It is clear from the second half of Chapter Five, “Illuminating Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales”, that the Canterbury Tales was meant to be read along with the illustrations. Because of such an illiterate audience, these illustrations were vital to the audience’s understanding of the text. However, according to Hilmo these illustrated pilgrims did more than reference the story. Hilmo suggests that these illustrations may have resembled prominent political figures during this time. For example, Hilmo suggests that the Knight “might indeed be intended as a flattering reference to Henry IV” (274). Hilmo draws comparisons between other pilgrims and political figures. How do you think this may have influenced medieval readers? Would this be distracting? Or would this help illiterate audiences?
Based on the evidence this section of the reading supplies, to what extent should Chaucer’s authorship be questioned?
The illustrators of many Canterbury Tales manuscripts seemed eager to perpetuate the appearance or notion of a single author, given Chaucer’s figure in their historiated initials. What reason might they have for maintaining the idea of a single author?
Though now it seems that all is required for the author of a written work (e.g. novel or play) to be praised is to be the author. This in itself gives this person merit and, for lack of a better word, ‘honor’ among the general public. However, as has been discussed before in class, this is a relatively modern trend. For a poet to reach the status of Chaucer, both during and after life, it took a whole team of scribes, illustrators, and patrons to appreciate his work and put in their own effort. The reading gives us the example of Hollywood’s version of this collaboration; what other modern day titles are given fame through the effort of a team? Or, alternatively, was it chance that earned Chaucer such devotion (why not his many other contemporaries?) or was there a specific aspect of his writing/persona?
Religious figures such as Archbishop Arundel were very concerned that translating texts could change the meaning of them. Do a close reading of the first 18 lines of the General Prologue in Middle English and then read the same lines translated into modern English. (https://sites.fas.harvard.edu/~chaucer/teachslf/gp-par.htm provides a line by line comparison)
Read the lines aloud and notice how the words sound and flow. Do you notice any differences? Do you think any meaning or literary impact is lost in the modern translation? Which version do you think sounds better out loud? Is it dangerous to translate such influential texts?
“Although the work as it stands includes 24 tales and runs to over 17,000 lines, The Canterbury Tales was far from complete at the end of Chaucer’s life. The General Prologue, in which the narrator introduces some thirty pilgrims, suggests that Chaucer intended to write more than 100 tales, with each narrator telling two tales on the journey to Canterbury and two on the way back,” (412).
Say Chaucer had managed to complete all 100 intended tales. What effect do you think this would have on the work or its legacy? How do you think this would alter the work’s reception, both during the time of Chaucer’s writing and now?
In OUMEM, Kerby-Fulton compares the various different ways that annotators of 3 different Piers Plowman manuscripts responded to the work. She notes that the annotator of D manuscript (Da) takes on a very popular Medieval reading style of reaching for the “kernel”, rather than the “chaff”. Simply, given that his audience would’ve been other clerically trained readers, he skipped explanations of narrative and went straight for the moral lesson. Despite this, she also notes that due to the attention to detail of Xa’s annotation on the narrative may reveal that Piers, as a vernacular poem, was almost as difficult to maneuver as a Latin set text.
What kind of challenges do you think that medieval readers of Piers Plowman would’ve had with the narrative structure that they may not experience with other works? Do you think Da or Xa had a more effective reading and why?