Review of Week 5: Feb 8, 10 (by Autumn Barber)
We began class by going over instructions for submitting our first drafts for the formal summaries that were due on Thursday. Grades and comments will be posted on OAKS under the “Grades” tab. Those who have submitted weekly reviews already will see those grades reflected there as well.
Our subject for Tuesday was The Wife of Bath’s Prologue. We discussed with our neighbors what we thought the three sections of the Prologue are. The first section discusses the justification of multiple marriages, the difference between virginity and chastity, and the religious authority on each. This section is not autobiographical to the wife like the other two are. The second section discusses the wife’s first, second, and third husbands. The third section discusses her fourth and fifth husbands.
During the Middle Ages, with regard to religion, you either remain chaste or get married in order to avoid being sinful with lust. It was also very common for women to remarry. Virginity is the ideal and according to the church, marriage is not as good (but necessary). The Wife says that married women do serve a purpose (procreation). In the first section, the Wife challenges interpretations of scripture by presenting how she interprets them based on experience (the first word of her prologue is “experience”). Though in the Middle Ages, experience was not as valid as wisdom.
In the second section the wife reveals her pride in being able to control her first three husbands. Dr. Seaman discussed how these three husbands differ from the wife’s fifth, Jankyn, because she is much older than Jankyn and in a way the roles are reversed.
The wife’s fourth husband has a mistress and she gets him to believe that she is having an affair. Much of the focus is on Jankyn in this section. Jankyn reads misogynist literature to the wife and she, out of anger, rips out the pages and hits him. It is important to note how she must resort to violence here. However, Jankyn turns out to be the wife’s favorite husband. Dr. Seaman noted how the conclusion to The Prologue arises so soon after violence and that it is here that power is being negotiated.
“That gentil text kan I will understonde!” (Chaucer line 29, Beidler p 45)
- Here, the wife is saying that she can understand the scripture despite being uneducated. She can interpret it for herself despite how the church might interpret it for their agenda.
“All sodeynly three leves have I plyght/Out of his book right as he radde, and eke/I with my fest so took him on the cheke/That in oure fire he fil bakward adoun.” (Chaucer lines 790-3, Beidler p 71)
- This is where the violence ensues. After the wife tears the pages out she punches him and then he hits her and she plays dead. He leans down to kiss her claiming that he won’t ever hit her again. Then, the wife hits him again. Jankyn tells the wife that he is making it her responsibility to be faithful and honorable to him. He gives her the responsibility. This is different from any of her other marriages. After this instance, they never had another fight and she was the best wife to him. They were both faithful to each other.
We began class on Thursday by signing up for meeting times to revise the formal summaries. Dr. Seaman told us what to be able to expect during the revision meeting and that we should prepare our own suggestions as well. We are also going to peer revise on Tuesday, so we need to bring a hardcopy of our own summary to class. The meeting schedule is posted on our blog. Dr. Seaman has posted our blog grades for weeks 1-4 to OAKS and sent a record of our attendance via email.
Dr. Seaman began lecture by discussing the MLA Handbook. Page three has a lot of useful information on it that will be helpful for our final project (and other writing!)/ Dr. Seaman discussed the uses of research that we are doing and that research is to be informative and used to “fine tune” what we think. We then had a brief discussion on different examples and whether they would be considered primary or secondary research. Dr. Seaman ended this portion of her lecture by briefly going over topic development.
Our focus shifted from the MLA Handbook to The Wife of Bath’s Tale. We discussed how as more and more time passes after a written work is produced, authorial intent becomes even more difficult to define. This is especially true with Chaucer who we are reading centuries later. Dr. Seaman told us that with Chaucer’s critique of the Church, he is pointing out the people in the Church who are abusing their position. For example, the elves and fairies that the wife opens her tale with no longer exist because Christianity wiped them out (which was to be expected). However, from the start the reader is presented with the image of women being victimized by either elves or friars. At least the elves weren’t presenting themselves as moral guides to the women.
The basic premise for the Wife’s tale is one of a knight in King Arthur’s court who has raped a woman and now must be punished. Originally, King Arthur orders him to be put to death but Guinevere asks to handle his sentence. The knight is given a year to find the answer to what women truly desire. The knight is unable to find the answer until he sees the image of more than twenty-four women who then fade and become one ugly and old woman. She has the answer. The knight returns to court and submits his answer. The old woman reminds him that he has promised to marry her. The knight is extremely dismayed by this, but must follow through on his word. In their marriage bed he tells her that she is ugly, old, and poor. She lectures him for a long time on ancestry, nobility, gentility, virtues, etc. Once she is finished, she gives him the option to choose if he would rather her be ugly, old, and faithful or young, beautiful, and questionably faithful. He leaves the choice to her and she reveals that she is truly a young, beautiful, and faithful person and they exist happily together.
The way that the knight is placed under the dominance of Guinevere and then the old woman are similar to the way in which he exhibited power over the woman that he raped. There is a change in the knight throughout his journey that can be seen when he hopes to gain wisdom from the dancing women and not just take advantage of them. It is also exhibited when he allows the old wife to decide their fate. Contrasts between the parallel endings of these two stories, of the rapist-knight and the old wife, and between Jankyn and the Wife of Bath, were highlighted. Dr. Seaman also discussed the intertextuality of the Tale and the stories that Beidler presents in his introduction and how considering Chaucer’s version alongside those helps us discern features that are distinctive to Chaucer and thus potentially significant moments of meaning construction.å
“We undertake research when we wish to explore an idea, probe an issue, solve a problem, or make an argument in relation to what others have written.” (Modern Language Association of America 3)
“We then seek out and use materials beyond our personal resources. The outcome of such an inquiry appears in the research paper.” (Modern Language Association of America 3)
- Sometimes you do a lot of research that does not show up in your paper, but the work is reflected in the quality and scope of your essay.
“You may prefer to begin with a fairly general topic and then to refine it, by thought and research, into a more specific one that can be fully explored.” (Modern Language Association of America 6)
“There is noon oother incubus but he” (Chaucer line 880, Beidler p 74)
- In Middle English, negatives do not cancel each other out but instead make the statement more extreme.
Preview of Week 6 (Feb 15, 17)
Chris C. and Jacob will perform the duties of class secretary this week.
Monday, you will find in OAKS my comments and grade on your first version of the summary of Tompkins’ “Masterpiece Theater.” By Tuesday at 8 am, you need to have posted to the blog your statement of your topic for the Big Project.
We will spend much of this week focusing on the process of revising the summary of Tompkins’ essay. This will include: in-class peer discussion of essays (to which each of you should bring a hard copy of your essay); out-of-class meetings with me on Tuesday morning and Thursday afternoon to discuss the plans you’ve developed for revising your essay and to address any questions you have about that process. The revision will be due in OAKS on Tuesday, Feb. 22 at 8 am.
On Tuesday, in addition to some peer review workshopping, we will move on to the next subject addressed in the Theory Toolbox: the reader. We’ve already done quite a lot with the reader, particularly in our conversations about the author. Here, we’ll turn our attention there much more directly and specifically.
Thursday we move on to Subjectivity, in the Theory Toolbox. This is perhaps the central issue of literary theory (and a concept that theory seems to be moving away from, which we will also discuss). We will also return briefly to the MLA Handbook, as we discuss Beginning Research. You will receive feedback on your statements of your proposed topic for your Big Project, so that you can get started on beginning your own research in earnest.