I’m fairly sure that if any of us were ever to meet Mr. Beidler, and perhaps sit down to dinner with him, we would find the man…interesting. He would probably spend a good 10 minutes saying how all of his friends found some dish completely amazing, but that he would never order it because it’s made with veal, highly controversial. He’d probably also go into detail about the origins of not only every recipe, but every ingredient.
Maybe I haven’t made myself clear, but I’m not really a fan of the detail that Beidler goes into in regards to the Wife of Bath. Perhaps the new critics are rubbing off on me, but I find the incredible detail he goes into for every source of Chaucer’s tale. At the base of it, nearly every story is going to be reminiscent of one before.
This rings true for his list of events going on during Chaucer’s period also. He spends six pages describing events leading up to and during Chaucer’s period, only to say that the martyring of Thomas a Becket was the only one to really influence him. It seemed as if Beidler was just struggling to make a page count and so used any thing he could think of to do it.
It is hard for me to read a text where the author tells you off the bat that nothing I will be reading is completely concrete. The number of times that Beidler uses the words “it seems”, “we assume”, or “we cannot say” is numerous throughout his account. It frustrated me and made me distrust Beidler in the beginning to know that he did not have anything else to present to us with other then how those have come to “think” of him rather then what they know of him. All that we know are those documents that just so happened to be found. But, then my sense of Beidler changed as I read more into the biographical and historical context section, for one cannot blame him for the lack of solid ground to define Chaucer. I then began to place myself in Beidler’s shoes and admire his perseverance to get to the most accurate account of this mysterious man. Through readings, documents, and historical events occurring at the time, Beidler, I believe, set us up with the most concrete description one can give. He presented the writer with not the modern/easiest read text, the Ellesmere manuscript, but rather took from the most true manuscript around that would have displayed the closest account as if Chaucer himself wrote it, the Hengwrt manuscript. Beidler showed us through historical events at the time, how Chaucer avoided challenging social structure by his lack of reference to those events. Lastly, to sum up my change of heart toward Beidler, I would rather him be as truthful towards me with his “we assumes” and “we cannots says” and “it seems” then for an editor to tell me something was concrete when it was not. I respect his honesty and his determination to unveil the mysterious man of Geoffrey Chaucer in most truthful, unembellished way possible.
In high school and last semester, I read parts of The Canterbury Tales (including The Wife of Bath) and I’m excited to be reading it again! I’ve always been a fan of Chaucer since I first read the Canterbury Tales in high school.
Although, I was a little scared at first when I read that Beidler was keeping it pretty traditional with the middle English. I had to recite the first 16 lines of The Canterbury Tales in front of my whole class and I just remembered how difficult it was. But actually, I think after reading this introduction I’m more excited now for Beidler’s edition. I also liked how he has lists of translations and what not. He sort of shifted my opinion on middle English when he talked about preserving the language. I guess I hadn’t really thought about how I was missing out on the poetry itself when I first read the stories. Also, I thought that blog Professor Seaman showed us that was written in middle English was pretty interesting. I think the whole idea of a blog devoted to middle English that talks about modern life is actually a pretty unique idea.
To be honest, I always dreaded doing middle or old English and I would be the first to find some modern text translation (especially after having to memorize those 16 lines, blahh) I guess I feel like I’ve sort of been cheating because I’ve been going around the real text and going for the translated ones instead. But now, thanks to Beidler, I’ll be introduced to the real, raw stuff. (well, I guess it’s still technically semi-middle English, but still) I think I’ll appreciate Chaucer a little more now than I have before since I’m not just looking at the modernized versions.