Jenifer Sutherland

October 3



October 3

Text Decoration "Kate Harding

Dr. Sutherland began by revisiting the question of how the consolation in The Book of the Duchess differs from The Consolation of Philosophy. We discussed the concept of a journey in both texts, noting that the journey in The Consolation of Philosophy follows a specific set of steps and ends in flight, whereas the journey in The Book of the Duchess is more introspective, driven by the dreamer extracting deeper parts of the story from the Knight in Black as we go along. As well, the consolation Philosophy concerns herself with is the message that temporal, worldly worries are unimportant--philosophy gives us wings to rise above the caprices of fortune and human misery--while in The Book of the Duchess, the consolation is bound to this world; the dreamer convinces the Knight in Black that his life on earth is better than he realizes. Philosophy’s consolation, then, was called an “orientation for death,” and the dreamer’s consolation a “reorientation back into life.”

We also discussed a few similarities in the texts, most notably the key role played by Fortune in each. Another point of similarity was the way the ideas in both texts are presented as dialogues, between Philosophy and the prisoner and the dreamer and the knight, although here Philosophy is very wise and the dreamer pretends to know nothing. From there, Dr. Sutherland began to lecture on The House of Fame, beginning with the idea of “journey” again. She noted the physical locations in the text--a church, a desert, the House of Fame and the House of Rumour--and pointed out that while the House of Fame itself is presented quite conventionally, other locations are somewhat more unpredictable. The juxtaposition of a temple and a desert, for instance, is unusual, and the whirling, wicker House of Rumour itself is highly unconventional.<to top>

These points of originality led to the question of whether The House of Fame can be seen as a “postmodern” text. First, Dr. Sutherland asked the class for definitions of modernism and postmodernism. Students pointed out that modernism arose after WWI and carried on after WWII, when there was a great sense that the present was irreparably broken off from the past. There was a great desire to make literature and art relevant to a new age, and thus a move away from figurative art. Postmodernism is in part a reaction to that ethos, but it proves difficult to define. It conveys a sense that everything has been done before, and there can be no clean break from the past. Thus, jumps in time and structure, the blending of conventions, intertextuality and irony are common in postmodern literature. Dr. Sutherland pointed out that current computer technology is very postmodern in that it tends to present information in non-linear, non-judgemental ways.

Whether The House of Fame should be seen as an exercise in “postmodernism” (long before the term existed) or merely a jumbled, incoherent mess of ideas is a matter of some debate among critics. Certainly, when he combines drawing on tradition with allowing incongruous things to stand together--such as when he presents Ovid and Virgil’s opposing interpretations of Aeneas’s behaviour--Chaucer steps into arguably “postmodern” territory. Throughout the text, the narrator Geoffrey acts as sort of a tour guide, allowing the reader to experience the House of Fame for him or herself, keeping the present moment always at the forefront. The reader becomes a dream interpreter, then. All of these elements are a departure from conventional French dream poetry, with its heavy allegorical didacticism.<to top>

Next, Dr. Sutherland discussed authority, an issue which goes to the centre of The House of Fame (and marks its ending). First, we considered authority with regard to the relationship between Love (Venus) and Fame in Book I. Venus takes on the role of Fortune, suggesting that Love is what makes one a slave to the wheel. Then, around lines 1876-82, Geoffrey has been watching seven groups of supplicants to the throne of Fame, and when asked if he came there for fame, he responds that he is more interested, as a poet, in his own experience—the poet’s authority comes from his ability to turn experience into art. Just as an authority figure is about to enter, however, the poem ends abruptly.

We then talked about different authority figures in each Book. Book I begins with a very brief prayer to the Christian God (which degenerates into a curse on those who misinterpret his dream), while Book II calls on Venus (Cipris), Jupiter, the muses (in their first appearance in English literature) and, most unusually, the author himself when he addresses all those “That Englissh Understonde kan” telling them to listen to his dream. This seems to suggest that Chaucer is aware of creating a national poetry.<to top>

Book III begins with an invocation of Apollo, god of science and light, then carries references to other important writers—Dante and Petrarch—as well as the authority of minstrels, who preserved certain interpretations of history in song. Dr. Sutherland explained that The House of Fame is very much about authority and experience. The narrator sees himself as an observer and a reporter, telling the reader what is happening as he goes along. Geoffrey’s own doubts about his ability to convey his experiences push him into a position of modesty, reflecting both the inexpressibility of overwhelming experiences and his own ignorance and lack of skill in describing them. The professor pointed out, though, that this is a modesty topos—a formula repeated in literature so that it becomes recognizable as a clichéd pose, not a genuine effort on the author’s part to express something individually—and thus can be considered “affected modesty.” Around lines 1167-1180, we see evidence of this modesty topos as Geoffrey tells us his wit is insufficient to describe his experience—yet that doesn’t stop him from trying. Hand in hand with the affected modesty goes the confidence to write the story anyway, and Geoffrey is not modest about his talents as a writer; he reinterprets historical writers like Virgil and Ovid, adopting their authority in some measure. As well, between about line 960 and 980, he reinterprets Boethius Book IV, metre I. He expresses doubt (another topos) about his skill in love, but sets that against his skill as a writer.<to top>

This was related to the authority of the eagle in Book II. His grabbing Geoffrey and knocking him out lets him take control of the situation away from the narrator. He moves Geoffrey along to have new experiences that he’ll want to write about, which brings up the theme of the consolation of writing: although Geoffrey is unhappy in love, he can be happy on the page. Their comic dialogue picks up both the theme of the poet’s ability to turn experience into art and the modesty topos.
After Paula gave a report on Macrobius and the dream of Scipio and Mike gave a report on the history of fame (notably as a goddess in Virgil and Ovid), we split into groups and made up possible endings for the text, based on what we knew of Chaucer’s work so far, producing several amusing scenes. Although we didn’t come to a conclusion about where the story was meant to go, Dr. Sutherland pointed out that a crowd of people Geoffrey meets in the House of Rumour, at line 2121, become characters we’ll see again next term in The Canterbury Tales.


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October 10

Hyun-Duk Chung

The class commenced with our ESU representative, Sissy, passing around an e-mailing list to be signed by students interested in being notified about up-coming events hosted by the English Department. Next Dr. Sutherland gently reminded the class to take advantage of her office hours, drawing attention to the fact that our next and first major evaluation is in about two weeks. Attention was also called in our readings to take note of, and compare, the narrator in the various works we have read, and will be reading; in particular, what Chaucer appears to be accomplishing with him.

Following a short test on translating two stanzas taken from the Parliament of Fowls(PF), we also looked at poetic form, noting that in PF, Chaucer uses "Rhyme Royal", a stanza made up of seven lines of rhyming couplets. The "Rhyme Royal" is associated with higher style (which becomes important in revealing tone in The Cantebury Tales). We also noted that in both the Book of Duchess and House of Fame Chaucer uses columns without breaks, but more importantly, lines with seven or eight syllables each, giving it, at times, a "sing-song" effect. In PF, Chaucer uses the longer iambic pentameter, which allows a more "thoughtful pace" to the poem. <to top>

The motif of the poem appears in the first line as "The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne". It recalls the Roman formula of "ars longa, vita brevis", meaning that while the human life is short, art endures. Chaucer puts a twist on the formula to say that ‘craft’ (art) takes a long time to learn, and the art being that of ‘love’ (line 4). The second stanza illustrates a ‘classic Chaucerian narrative stance’ of not knowing too much about love, while expressing a fondness of books, and what literature affords. Another Chaucerian style to note is the method of incorporating other textual sources, seen in lines 22-25, in the image of old fields and new corn.

By the fourth stanza the narrator has moved from the subject of art, to love, then to Cicero (Tullius), who was an orator, moralist and ascetic (one who renounces the pleasures of the flesh). The legitimate kind of love according to Cicero is a transcendent love that binds the state for the common good that requires the sacrifices of individual desires and will (also see bk 2 m 8 of Boethius). Furthermore, individual, passionate love is seen as rather disruptive and less acceptable. The narrator goes on to concisely summarize Cicero’s Dream of Scipio, mentioning two things that will get one to heaven’s bliss: 1) know oneself as an immortal, knowing where lies the homeland of the soul; 2) work toward the common good. The lecherous are to wander the earth until they eventually make their way to paradise. Charles Muscatine (Chaucer and the French Tradition) pointed out that the Ciceronian perspective on individual desire which begins PF is also used to end the next major work we will be studying in about two weeks: Troilus and Criseyde.<to top>

As the narrator is contemplating the idea of love and looking to books to get greater understanding, the sun goes down and he is forced to put away the reading and prepare for bed. The narrator is presented in an image of undressing, contemplating love, and alluding to ‘having something he’d rather not have, and not having something that he would like to have’ (lines 85-92). In an attempt to identify what these things may be, we considered the sense of physical desire noted in lines 253-256 with the mention of god Priapus, and the urgency of the birds to get away with their new-found mates. The juxtaposition of Cicero’s idea of love to the narrator’s dilemma, sets up two, if not competing, then contrasting, images of love beside one another. It is also ironic that, once the narrator falls asleep, it is Africanus who leads the dreamer into the garden of Venus; again getting a juxtaposition of figures that represent different views.
The entrance of the garden is a single gate with two inscriptions; one on each side. Although the language is similar to Dante, it is different from the double gates seen in his work. Chaucer presents only one gate, but with two possibilities: to find an eternal may garden or a lifeless wasteland. The term ‘daunger’ in line 136 is associated with ‘fine amour’, used in the ‘refined love of the nobility and aristocrats’, and refers to a Lady’s reserve in the face of suitors. At the gate, the narrator is transfixed in his indecision of whether to enter or turn around. It is Africanus who coaxes the dreamer into the garden by saying that the inscriptions don’t apply to him because he is not a lover, but a writer. This is an example of how Chaucer tends to present multiple possibilities without siding with any particular one. <to top>

Departing from the double inscription of the gate, both appealing and unappealing aspects of love continue to present themselves in various images inside the garden: there are lush trees, but are named in association with their more morbid uses; a list of allegorical characters representing the nature of love, create ambivalence by presenting aspects both good ("Plesaunce") and bad ("Behest", meaning unfulfilled promises); the display of Venus, laid out on a bed of gold in a transparent cloth with the sun setting in the background, against the image of the chaste Diana. The class paused here for break, after which Cher reported on the "occasion" of PF, following Aaron’s presentation on Alain of Lille’s Complaint of Nature. We discussed the role of Nature in the Middle Ages as a figure of the plenitude of life and its requirements in contrast with the contemptus mundi tradition. Nature becomes associated with Christianity in a way that Venus does not.

The discussion resumed at the scene where the formel, perched on the arm of Nature, is receiving the speeches of the three tercels who are competing for her love. The tercels’ formal and proper speech of fine amour and ‘genteel playe’ is later undercut by the interjection of the common birds with their comic language which break up the rhythm of the long-lines. At this point, the class broke up into groups of three or four, and read lines 561-609 aloud to one another. Afterwards, there was a very nice dramatic reading of the same section by generous and brave volunteers at the front of the class. <to top>

Then we assembled a list of basic vocabulary, to be familiar with: "dom" (judgement); "sade" (serious, sober, wise); "rede" (advise / read); "soth" (truth); "wex/wax" (grow, increase); "recche" (care); "lewed" (ignorant, uneducated). Also we noted the subtle differences in meaning between: "mede" (money), "guerdon" (money, reward); and "quyt" (match, meet half-way, some kind of (re)payment equal to loss/gain).

After the birds’ debate on the legitimate basis of love, (also serving as a critique of courtly love and a question of which class has authority), Nature grants the formel’s timid request for a respite in order to consider her choice for a mate. Nature’s statement that a year is not too long of a wait (line 661) becomes a joke in contrast to the sense of urgency of the birds to go off with their mates.
The class concluded on the importance of noting the development of the comic narrator who enters action, makes comments and then withdraws. Important aspects to include the sophistication, lightness of irony, and how he brings different traditions into play, letting them run into each other, without judgment.

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October 17

Sissy Wong

We began today with questions about the upcoming in-class essay scheduled for October 24, 2002. Dr. Sutherland urged us to engage with the text by using passages and quotes from the readings, explaining why you choose that passage and using the language itself to make an argument. Also, we are allowed to bring in two pages of notes (front and back) and Riverside Chaucer. The duration of the test will be an hour and a half.

A slight change in the breakdown of marks was announced in class. For changes, please go to Lecture ended 40 minutes early today to allow for a translation tutorial.

Today’s reading is Legend of Good Women (‘Prologue Text F’; Cleopatra). This is the first text which we read out of order (Troilus and Cressida was already written). Before we turned to this poem, Dr. Sutherland asked the class to comment on anything that surprised us about the Middle Ages or Chaucer, now that we’ve read four of his early works. We spent some time talking about marriage law in the Middle Ages and the concept of "coverture" which means that women are covered by the legal status of their fathers and husbands, rather than having their own rights. We also discussed courtly love, or "fine amour," (Chaucer writes of "the craft of fyn lovynge" in LGW F 544) and the idealization of women, contrasting this with the denigration of women as irrational flesh. We talked about Eve and the Virgin Mary and how the Virgin connected with the courtly love tradition through, for example, the Song of Songs tradition. Finally, we discussed classical mythological references and their relationship to Christian imagery, specifically through the history of Neoplatonism, and the tradition of allegorical interpretation of classical myth represented by the Ovide moralisé.

Punctuation Poems
These poems were games played in the Middle Ages between men and women. Different meanings result from the poem depending on the placement of punctuation marks. Below is the poem punctuated against women:

I women is rest peas and pacience
No season. for-soth outht of charite
Both be nyght & day. thei haue confidence
All wey of treasone. out of blame their be
No tyme as men say. mutabilite
They haue without nay but stedfastnes
In theym may ye neer fynde y gesse. cruelte
Suche condicons they haue more & lesse.

from Diane Bornstein. "Antifeminism." The Dictionary of the Middle Ages. Ed. Joseph Strayer. Vol. 1. New York: Charles Scrivner's Sons, 1982. 322-325.

Romance of the Rose
La Roman de la Rose (Romance of the Rose) was written by Guillaume de Lorris and 40 years later, completed by Jean de Meun. The book is an allegory on erotic love. It was written in French and a #1 bestseller for 300 years. The book is important to today’s lecture because Chaucer gets in trouble with the God of Love in the Legend of Good Women for translating the Romance of the Rose, as well as for writing Troilus and Criseyde.

In the book, sexuality is represented by several characters as being part of nature. One passage that was read out in class says that the nature of women is to want to seek freedom just as it is a bird in a cage (an allusion to Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy III.m.2). La Vielle (Old Woman), the speaker of the passage, goes on to say that it is law which restricts women from their natural freedom (RR 13875-966). She also argues in an earlier passage that men deceive so women should do the same (13265-282). La Vielle instructs women to be like a predator (13582-600).

Christine de Pisan (1364-1434) found the Romance of the Rose to be very unfavorable to women. Dr. Sutherland read from some of the exchange of letters in what is known as "La Querelle de la Rose." Christine was a very educated lady especially in law because she tried to fight for the land that belonged to her deceased husband. She wrote a book on Fortune (Le Livre de la Mutacion de Fortune) in which, following her husband’s death she is transformed into a man, and also City of Women, a book about good women and a handbook for wifely behaviour.

Kane, Joseph L. Baird and John R., ed. La Querelle de la Rose. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Department of Romance Languages, 1978.

LGW Prologue

The story starts with the authority-experience motif within a Christian frame (ie. "joy in hevene and peyne in helle"). The narrator says no one alive today has actually been to heaven or hell. We get our knowledge from books, especially "old approved stories". If there were no books, we would lose out on the gift of remembrance. The narrator stands up for books and says experience does not cover everything.

However, in May, the narrator puts his books down and goes out to visit his beloved flower, Daisy. He speaks of her in the language of romance, including the Modesty topos: "Allas, that I ne had Englyssh, ryme or prose, suffisant this flour to preyse aright!" He is humble and gives her all the power in line 94. The daisy is then associated with Christ with her spring "resureccioun" in line 110. Then the birds start singing the song of Seynt Valentyn where Nature pairs off the birds, an allusion to the Parliament of the Fowls, and French dream poetry in general. The narrator is so enraptured by nature that he tells the servants to make him a bed in the field. He begins his dream lying on this bed.

In the dream, he meets the God of Love, Cupid, who’s described as not blind but blinding with the sun’s rays coming forth from his eyes. Chaucer goes into an elaborate description of his queen’s headdress that makes her resemble a daisy. A train of other women enters the scene. All these ladies see the flower and praise it. The daisy is thus claimed and hailed the emblem of good women.

The God of Love sees the narrator and is angered. He tells him "Yt were better worthy, trewely, a worm to neghen ner my flour than thow." Cupid is quite upset with the dreamer for what he has written (ie. the translation of the Romance of the Rose and the portrayal of Criseyde). He wants to punish him, but the Daisy-queen steps in to defend the dreamer. She gives a lecture to Cupid on kingship. He would be a bad ruler if he exercises his power in the tyrannic rule of Lombard. She then uses the analogy of the lion who does not pounce on the fly which is another Modesty Topos, since it compares the dreamer to a fly. She offers penance and the dreamer agrees to this.

Cupid introduces the Queen as Alceste, a character from classical mythology. She chose to go down to Hades in stead of her husband and Hercules went down to save her. Her love for her husband which led her to save him is in keeping with the tone that Chaucer employs for the rest of Legend of Good Women, especially in "Cleopatra." The Daisy is also a Christ-like figure because she is resurrected in Spring, and has spent three days in hell on behalf of another, as did Christ on behalf of mankind. As we can see, the Christian motif is strongly connected to Greek mythology to create a kind of religion of love, where Christ’s role is played by the lady.

As with Christianity, this religion involves the three stages of penance: contrition, confession, and satisfaction. The dreamer’s penance is to write a poem that praises women, rather than detracts from their image. While there are a lot of stories, the poem is not finished.

LGW – Cleopatra

A significant section is devoted to Antony. Chaucer writes an elaborate depiction of the battle scene, while the wedding banquet and the history of Cleopatra is given minimal representation. The focus is on Cleopatra as the faithful wife who is woeful when Antony dies. She, too, kills herself because she cannot bear the pain of not having Antony alive. A comment on the stories in LGW is that Chaucer simplifies the lives of these women, leaving out the parts that create ambivalence about their characters. The question then is, did he do this on purpose?

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October 24

The first hour and a half of today's class was spent writing the in-class essay on the negotiation of authority in Chaucer's dream poetry. After break Dr. Sutherland introduced Troilus and Criseyde.

Troilus and Criseyde

This is one of the great works of English literature. It's about love and all the most important, sometimes painful, issues that come out of our experience of love.

Chaucer wrote T&C during the 1380, a time of massive disruption. Thomas Usk, executed for treason March 1388, refers to it in his Testament of Love. Chaucer lost his position as Controller of Customs in 1386, but served as member from Kent in Parliament that same year. We will see how realistic are his accounts of the Trojan parliament in Book IV. At the time there was a move afoot to rename London "Troia Nova," related to the tradition of "King Brut," a Trojan, like Aeneas, who went on to found a nation.

T&C is an unusual work for Chaucer in several ways, and also seems to have cost him some anxiety. We looked at some of the manuscript issues associated with the poem, remembering "Chaucer's Wordes Unto Adam, his own Scriveyn," read during our first class, and read the first stanza of T&C for its double references to writing and oral delivery. We also discussed Chaucer's increasing engagement with Italian writing, specifically Boccaccio's Il Filocolo, the primary, though unacknowledged, source for Chaucer's adaptation. Chaucer presents himself through the narrator as a translator, working from his author "Lolius." This is a simplification of the numerous texts he had access to about the Fall of Troy, some of which he specifically names.

Looking at the opening stanzas (we refreshed our memory about Rhyme Royal and discussed the possible effect of Five Books written in this form) we reviewed what we know so far about "fyn lovynge" and love as service and religion. Dr. Sutherland pointed out that this is not a dream poem and urged us to be aware of the way the narrator negotiates a relationship with the history he presents. We also briefly discussed epic and its techniques with reference to the proems and stylistic devices of heightened language and imagery.

Dr. Sutherland gave a quick overview of some of the major differences between Chaucer's Troilus and Boccaccio's, including characters, style, themes, and structure. She then drected us to the theme of "double sorrow" and the mention of forutne's wheel in i.138-40 and iv.5-11, encouraging us to go back and read ii.m.2 and iv.m.6 in Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy Love's relation to nature and religion are an important theme in T&C. Courtly codes of love will be an important part of how this plays out. We looked at the "Y" of medieval sermons, that suggested that although love was part of God's natural creation, it could go two ways, towards the satisfaction of fleshly pleasure, or towards God.We also rememberd the "Pi" and "Theta" of practical and theoretical knowledge on Philosophy's gown, and the Neoplatonic tradition of a ladder of ascent from sensal to intellectual understanding.

Next week, Book One.

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October 31

By Millie Dodic

The class began with a short quiz on Book I of Troilus and Criseyde. Administration involved an invitation to attend a performance of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida at the Hart House Theatre on either November 15 or 16. Interested parties are to contact either Professor Sutherland or classmate Susan Bond for information regarding tickets and times. A comparison of the two versions would certainly make for an interesting class discussion. Michelle Persaud’s presentation on the background to the Fall of Troy was informative and entertaining, and the detailed handout of Greek mythological characters is a much-appreciated reference (for this class as well as others). Next week, we will hear from Raji about the background to Pandarus and his niece. Finally, Professor Sutherland announced that our in-class essays would be returned to us next class.

We compared a stanza from Boccaccio’s Il Filostrato to its direct counterpart in Troilus and Criseyde. The most noteworthy difference is that Chaucer manages to transform the original while staying surprisingly close to the source. The changes are not in content or theme, but in Chaucer’s use of heightened language and imagery, in this case that of the heart sailing toward death ("unto deth myn herte sailleth").

This heightened language supports the allegories of love as religion, love as sickness, and love as journey. Love as religion is expressed in the overtly religious language of the church, such as "converte"(309), "helle"(872), "repente"(933) and "foryive"(937). We recognized the similarity between a repentant sinner and Troilus’s plea for forgiveness to the "God of Love"(932). This scene, in which the sinner must be sincere in his confession also parallels Chaucer’s penitent narrator in Legend of Good Women, where love as religious service is the dominant theme. Also, as Pandarus points out, this religious service is the duty of all men and women, and to refuse is unnatural, or a "vice"(987). We noted that once he has accepted his duties to love, Troilus, like a true repentant, is a better man.

The allegory of love as sickness appears for the first time in our readings of Chaucer’s poetry. In Troilus and Criseyde we have the literal lovesick character, who "loste his hewe"(441) and was "brende"(448). His only remedy, of course, is Criseyde, described as his "hele and hewe"(461). Again, the heightened language of illness and fever aptly illustrates the physical as well as emotional "destresse"(439) inflicted upon the lover unrequited.

Finally, we discussed the allegory of love as journey, in which Chaucer’s use of the boat metaphor represents the lover’s path to his beloved. Before he repents and agrees to serve Love, Troilus’s "boot" is "steereless"(416). After he confesses to Pandarus, he has "to a good port…rowed"(969), thereby completing the allegory of love as a journey travelled by boat.

"Image" plays an important recurring role in Book I. Professor Sutherland discussed the medieval belief that the imagination could take outside images and store them inside. It was said that Cupid’s arrow carried the actual image of the beloved into the lover’s eye, where it travelled to the heart. Troilus’s heart is described as "his brestez yë"(453), where he is able to look at Criseyde day or night.
The helpful, yet comical, Pandarus reminded us of similar Chaucerian characters in other works we have read; specifically, the narrator in The Book of the Duchess and the eagle in The House of Fame. They seem to share the same purpose, that of the witty, talkative, and ultimately instructive comic relief. Pandarus also brought to mind the original Boethian instructor, Philosophy. The dialogue between Troilus and Pandarus was examined in some detail, and it was agreed that the friendly tension ("pushing buttons" and "rubbing it in") between the two characters made for a lively and interesting read.

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