Jenifer Sutherland
February 6



February 6

Pasolini's "The Creation of Eve"

by Karyen Wong


After collecting the quiz, Professor Sutherland introduced our T.A., Amy Airhart, as the guest lecturer for The Franklin’s Tale. Amy started off with some of the problematic issues surrounding tale, including the Franklin’s interruption at the end of The Squire’s Tale. The interchange between the two characters and the Host highlights the Franklin’s preoccupation with class and the inability to achieve a greater status without virtue.

In the Prologue, the Franklin credits his story to the lays of the "Britouns". After the Norman Conquest of 1066, the Bretons, originally from northwestern France, wrote their lays in the Anglo-Norman tongue. Lays are songs with a strict meter and form that can take on a range of topics, including moral and political issues. One of the most well-known writers of these lays is Marie de France, who lived during the mid 12th century to the early 13th century. Like Chaucer, she was well-read and learned; she also had a similar understanding of "autoritee", proclaiming in the epilogue to her lays to be the author, thus sharing Chaucer’s sense of his own creative influence on known tales.
The Franklin’s Tale opens with the typical "fine amour" scenario of the perfect knight courting the perfect lady. However, the lady wants equality in their
marriage, not one based on her mastery over him. Because of this egalitarian
mindset, The Franklin’s Tale, along with The Merchant’s Tale, which depicts a wife’s patience, and The Wife of Bath’s Tale, which represents a wife’s independence, forms a trio of tales known as the "Marriage Group" within The Canterbury Tales.

It isn’t until lines 808 and 815 that the knight and lady are actually named;
Amy points this out to emphasize that so far, these two characters have been the archetypes of courtly love. She also stresses that the importance of archetypes runs throughout the tale. Continuing with the story, Dorigen laments the knight’s leaving, a scene we have become familiar with as part of the "fine amour" tradition seen also in The Knight’s Tale, The Merchant’s Tale and Troilus and Criseyde. When Dorigen contemplates the unreasonableness of the "grisly feendly rokkes blake" (line 868), her position directly opposes that of Boethius’ in The Consolation of Philosophy, Book III, meter 9, where he talks of God’s reason in everything that happens; in questioning the sense of the rocks, Dorigen disputes ultimate faith in God’s purpose.

From the rocks, Dorigen moves into the garden. In medieval terms, the garden
is a "locus amoenus", a perfect enclosure or a place of pleasure. However, it can also take on the connotation of a prison, as it does in The Knight’s Tale for Emily, in The Merchant’s Tale for May, and in this scene, for Dorigen, who is bound here to an impossible promise. In the garden, we are also first introduced to Aurelius, literally meaning "golden", and fittingly so because he represents the perfect youth. He enters singing lays, which immediately immerses him into the tale because it echoes the Franklin’s reference to lays in the prologue. Aurelius’s perfection parallels that of Arveragus’s, thus linking the two characters together. Similarly, Aurelius’s caution in approaching Dorigen about his love, "nevere dorste he tellen hire his grevaunce" (line 941), mirrors Arveragus’s initial meekness, "that wel unnethes dorste this knyght, for drede, telle hire his wo" (line 736-737).

Beginning from the garden scene, several problematic points emerge. Why does
Dorigen make the stipulation that if Aurelius can clear the coast of the rocks, she will love him over any other man (line 993-997)? It seems as if this is a game for Dorigen, that "in pley" (line 988), she has given Aurelius an unattainable hope. Even if he were to fulfill his part of the deal, she would not be able to keep her side of the promise because she is bound to her husband, Arveragus. The stipulation itself is also paradoxical in that Dorigen wants the rocks removed so Arveragus can sail home, not so Aurelius can win her love. Also, whereas Dorigen first prays to a Christian God when thinking about the rocks, Aurelius asks a classical god, Apollo, to assist him in his task; an immediate dichotomy arises between religions.

After imploring Apollo and his sister, Lucina, to help him, Aurelius faints and lays in sickness for more than two years, a symptom of the unfulfilled lover familiar to us through Troilus and Criseyde. Aurelius’s brother comes to his aid by suggesting magical means to achieve Aurelius’s task. Curiously, the brother never gets named, even though a heavy importance has been given to the meaning of names and its relation to the characters. By emphasizing that the magic he is referring to is natural magic, that is, close to science, particularly astronomy, the brother dispels all evil connotations related to black magic or necromancy. But when Aurelius agrees to pursue this magical course, and the two encounter a clerk to help them, they are really looking for an illusion to cover up the rocks, not an actual removal, as Dorigen requested. The clerk also asks for 1000 pounds to perform his magic, which equals roughly $2200, a large sum in today’s terms, not to mention during the Middle Ages. As Chaucer describes the magical process involved in covering the rocks, it is intentionally made incomprehensible to the reader.

Again, the emphasis on illusion, "but thurgh his magik, for a wyke or tweye, it
semed that alle the rokkes were aweye" (line 1295-1296), draws attention to the later paradox of Aurelius expecting Dorigen to fulfill her literal promise despite his having only given her a façade of performing his part. In lines 1163-1164, the brother foreshadows that Dorigen will not be able to fulfill her promise; indeed, she cannot possibly carryout the bargain without bringing dishonor to herself. Therefore, after mentioning many famous women who have chosen death over dishonor, Dorigen decides to commit suicide. However, Amy wonders at her sincerity because it takes her two days to deliberate this decision, just in time for Arveragus to come home and dissuade her. Arveragus’s speech in lines 1472 to 1486 and his resolve to help his lady keep her promise highlight the importance of maintaining honor and one’s "trouthe", in keeping with their gentile class. Dorigen then must go back to the garden to tell Aurelius because that was where she was first confined by her promise. On the way over, she meets up with Aurelius, who, overcome with their "gentillesse", releases her from the bargain. Though Dorigen has kept her honor, Aurelius still owes the magician 1000 pounds. When he goes to the clerk to tell him he that he intends to keep his "trouthe" (line 1577), the magician, now turned into a philosopher, also disengages Aurelius from having to pay him. As Amy points out before reading lines 1607 to 1612, in which the philosopher sums up the positive effect of all the characters’ "gentil" acts, the tale plays out like the VW Beetle commercial, where various people pass on a good deed and a smile.

The story ends with no epilogue, except for an interjection in the Franklin’s
voice in the last four lines, where he poses the same question that Amy asks the
class: which of these characters is most noble? Amy explores the possibility
that none of them were really noble because everything was an illusion, either of class, words or words versus deeds. All the characters have multiple roles and false sides; nothing is sure or stable in the story, so therefore the reader must decide what is important and what is just for show. The Franklin refers to the "colours of rethoryk" in line 724 and that he will forgo these rhetorical ornaments to tell his story. Yet, many aspects of his tale, as well as the characters in it, are multisided. The illusion of class can be found in the epilogue of the Squire’s Tale, where the Franklin speaks of his son. Though the Franklin believes his son is not gentile because he would rather speak with a servant than a person of his class, in the Franklin’s tale, class doesn’t matter: both the knight and the squire are noble. Just as Dorigen plays multiple roles, one in which she is false to her husband and Aurelius and the other in which she is honorable, so are Arveragus and Aurelius complex in that they are doubles of each other, seen in their descriptions. The only reason why Arveragus gets Dorigen is because of timing; the two characters are virtually the same. Finally, the magic used to give the appearance of covering the rocks reinforces the idea of multiplicity and illusion.

While discussing the noble qualities of each of the main characters in the tale, some people argued for the husband because he started the chain of noble acts, some for the clerk / philosopher because he sticks to his agreement with Aurelius but ends up forfeiting the money in favor of honor, and some for the brother, who was only looking out for Aurelius. Amy points out the faults of the husband, reminding us of the fine amour tradition, where the lover must keep trying to win over his lady, not leave to seek honor like Arveragus does in the story. Professor Sutherland also highlights Arveragus’s attitude in his speech
before and after he bursts into tears, showing the shift from the importance of keeping Dorigen’s honor to maintaining his reputation. Amy then mentions that in all the bargains of love, marriage and magic, the only one that is what it is from start to finish is the one between the clerk and Aurelius. Arveragus says that he will always be by Dorigen’s side, yet he leaves to go to England, while Dorigen makes promises to both her husband and Aurelius. At the same time, Aurelius says that he fulfilled his end of the bargain, but really hadn’t because he did it through the illusion of magic. At the end of the story, the philosopher comes to the conclusion that money and class don’t matter, only actions in determining nobility.

We then listened to a presentation by Caitlin (see mini reports below) on class and the rise of the franklin’s position. After the break, Mike made an announcement about the opportunity for third year students to participate in an exchange program at MIT. Kirk then gave a report on science and inventions in the Middle Ages. Professor Sutherland added that though Chaucer does make constant references to science in his stories, he does not seem to be interested in the magical or the unexplainable despite the popularity of the two with many other medieval writers.

In response to a comment about how The Squire’s Tale seems to drop off inexplicably, Professor Sutherland explained that the story was one of Chaucer’s fragments. She then compared the Squire to his father, the Knight, through references drawn from the General Prologue and their respective tales. Whereas The Knight’s Tale is underscored by a philosophical, stoic attitude towards life and characterized by its structure, maturity, emphasis on values and the reining in of passion by wisdom, The Squire’s Tale lacks cohesion and deals with love. This is in keeping with the Squire’s description in the General Prologue (line 79-117), which gives the reader a sense of his worship of love and his desire to stand in a lady’s grace.

The tale immediately opens into the exotic landscape of Tartarye. The Christian world was particularly attracted to this location because of the potential for it to be an ally to the West. In The Man of Law’s Tale, the Muslims are presented in a barbaric light; however, in The Squire’s Tale, Genghis Kahn, the ruler of Tartarye, is described as noble and a good king who rightly followed his own religion (line 16). Here, Professor Sutherland reminds us of the complexity of the Middle Ages, as seen in the contrast between these two different treatments of the idea of the exotic. Picking up on this paradox, Sir John Mandeville's book (The Travels of Sir John Mandeville), written in the 1350’s – 1360’s about his journey to Jerusalem, gives us a reasonably accurate depiction of the Muslims through his medieval mindset. It also gives us evidence that the people of the Middle Ages knew the world was not flat and that they probably derived this idea from the Greeks. Professor Sutherland then showed us a 14th century map (Lambeth. c. 1300) and told us that in spite of the invention of the magnetic compass, maps were oriented towards the East, Paradise, and that Jerusalem was the holy center. There was also an obsession with roundness as a representation of perfection. To contrast with this sacred and idealized depiction of the world, she then held up a detailed map of England made fifty years later (Gouph, 1350-60), which accurately showed the towns and coastline of the area.

Also during the Middle Ages, the East was seen as a place of magical invention, where science was so advanced that it bordered on the magical. Though the idea of the brass horse in The Squire’s Tale is taken from old tales, it also demonstrates this preconception that the Muslims were so far advanced in areas of metal, philosophy and medicine. Given by the King of India and Arabia, the ring, as a symbol of natural life, and the sword, as an instrument of healing, also demonstrate the West’s presumption of the East’s achievements. This orientalism, the way in which the West projects the darker parts of people onto others by characterizing the East as a feminine, wealthy, mysterious and strange, goes back a long way and shows up in parts of The Squire’s Tale.
Professor Sutherland also mentions that the there is too much of the storyteller in the tale and that the Squire often loses his way in telling his story. For example, in line 355, he says that he will not tell us about the dreams of the people, but in stating so, he seems to take the story too far. The Squire also goes into certain details but doesn’t resolve them, as in the case of the healing sword that is never seen in action or with Canacee in line 471, who waits for the bird to fall into her lap, but ends up picking the bird off the ground when it actually falls. But the tale also criticizes common people and the tendency to view novelty as dangerous. This is best seen with the brass horse and how the people crowd around it to discuss its possible threats.

Furthermore, the Squire often intrudes on the narration, inappropriately bringing up his modesty, as seen in line 401, interrupting the flow of the story and basically doing what shouldn’t be done in a telling a story. He also draws attention to Canacee’s walking towards the garden, showing a rather primitive understanding of storytelling, as well as a clumsy way of moving the story to Canacee and the bird in the tree.

The weirdness of the bird in the garden scene with Canacee reveals many important themes and ideas. The way in which the bird pecks at herself in misery highlights the motif of women hurting themselves over love. Also, in line 105, the Squire says that he will not use the knight’s high style of language, but rather the common tongue, which parallels Canacee’s ability to understand the language of animals by using her ring. However, the bird does not sound very bird-like; instead, her language is extreme and involves a lot of screaming. An instance of this over-the-top rhetoric comes in at line 515, where the bird compares the male falcon to a corpse. She causes further confusion for the reader in calling the falcon a tiger "ful of doublnesse" (line 543) and a serpent, while also emphasizing the bizarre idea of a bird with the ability to be treacherous in the first place. Her story of deception provides a strong contrast to The Franklin’s story, which stresses the importance of keeping a promise.
So what is Chaucer achieving by having the Squire tell this tale? Is the Squire just an immature storyteller with no experience in love? There does not seem to be much of a point in his using excessive language to share a story with no solid bearing, as seen in how he leaves Canacee in the garden and irrationally moves on to the king’s son. One possibility can be found in the Franklin’s interruption at the end of the tale (line 674), where he gently commends the Squire’s ability "considerynge thy yowthe". Another perspective of the strangeness of The Squire’s Tale can be taken from Chaucer’s aversion to stories of incest. As he does in The Man of Law’s Tale, Chaucer breaks off the story just as he mentions the incestuous detail of Canacee being won by her brother (line 667-670).
Another problematic issue, involving the reading of texts, arises in line 607 with a reference to Boethius and The Consolation of Philosophy, Book III, meter 2. The bird’s statement of men always wanting to pursue what is new does not correspond to reference from The Consolation of Philosophy, where Boethius says that nature keeps creatures on a natural course. So where is the falcon in that story? Does the bird’s reference taken from Boethius prove that the falcon runs off because he wants the latest novelty? Boethius does compare the confines of fine amour to a cage, so in this sense, the reference could be applied to the falcon’s story. Still, the bird seems to have read The Consolation of Philosophy literally, explaining spiritual return through animals. Chaucer probably stresses this problem of reading in order to show the importance of looking at context when finding a mention of another text within a text.

While Chaucer was one of the greatest writers of English during his time, there were also other people who wrote just as well during the Middle Ages, including John Gower. His story of Canacee and her brother, how they grew up together and innocently fell in love, ending with Canacee’s ultimate suicide reveals Gower’s unapologetic treatment of the story of incest as opposed to Chaucer’s more sensitive approach in The Squire’s Tale. Class ended with Professor Sutherland's reading a section from the story of Canacee in Gower's Confessio Amanti.



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February 13

by Kirk Middleton

Unusual to the Canterbury Tales, the Wife of Bath’s Prologue is considerably longer than that of the tale itself. In the prologue, the Wife preaches, appealing to her audience, doing an oral performance in which she takes her audience into account. We see that while the Merchant can’t talk of his own marriage, the Wife is more than happy to speak of hers, holding nothing back. In this regard, she is clearly seen as a sexual being, standing apart from all other characters on the pilgrimage.

On line 1685 of the Merchant’s tale, Justinus warns against marriage. Here we have one tale addressing the character in another. However, some would argue that she proves Justinus correct, providing numerous reasons why marriage is a horrible idea.

From the General Prologue, it is clear that the Wife goes on many pilgrimages, problematic for married women. She’s an extravagant dresser with a wandering way and gap teeth, codeword for a heightened sexuality (GP 467).

Like La Vielle from the Romance of the Rose, the Wife is giving a dramatic monologue we are to maneuver around and think about. The reader (us) make the monologue a dialogue. As the first word of the prologue indicates, this is a book of ‘experience’. Using scriptural examples, thanking God and referring to the wedding at Cana of Galilee which suggests we are to only marry once, she sets up a problem, addressing an opposing viewpoint and suggesting more marriages is allowable. Solomon had many wives, so why the double-standard? (although he was Jewish) Never mind that in Genesis it says to be fruitful and multiply, but never stipulates how many marriages are allowed. Her problem as we learn, is with who she’s married to, not the four who came before him. Using the scriptures provides the Wife with greater authority, as she takes snippets of gloses, using them against each other, in a manner, ‘deglossing’.

The Prologue can be broken up into five parts:
(1) sermon on experience (1-192), interrupted by the Pardoner
(2) address to wise wives (193-378), talking to old men also, diminishes them with rhetoric
(3) addresses lordings, rhetorical address (379-450)
(4) fourth husband, not good, he was a reveler (451-502)
(5) fifth husband (503-end)

From 528-542 she speaks on gossip, telling her husbands most intimate secrets. From 545-563, she discusses the social lives of women and the fears of men. 563-585 addresses women as manipulators and plotters (a fear I’d say!). 586-626 is about her fourth husband’s death (RIP), where she cries a little, but likes the clerk a lot. Then she begins to fall for Jenkin, and at twenty years her junior I can see why. From 691-710 the male presentation of women in writings is challenged. Jenkin gives examples of women who kill their husbands from 720-787. In this regard, Chaucer is able to discuss horrible stories without being chastised by critics, instead only referencing them. Her love with Jenkin is seen as her finest, despite its masochistic nature. A particularly violent exchange occurs where Jenkins deafens her after she knocks him into fire.

In discussing the body, the Wife asks why her genitals were made how they are. She glosses her body, and her body is then seen as her experience. She says to use it as an instrument, do what you can with it, wanting to be ‘multigrain bread’. She states how she can make her husband her slave with her body, at which point the Pardoner breaks in attempting to silence her.

The second half of class involved a very lively discussion in which two groups argued either that the tale and prologue were Chaucer’s wish or the Wife’s wish. I quite enjoyed it.



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February 20



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February 27

by Eric McDonald

The Physician’s and Shipman’s Tales:

Prof. Sutherland began the class with an exam announcement. Our exam will take place on Mon. April 21 between 7-10PM in West Hall, UC. This information is tentative; the details will be verified later. The lecture proper began with a cursory review of the Tales studied so far. We were asked to consider the following questions: How do the tales relate to each other? How does the ‘dialogic frame’ work? What are the conversations between the storytellers? Here are some points to consider when re-reading the Tales:

Knight’s Tale: What is the relation of women to men? Or men to the social order? Theseus conquers the Amazons, but Emily is not very Amazonian at all. Emily wants to remain unmarried and virgin, but the teller never tells exactly what Emily wants. Theseus begins as a conqueror, but his actions are often uncharacteristic (l. 3089- Mercy as justice is uncharacteristic of Theseus; has he been transformed by the women in his life?).
Miller’s Tale: Here there seem to be no elaborate guidelines between the sexes. Notions of age and class considerations are important, but the tale seems less philosophical than most.

Man of Laws Tale: What is at stake for Constance? What is the nature of her relationship with her father? Rome to nation? What are the important female considerations (Constance is a soul character who has been wronged by mothers)?

Prioress’s Tale: Do we have here an unusual mother? Is the role of men subverted in the story? Is the idea of a child who never gets passed the age of innocence an ideal? Can this ideal be maintained? Can such a situation be ‘true’?

Clerk’s Tale: Two types of father: Janicula is helpless, Walter controls. How does the patriarchy work in this tale? Griselda is praised for her endeavours, but only inasmuch as they are related to her husband’s testing. Does she have power?
Merchant’s Tale: Consider the critique of January and his wilful blindness. May is an unfulfilled woman of desire, but she also wants a faithful mate and ‘newfangledness’.

Franklin’s Tale: This is a tale about illusion; how do we understand the compromised promise to Aurelius?

Wife of Bath’s Tale: First direct look at what women want. The Wife of Bath is a ventriloquist, but she is a vital presence who successfully uses her body as text. She is radical (see Justinius who quotes the Wife: "she seems to speak for herself") and raises problems examined later (albeit indirectly) by Freud. The psychological concepts of complementarity and mutuality are helpful. In l. 702 the man is up, the woman is down; this complementarity is destructive since it indicates the random swing of a pendulum with no true sense of sharing or equality. The mutuality (i.e. constant state of equality) of Dorigen and Arvaragus points to a union with much more parity.

After the recap, we listened to Michael’s presentation on "Medicine in the Middle Ages." Prof. Sutherland then continued with the Physician’s Tale.
Titus Livius is a source for this tale, according to the opening, but Chaucer probalby relied on the version in Romance of the Rose, and his story is markedly different from both. Virginia is a perfectly beautiful maid (always busy, non-drinker, chaste, etc...). The Physician explains that some social events make the young grow too quickly and calls for a focus on the importance of maidenhood and virtuous living. There is then an address to the girl’s keepers (who are virtuous or fallen, but penitent nonetheless). In his address to parents (l. 93), the Physician discusses the need to lead by example, and also expounds on the dangers of permissive parenting. Thus, he is primarily concerned with the parent-child relationship.

We then proceeded to examine the tale’s central characters more closely. Judge Appius is smitten with Virginia and plots (with Claudius) to falsely accuse Virginia’s father of having stolen his slave. The fabrication is initially successful and Virginia’s father (as judge of her own fate) considers the options of shame or death. Virginia, who prefers to die to save her and her father’s honour, offers herself up for execution. Her father obliges and proceeds to kill her, ostensibly saving her honour. The crowd is overwhelmed by the scene and rallies to the cause of the fallen Virginia. The tale ends with a sort of triumph in public life and tragedy in the private domain. Virginia’s fate is both impressive and depressive. Since honour remains paramount in the medieval frame of mind, her death is the positive result of a negative situation. This division between triumph and tragedy is crucial to understanding the tale. The father’s resolution is not altogether surprising when one considers the importance of the medieval honour system.

After a few minutes of final discussion and a presentation on women in the Middle Ages, we proceeded to examine the Shipman’s Tale. The theme here largely concerned women and their relation to public and private life. Since women were generally associated with things domestic, the role of money in family and married life is an important consideration. We are already aware of some of the implications money can have via Dorigen and Arvaragus, but we have not yet considered what money can mean (in terms of its possession and use) to a woman who is bound by circumstance to the livelihood of her husband. The tale opens with a stereotypical view of woman as the spender of her husband’s money. The two men who figure in her life- husband Peter and cleric John- are cousins from the same village, and as such form a kind of fraternal alliance. The wife’s main complaint is that her husband is cheap. Peter is a successful merchant who is reluctant to give his wife money, but he readily lends funds to his friend on the condition that they be returned. His "money is his plough"; thus his labour is the earning of money, and we later find out that his wife’s labour is the work of sex (i.e. she is obligated as a woman to fulfill the sexual needs of her husband). [Prof. Sutherland briefly digressed at this point to explain something of the rise of currency during the Middle Ages. Chiefly, money was slowly changing the nature of the strict trade economy, particularly among middle-class merchants.] The relationship between John and the wife at times resembles that between Pandarus and Criseyde. John’s devious, sexual banter is inappropriate for a cleric and the friend of the husband (see ll. 95-100). However, there is a more overt lechery at play in his financial seduction of the woman. The idea that a woman’s work is sex with her husband persists in the constant word play of the text (e.g. the plough as a phallic pun). John’s offer of money is further phrased in a series of veiled sexual exchanges.

The story is roughly modelled on the "A Gift Returned" type of fabliau. The husband’s debt becomes the monk’s and the wife’s surplus. The nature of the gain or loss, depending on the character, however, is always more complex than it appears. Sex and money are more or less equated; the financial debt will be considered after the marriage debt has been paid. Of interest to the modern reader is the idea that the husband is upset not by his wife’s deceit proper, but by the fact that her actions could have hurt his friendship with John. Since the nature of their friendship seems partially based on an exchange of the woman, an exchange gone bad has the potential to strain the union.

We then discussed possible Marxist interpretations of the Tale. In the story, money constitutes an instrumental principle of public life; this same principle serves to threaten private life (e.g. love, friendship, etc…). Some critics view the Shipman’s Tale as Chaucer’s response to the rise of money. On this note we ended our discussion.

[The very end of the class was spent listening to Prof. Sutherland’s animated and entertaining reading of a similar tale in Bocaccio’s Decameron. We considered some differences between the tales, but mostly, we silently contemplated how we were going to pull the "put the devil in hell" line at our next cocktail party.]

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