Peasant's Revolt.) Here's the Study Guide, which I will just add on to for the coming sections. I'm using Benson's The Riverside Chaucer which has different line numbers from other editions & is the standard -- the notes are excellent and comprehensive.

Preliminary Thoughts
  • "The Miller's Tale" and the Mystery Plays During the prologue the Miller is described as raging like Pilate and the depiction of Noah in some ways resembles that of the York Mystery Plays, though in the plays, Noah's wife is a shrew and in the Miller's Tale she is false and perpetuating a lie. Both, however, take liberties with the Biblical story, which they follow in basic details, but add or twist the story to suit the narrative's needs. For the Miller's Tale, how does this flexibility compare to the narrator's emphasis on accurately reflecting his matter (as difficult as this is)? How does the Miller's Tale contribute to the overall discussion of auctoritee and the tension between tradition and innovation, especially when the authority is the Bible?
  • Genre and Form The basic theme of Fragment A revolves around the nature of courtly love. "The Knight's Tale" is a quintessential romance, admired by all and rejected in the following two tales, which forefront sex instead of love. The most obvious way to account for this distinction is the class of the characters -- each speaks from his own environmental influences. However, the frame narrative provides more than just a connection between the tales -- it offers a critique in the back and forth that the characters embark on. So instead of isolated tales, or observations that one can make with knowledge about the "author," we must also take into account how its audience immediately receives a tale. (In later tales, audience members will even interrupt a tale, sometimes derailing it, other times seeking clarity.) Thus, Chaucer provides us with an additional meta-level to shape interpretation. Genre is intimately connected with theme, but also with questioning the nature of interpretation and authority. Do the later tales, then, challenge the Knight's tale or simply offer rivaling versions of it that can all coexist? What does this tell us about an approach to authority (which we can return to in greater detail with the Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale)?

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