Monday, December 5, 2016

God’s plenty: The Variety of the Canterbury Tales & Chaucer’s Living Influence (Notes:44)

(Since this lecture series is winding down, this means that the final couple of lectures are more of a wrap up game with an emphasis on review. As such, I did not find a great many details to record as I have already captured a great deal of the information in previous notes. So here I only present the bare minimum which adds to the extant Notes corpus.)

Among the vast panoply of genres which The Canterbury Tales offers, The Shipman, Miller, and Reeve’s tales both stand out as well as work as Fabliau texts; sexual stories of a farcical nature that sometimes feature mistaken identity. The Tales of the Friar and the Summoner are also comic tales but focus instead on the excesses of churchmen and how they take advantage of people commercially, they are Anti-Fraternal Satires. Sir Topaz, meanwhile, is a critical literary gesture on the part of Chaucer where he intentionally writes bad poetry in order to illustrate a different kind of comic attitude. Rhyme Royal is used in order to idealize noble or saintly female figures; these stories are those of the Man of Law, the Clerk, the Prioress, and the Second Nun. Here, Chaucer is using this formal prosodic device in order to signal the hagiographic nature of these stories. Meanwhile, The Canterbury Tales also has a clutch of tales that were known as Beast Fables—the Nun Priest’s tale, where animals are given manifest human abilities. The fourth group of tales—The Morale Lectures—those of the Melibee, the Physician’s Tale, The Parson’s Tale, The Cannon-Yeoman’s tale, and the Wife of Bath.

Chaucer, of course, is regarded as the father of English literature as we know of it today. But that aspect is but one morsel of the story; what it means to us as contemporaries and what it meant to his own contemporaries, after his death, is another thing entirely.

Part of what made Chaucer remarkable for his contemporaries was not so much as his moral tales but his impact on language. Chaucer, they argued, purged it of its impure forms and made English more compatible with continental French form (remember the earlier lecture notes on Chaucer’s Language). In fact, Chaucer’s form of writing would have such a large impact on the English language, that after his death, something called Orate Diction emerged; this form of writing, as seen in the General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales, used highly elaborate polysyllabic French and Latin vocabulary.

Franks and Goths (Notes:49)

Historians have long hated equating the fall of the last Roman emperor with the fall of the empire itself; in terms of classes, social stru...