EXEMPLARIA: Teaching Chaucer in the 90s Pre-print

New Chaucer Society, Trinity College, Dublin (July 24, 1994)
Session: "Teaching Chaucer in the 90s"

Christine Rose, Editor

Copyright and published 1996 by MRTS and Exemplaria.
May be read or copied without prior permission for any noncommercial use.
Quotation and citation permitted with attribution.

Peter G. Beidler | Cathalin B. Folks | Thomas Goodman | Susan K. Hagen | Clare Kinney | Lee Patterson | Daniel J. Pinti | Paul Remley | Velma B. Richmond | Christine Rose


Introduction

Christine Rose

"Diverse folk diversely they seyde"

"We live in a time that increasingly demands a rededication to undergraduate teaching of the humanities, a time, in fact, that presents us with almost daily struggles for the survival of the humanities and of the idea of a liberal education. It may well be that our sometimes divided and fragmented profession will rediscover in its concern for and commitment to teaching a sense of purpose, unity, and community that many believe it presently lacks."

These words of Joseph Gibaldi from his introductory essay to Approaches to Teaching Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales" (New York: MLA, 1980, vii-viii), though fifteen years old, still speak to our current concerns about our teaching and our profession as scholars. But perhaps that sense of commitment to teaching giving rise to "a sense of purpose, unity, and community" which Gibaldi notes is often perceived as lacking in the profession has in fact come about. Such a sense of purpose is certainly evinced in the work of the panelists who assembled for this colloquium session on teaching Chaucer at the 1994 Dublin New Chaucer Society meeting: teacher-scholars from a wide spectrum of academic institutions and at various stages in their careers. They are master teachers, whose dedication to their craft and expertise is everywhere displayed, not only in the brief formal remarks which they presented at the New Chaucer Society meeting, but in the longer papers submitted to this WorldWideWeb discussion, and in influential essays some of them, notably Professor Patterson, have elsewhere published.

It was heartening to read my colleagues' papers and abstracts as they were assembled over the last year or so; first for the Dublin conference, and now for Exemplaria. In the fifteen years since Gibaldi's Approaches was published, much has happened to transform profoundly our profession. That early MLA volume reflected the beginnings of many now full-blown trends in Chaucer teaching and Medieval Studies in general: the burgeoning interest in critical theory, sensitivity to gender studies, interdisciplinary studies, and what Professor Patterson has called "critical historicism." Many of the authors of articles in Gibaldi's MLA volume provided venues for tailoring the course in Chaucer's works to the student: not the "cut the pattern to fit the cloth" mentality which dilutes the discipline, but presentation of a genuine sensitivity to both the alterity of the students' experience and the conviction that once that experience is addressed, students do like Chaucer. They don't dismiss him out of hand, and express, on the whole, a real desire to study his works. For myself and the panelists presented here, despite budget cuts and straitened library and staffing resources, despite intense fiscal surveillance by unsympathetic and increasingly neolithic and anti-intellectual legislatures and voters, the latter of whom who scrutinize (often in both WA and OR, through painfully misinformed "letters to the editor") just what we do with all our "free" time and insisting on more faculty accountability and "productivity"; despite changing demographics which undercut some of our old assumptions about who our students are, despite hiring freezes which leave us with fewer and fewer colleagues, despite being asked to teach more and more with less and less--the colloquium panelists assembled here have succeeded in making Chaucer matter in the lives of their diverse students. It has become incumbent upon faculty--and I speak for at least those in publicly funded institutions, but certainly this bean-counting mentality is endemic--who are little-used to questioning our motives and methods of teaching and scholarship to articulate for an ever cost-conscious electorate and governing boards why what we do matters. Even to our colleagues in university administration, many of whom are not publishing scholars or sympathetic to the humanities, faculty are being forced to reiterate, often to deaf ears, the dynamic and vivifying nexus between teaching and research, between Chaucer and "the modern world of today in which we live now," as our students are so wont to say. At my own university, most of us who were recent hires were trained at exciting large research institutions, and our natural tendency, sure to result in frustration, inclines us to reproduce such conditions in our own academic employment. Too many recent Ph.D.'s have had to move to where the work was, and found far different students and academic environments from those which prevailed when we were graduate students in the 80's. I do not need to rehearse this dilemma here, as we are all familiar with it, and the evidence can be found in the careers and words of the panelists here. Yet, the troubling main feature of that academic life which we are heir to , 'publish or perish,' is now being coupled, happily in our own minds as well as those of our employers, with an equally insistent demand that we invest in our teaching.

In first organizing this session, I was fresh from creating and teaching what turned out to be a wonderfully successful graduate seminar called "Chaucer's Library: Backgrounds to Medieval Literature." Flushed with the achievement of that class, I got revved-up again about the idea of talking about teaching. Lee Patterson's remarks at the last NCS meeting in Seattle in 1992 about rededicating ourselves to teaching, galvanized me into proposing this panel for the 1994 NCS meeting , which the organizers in their wisdom, found timely and auspicious.

When I wrote early on in the planning of the session to one of the participants, who asked for more information, I said:

"I may organize the session around the idea of ANXIETY: Chaucer studies and scholar/teachers seem to me to be experiencing certain anxieties about the discipline and our pedagogy. Some anxieties potential colloquium participants have expressed include anxieties about: teaching feminism and gender studies, the place of the Chaucer "canon" in an ever-shrinking course catalog, the politicizing of the field of Medieval Studies, anxieties about editions to use in the classroom and the concomitant reluctance of students to learn Middle English, teaching Chaucer in the sometimes alien environment of the community college, being asked to cooperate with other faculty in interdisciplinary teaching including Chaucer, the lack of periodization as a structuring principle in many of our catalog offerings or in fact in our hiring practices, reading Chaucer without the context of Chaucer's Church readily to hand any longer, redefining critical discourse for both graduates and undergraduates, and with shrinking "literacy" about the Middle English language (or language-learning in general) and medieval contexts--how do we teach all this and its relevance--ME/literature/theory/contexts--in one brief ten-week quarter to graduates or undergraduates, many of whom will never take another Chaucer class? [ As an aside, I always say to my colleagues to pique them that the Middle Ages is the only period for which a teacher is profoundly needed to lead you through the minefield of content and context. Anyone can read Hawthorne and Emerson. They are in our native tongue!]

I thought if we took ANXIETY as our theme, we'd have a coherent, if anxious, panel. I also suggested that the participants read two "core" assignments: The MLA Gibaldi volume on teaching the Canterbury Tales and Anne Middleton's essay on Medieval Studies in Gunn and Greenblatt's Redrawing the Boundaries. where she discusses the re-invention of the field of Medieval Studies over the last twenty-five years, so that we might speak to the distance between the two pieces and deliberate about the state of Chaucer teaching in the age of such anxieties, in the light of the publication of the re-edited Robinson (the Riverside Chaucer) and filtered through the critical conversations which have taken place in our discipline in the fifteen years since Gibaldi asked for ideas about teaching Chaucer.

Nevertheless, when I began to receive correspondence via e-mail, abstracts, and papers from the participants, I was struck by a decided absence of anxiety in the work of the respondents, all of whom had made peace with conditions in his or her academic institution and forged innovative, stimulating avenues for the teaching of Chaucer at these diverse institutions, to diverse students. Few of us have the luxury of being at well-heeled major research universities, with buckets of money for travel, research leaves, teaching assistants, low course loads and plenty of medievalist colleagues. Many of our panelists, like myself, are the lone medievalist, or are working in situations far removed from that ivory tower of the mythical major research institution with ready money for the Humanities. Yet, as you will discover here in these papers, less-than-ideal working conditions have not deterred these teacher/scholars from practicing their craft sublimely, and with what must be satisfying results. Retrenchment, for them, has often led to richer, more rewarding moments for student and teacher alike. The papers, the presentations at the conference, and the work now presented here reflect an attitude overwhelmingly positive, constructive, exciting and heartening. Chaucer-teaching is alive and well and flourishing, and while I might have had as my initial knee-jerk reaction an opening line for these remarks which read something like "It was the Best of Times; it was the Worst of Times," that in fact does not actually turn out to be the case which we present here.

Much like the contours of the Gibaldi volume, some of the panelists have tailored their remarks to speak to the "diverse philosophies of and approaches to teaching the works in question" (Gibaldi, vii), to address the larger issues of "what are we up to?" Other panelists opted instead to focus on their own methods or pedagogy, the teaching of a specific text, to a specific student audience, with a specific slant on the work. The panelists valorize the teaching of Chaucer, while making real gestures towards acknowledging its particular hardships. In this age of what I often perceive as lessening religiosity, I was fascinated that three papers mentioned our jobs in the light of a kind of priesthood (or priestesshood)--Folks, Kinney, and Goodman. As the only medievalist and thereby the only feminist medievalist in my dept., I often feel, in the words of Elizabeth Robertson (U-CO), like an "antique hysteric", such as when my PSU colleagues make sarcastic remarks along the lines of: "Doesn't it depress you that most of the central works you teach are not even in English?" or, after hearing my paper on the Reeve's Tale as a rape-tale, saying " I'll never be able to teach THAT tale in the English lit. survey again!" While I have my moments of despair such as these, I am greatly cheered by the professionalism and intellectual finesse of my Chaucerian colleagues represented here.

This interaction on the WWW is an opportunity to discuss the teaching of Chaucer, and I expect you will be as energized by what you read as I became as the session took shape; and I hope you learn as much as I did. The audience is invited to participate in a general discussion or to question particular panelists. Exemplaria's editor, R. Allen Shoaf, has asked me to monitor the WWW interaction, which has the prospect of being a lively one, and record what went on in a summary essay when these papers are published in the Spring, 1997 issue of Exemplaria. So do log on and respond to the papers or the topic of Chaucer-teaching in general.[1] Like the Canterbury Tales, this is an unfinished collection; we have no Parson to give us the last word, but we are hoping internet pilgrims have their own stories to tell about the topic and add to ours, with the prospect of making us all better teachers.


I would like to thank the Office of Research and Sponsored Projects at Portland State University and the Faculty Development Committee for a grant to help support my attendance at the NCS meeting. My thanks also to John Ganim and the New Chaucer Society Program Committee for seeing the value of our session and encouraging it. And, to the many fine teacher/scholars whose papers simply could not fit into the session, thanks for sending them. We hope you will add your voice to the Web interaction.

Portland State University

Christine Rose


Working Bibliography
  1. Aers, David. "A Whisper in the Ear of Early Modernists; or Reflections on Literary Critics Writing `the History of the Subject'", in Culture and History, 1350-1600, ed. Aers (1992), 177-202.
  2. Bloch, R. Howard. "The Once and Future Middle Ages," MLQ 54 (1993): 67-76.
  3. Crews, Frederick. "The New Americanists," NYRB Sept. 24, 1992, 32-34.
  4. Frantzen, Allen J. Desire for Origins. Rutgers UP, 1990. 201-26.
  5. ---------- "When Women Aren't Enough," Speculum 68 (1993): 445-471.
  6. Gatch, Milton McC. "The Medievalist and Cultural Literacy," Speculum 66 (1991): 591-604.
  7. Gibaldi, Joseph, ed. Approaches to Teaching Chaucer's CANTERBURY TALES. MLA, 1980.
  8. Jauss, Hans Robert. "The Alterity and Modernity of Medieval Literature," NLH 10 (1979): 181-229, and responses by Zumthor, Vance, Stock, Burrow, Poiron, Bloomfield, 367-416.
  9. McIntosh, Peggy. "Interactive Phases of Curricular Re-Vision" in Towards a Balanced Curriculum: A Sourcebook for Initiating Gender Integration Projects, ed. Bonnie Spanier, Alexander Bloom, and Darlene Borovink (1984), cited in Frantzen "When Women...," 447.
  10. Middleton, Anne. "Medieval Studies," in Redrawing the Boundaries: The Transformation of English and American Literary Studies, eds. Stephen Greenblatt and Giles Gunn, MLA, 1992, 12-40.
  11. Paden, William D. ed. The Future of the Middle Ages.: Medieval Literature in the 1990s. (Univ. Press of Fla., 1994.
  12. Patterson, Lee. "On the Margin: Postmodernism, Ironic History and Medieval Studies" Speculum 65 no. 1, January, 1990 volume on the New Philology, p. 87-108. See also the other essays in this volume.
  13. ---------- " Introduction: Critical Historicism and Medieval Studies" in Literary Practice and Social Change in Britain, 1380-1530. p. 1-14.
  14. Shoaf, R. Allen. "Literary Theory, Medieval Studies, and the Crisis of Difference," in Reorientations: Literary Theory, Pedagogy, and Social Change, ed. Bruce Henricksen and Thaïs Morgan (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990), 77-92.
  15. Straus, Barrie Ruth, "Skirting the Texts: Feminisms' Rereadings of Medieval and Renaissance Texts," Exemplaria, 4 (1992): 1-4.
  16. Van Engen, John, ed. The Past and Future of Medieval Studies. (Notre Dame UP, 1994).

Interdisciplinary Chaucer

Susan K. Hagen

Before I offer my position on "Teaching Chaucer in the 90s" I have to position myself within the extraordinarily diverse teaching situations and audiences we represent. Birmingham-Southern is a small, private, liberal arts college with a long standing regional reputation. My students are primarily white, upper middle-class, privileged, and pre-professional. All of them are undergraduates; most of them are 'Southerners,' and either Baptists or Methodists, and all three of those designations mean something to them. Just four years ago we in the English faculty instituted a new set of requirements for the major, abandoning the historical coverage model; now instead of fulfilling a distribution requirement in the Middle Ages, my medieval literature courses fulfill the requirement for a study of corpus of writings from a time or culture other than the student's own.[2]

By placing the study of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in this "other" category, I am not perpetuating what both Anne Middleton in "Medieval Studies" (Redrawing the Boundaries: The Transformation of English and American Literary Studies. Eds. Stephen Greenblatt and Giles Gunn. New York: MLA, 1992. 12-40.) and Lee Patterson in "Critical Historicism and Medieval Studies" (Literary Practices and Social Change in Britain 1380-1530. Berkeley: U of California P, 1990. 1-14.) rightly criticize as overemphasis of the alterity of the Middle Ages to the extent of isolating the themes, cruxes, and quandaries of medieval literature from anything that followed. Quite the contrary, I use it as an a priori admission that the students will meet problems of language (we read the Canterbury Tales in Middle English), theology, epistemology, social order, political order, and science that are unfamiliar and must be worked through in order to come to terms with the poetry. With issues as varied as nominalism, Lollardism, and the concept of the written text ("to Adam his Scriven"), we examine the end of the fourteenth century as a time of considerable political, economic, religious, technological, and epistemological change--a time not unlike our own at the end of the twentieth century.

When it works well, students see not only the discontinuity and continuity of Chaucer's time with their own [and gain a great appreciation of Chaucer as a man working to come to terms with his own questions about the changing world he finds himself in], but they come to the realization of the social construction of their own place in time. They relinquish naive belief in an objective study of literature and recognize the part their own experiences, knowledge, proclivities, and presentiments play in coming to some sense of what a text means. Giving undergraduate students a social context for the texts they are reading and encouraging them to articulate the connections and disconnections between that context and their own also gives them the text. Allow me to explain.

We begin by reading the Middleton and Patterson essays referred to earlier, as well as Patterson's "Historicism and Its Discontents" (Negotiating the Past: The Historical Understanding of Medieval Literature. Madison U of Wisconsin P, 1987. 3-74). Many of them will have also read Gerald Graff's "Determinacy/Indeterminacy" in Frank Lentricchia and Thomas McLaughlin's Critical Terms for Literary Study (Chicago: Chicago UP, 1990. 163-76.), and I also recommend Patterson's "Literary History" (250-62) in the same collection. While they are reading those and working their way slowly through the "General Prologue," I do a rather standard art historical, iconographical, series of slide lectures to help align their perspectives with medieval images.[3] But we don't end the introduction there. We discuss contemporary uses of signs and images ranging from headlight and windshield wiper icons on the controls of car consoles to multimedia U-2 and Pink Floyd concerts; we also place generalizations about a century 600 years past next to generalizations about their own time, about them as 'generation x,' as 'Southerners, and about what words such as honor and freedom mean.

What I am talking about, then, is more than a traditional interdisciplinary approach to teaching Chaucer, one that turns to art history, theology, and social history to illumine the text. It might more accurately be called intergenerational, or intergeneric. While I have assigned Barbara Hanawalt's Chaucer's England: Literature in the Historical Context, [although in the future I will most likely use Janette Dillon's Geoffrey Chaucer (Macmillan, 1993)], I also require students to read one of three other books, Donald Howard's Chaucer: His Life, His Works, His World, Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, or Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth. After reading, they write an essay addressing the specific question "What good is this book to this course?" What I have found is that reading biographical and fictional narrative--however romanticized--creates a general interest in Chaucer's period and broadens students' views of his poetry. The Canterbury Tales is no longer an antique text by the "father of English poetry," rather one of many entrance points to a time that is different from their own, yet peopled with women and men with anxieties, desires, dreams, dilemmas not unlike their own.

As I noted at the beginning, many of my students are either of Baptist or Methodist background. Mary, Ever Virgin, Queen of Heaven, has little meaning to them. Medieval spirituality has little recognizable connection to their own devotional lives--and they take religion seriously. It is not an subject they are used to discussing with so-called academic disinterest. But if they are not catholics, they are Southerners, and somehow they understand the characters of Flannery O'Connor.

While lectures and readings might define medieval concepts of original sin, O'Connor's short stories show it, especially "A Good Man is Hard to Find" or "Everything That Rises Must Converge." "Revelation " shows divine grace and its inscrutable nature. This fall, I'm going to try using "Parker's Back" as a door to the idea of forgiveness in a Middle English survey course. Once I started referring to a few contemporary works in this way, students began mentioning other works to me, works in which they saw Chaucer's themes still alive, still articulated, still unresolved. This is especially true with issues of narratology, gender, and the making of meaning in a text. There is, of course, a danger here of losing academic rigor, or of over popularizing, but I'll take the risk if it gives undergraduates a way to engage themselves in Chaucer's poetry.

I have even used Madonna--the one from Detroit, Michigan--as a way of discussing the creation of persona, of mask, or of a textual self. Actually, Madonna's Truth or Dare, with its professed self-revelations and cinemagraphic shifts between off stage black and white and on stage color segments provides a fascinating parallel study with the Wife of Bath's prologue and tale. We do not spend a lot of time studying such contemporary works in class; sometimes what appears to be no more than a spur of the moment comment, or an off-hand remark, is just enough to anchor the medieval theme, text, or crux in the student's world.

To help students see the text as something still to be read and negotiated, we begin each class with a student reading a few lines from the tale of the day and commenting upon them. Comments range from "I did not understand these lines," to "These are the most important lines in the tale." This allows the class to feel as though the text is theirs to read--not just mine or the critics. This also works havoc with my notes. Very often they begin where I had intended to end. It keeps me thinking on my feet. But if we want students to engage themselves with Chaucer's poetry we cannot hold absolute control over what happens in the classroom. We have to be ready not just for what we want to do but for just about anything. It is not an anxiety free way to teach.

We also have to do things as simple sometimes as sitting in a circle, as challenging as discovering ways of assessing student learning other than with exams or traditional papers,[4] as heretical as trading short-term coverage for long-term understanding. We have to be more intentional about our syllabi, discussing not only what we want our students to do, but why we want them to do it. I recommend the same intentionality with the employment of interpretative methodologies. We have to communicate the discovery, dis-ease, and indeterminacy of our own scholarship in our teaching. In other words, in the classroom, we have to look less to our notes, and more to our students and the text.

Birmingham-Southern College

Susan K. Hagen


Theory and Pedagogy

Clare R. Kinney

I was originally asked to do the Feminist Soundbyte on this panel, but I find myself addressing an incongruity in the relationship between critical/ theoretical practice and pedagogy which is not just a feminist concern. My remarks are not so obviously "hands on" as those of some of the other participants, but I do think that the questions I raise are worth discussing at a time when our scholarly lives--especially if we work at research institutions which expect continuous publication--may seem ever more alienated from our teaching lives.

A favorite strategy of the academic game has always been Interrogating the Problematic Master-Narrative: this obtains whether one is queering Chaucer, feminist-theorizing Chaucer, culturally-materializing Chaucer or New-Philologizing Chaucer. The tactic has a long and noble history: it underlies the Robertsonian assault on the New Critics who assumed an informing continuity between the experience represented in Chaucer's poetry and the experience of the 20th century reader; it also governs the Donaldsonian counter-strike against the reinvention of Chaucer as consummately culturally "other." What has changed most, perhaps, in recent years, is the favored angle of approach for the tackle. The practice of disclosing a cultural subtext or formal organizing principle which might then function as a unifying center of explanation has given way to a new emphasis on reading from the margins: metaphorically so, if one is "reading as a woman" to reveal Chaucer's entanglement in the discourses of patriarchy; quite literally so, if one is relating the physical conditions of literary production and reception in a manuscript culture to notions of Chaucerian poetic auctoritee.

For the last three years I have been teaching Chaucer in the context of a traditional historical survey for majors: Beowulf to Paradise Lost--firedrakes to fiery swords--in one action-packed semester. Since I could only allot 5 or 6 lectures (and their accompanying discussion sections) to selections from The Canterbury Tales, there was a limit to how many critical and historical master-narratives I could put to rest. To be honest, my main hope was that my students would emerge from this portion of the survey less intimidated or baffled by poetry in Middle English (in one particular instance having learned that "hende Nicholas" was branded on the arse, not the ears), feeling they could "just read" Chaucer's work with pleasure, and perhaps sufficiently intrigued to plunge into an entire course on the Canterbury Tales at some later date. Even as I make this assertion, however, I am aware that to speak of "just reading" Chaucer begs the question of what it means to give Chaucer a just reading[5]--especially if one is situating one's own reading in opposition to more traditional ones (as was intermittently the case with my own feminist discussions of Alison of Oxford and Alice of Bath).

There will always be moments when an instructor is forcibly reminded that, from the perspective of undergraduates with little command of cultural history, she is sitting atop a mountain of privileged knowledge--I felt this particularly acutely as I responded to a student's suggestion that something anachronistic and revolutionary is taking place when Chaucer describes the sexual act (since we all know that sex didn't begin till 1963, and it doesn't happen in Victorian novels, does it?). In offering undergraduate-friendly "feminist" or "cultural materialist" (etc., etc.) readings of Chaucer, however aware an instructor may be of their putatively oppositional status within a larger professional debate, from the point of view of Jennifer in the back row, she stands at the center, not the margins. Far more, I'd suggest, than a teacher of twentieth-century literature, she is perceived as the institutionally authorized Interpreter of a Mystery. We are always building bridges between our students and what to them is an alien discourse and a thoroughly unfamiliar culture. The bridges may alter from decade to decade and teacher to teacher--we've had Augustinian bridges and Chaucerian irony bridges and cultural construction of gender bridges--but the students for whom the "conventional" approaches to a given text are just as foreign as its literary conventions, are unlikely to distinguish between (for example) a feminist's pronouncements from the center--as she guides them through all that historical terra incognita (where be monsters)--and her oppositional acts of re-reading from the margins.

However much we may wish to provoke questions rather than deliver pre-emptive answers within the classroom, the questions our students will be able to ask are inevitably going to be determined by the framework of enquiry we construct--and informed by our agendas. I don't need to remind you that the interrogation of magisterial critical strategies which "naturalize" certain ideologically inflected assumptions about texts and readers is central to many of our more recent practices. My question, then, is, how, does one avoid replicating that same "naturalization" process? Working with absolute beginners, how does one reconcile the roles of High Priestess and Heretic on the Margins? Or (to put it in cruder terms), if our own critical maneuvers as professional scholars acquire a particular significance from their interpolation within a dialogue, a debate, where does one find time in one short semester--or just a fragment of a semester--to teach the language, the historical backgrounds, the text and the critical debate?

University of Virginia

Clare Kinney


On Literacy

Thomas A. Goodman

Even as medievalists produce a steady stream of new and increasingly sophisticated studies articulating the kinds, subtleties, and social meanings of literacy in various medieval cultural moments, we are always, and always have been, confronted with the challenge of keeping literacy alive in medieval languages and in medieval cultures. We need to do so to justify and maintain our employment of course. And too we want to sustain working literacies for intellectual and ethical reasons too often assumed to be common among us, and too little communicated to colleagues inside and outside of our departments and our institutions. If, as an academic, a member of a sort of modern clerisy, one sometimes feels alienated within a culture suspicious of critical thought, as a medievalist one may feel estranged even among other literary academicians. We are often conscious of our roles as conservators of "dead" languages. While the languages we study are no longer bound up with institutions of primary power such as the medieval church and state, we nonetheless inhabit a moment of competing levels and kinds of literacy that is a little like Chaucer's. In this paper, then, I would like to suggest some attitudes and some strategies that will open up our pedagogies in order for us to preserve the opportunities for their practice. Perhaps in this exchange we will also address what reasons there may be, aside from self-interest, for continuing the study of Chaucer, and of other medieval writers, in medieval languages.

I will note first and very briefly changes familiar to us all that have affected the place of Old and Middle English studies in departments of English on the western side of the Atlantic. I hasten to add that what is true in some places obviously won't be true in others, and so my very attenuated account is anecdotal, addressing things only on the American side of the Atlantic. Those people who have developed centers and programs for the study of the Middle Ages may feel more secure about the state of the discipline at their own institutions than those whose college or university has no such resource center.[6] Still, it will be familiar to most of us to say that while, on the one hand, the study of so-called modern languages and literatures came into European and American universities via the post-classical medieval languages, the pressures of expanding reading lists and the concomitant (and commonsensical) decline of the notion of "coverage" have begun to push the medieval to the margin.[7]

Many graduate programs in English and American literature that at one time--only fifteen years ago, more or less--had standard requirements in medieval literature, the history of the English language, or more particularly in Old English, have done away with such. I learned recently that, at my own graduate institution, a course in Old English has failed to make minimum allowable enrollment for two years running; this result is due-- other causes notwithstanding--to the removal of the requirement for the course in the current graduate curriculum. The department of which I am now a member has done away with specific period requirements in its graduate program; M. A. students are now required to take two seminars in any literature written before 1800 instead of seminars in the specified periods of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Eighteenth Century; there are no additional area requirements for Ph.D students. I'm not making a case here for a return to the requirements of yesteryear; I'm noting changes and their effects.

Another such practice involves the teaching of Chaucer in Middle English, and the teaching of virtually nothing else in the dialects of that stage of our language. Too often our teaching is dictated by the convenience and relative affordability of anthologies. Colleagues who use the Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces to teach a survey running from ancient times through the Middle Ages will teach Chaucer in translation, as the text is presented in that volume. Many colleagues who teach the first half of the English literature survey do away with Anglo- Saxon texts altogether, and those who choose not to use Norton, teach Chaucer in translation. At my institution, judging from texts and syllabi, "World Literary Masterpieces I" is perceived as a translation course; no texts are ever read in Middle English. "English Literature I," although it occupies the same level of our curriculum, is a good deal more specialized in its demands. This is a reading course intended and required for all English majors--although many other non-majors wind up taking it--and what gets taught in the course naturally varies widely. But almost as often as not, though people generally use the Norton Anthology, Chaucer's narrative poetry is not taught in Middle English, but in modern English translations, ordered as substitutes for the text of Chaucer that appears in the Norton (and Old English literature is simply elided altogether). I should mention that, with all due respect for the editors, my students sometimes do suggest that, as one of the principal gateways to Chaucer, the Norton Anthology text should be more heavily glossed. Perhaps Chaucer on CD-ROM, with a gloss for any word, or a complete translation, only a mouse-squeeze away, will meet the desires of all potential readers. But in the current textual situation, is Chaucer's English any more difficult than Spenser's syntax or Shakespeare's metaphor? But of course, there are already on the market facing- page translations of Shakespeare. The increasing use of translations in widely used editions narrows the potential audience for a full-semester Chaucer course in Middle English or, at the very least, such pedagogies create students for advanced Chaucer courses who have never read Chaucer in Middle English.

Middle English seems, then, to be slipping away, like Old English, like Greek and Latin. Some friends who teach at institutions with numerically superior student profiles than that of my university do not teach any Middle English outside of Chaucer in the original. Many texts, it seems, in many places, have become just too difficult. And is it perhaps telling that, more and more at conferences, one hears apologies for tentative deliveries of passages in Middle English--or one hears translations of all but Chaucer?

This latter phenomenon reminds us that literacy in medieval languages is an issue for our students because it is an issue for ourselves, for their teachers. The February 1994 issue of Medieval Academy News carried an article communicating concerns over "the inadequate level of Latinity often seen in medieval studies . . . ."[8] The Centre for Medieval Studies in Toronto will now provide copies of its examinations for external applicants to establish credentials for our abilities in Latin. We all know that with a language, as with all forms of fitness, we use it, or lose it.

Several members of this colloquium are kindly sharing what they teach when they teach Chaucer; I am asking us just to do so, to teach Chaucer, in whatever edited and glossed version of the text we may choose.[9] We need to be concerned, that is, with literacy in medieval languages, and with a kind of "literacy" of the Middle Ages among our students and potential colleagues. Students cannot learn what we will not teach: that is the only real limitation I have found in the classroom.

In this on-line colloquium, then, I would like to initiate a discussion of pedagogical values and practices for encouraging literacy in medieval languages, and particularly, but not exclusively, in Chaucer's Middle English. In my own practice I find that, after introducing Chaucer's language, I need to let the students take it over by means of reading aloud, memorizing, and producing and evaluating translations. The physical activity of pronouncing Middle English is important here. Having class members read aloud and paraphrase or comment on passages takes a lot of time, but allows them the opportunity to teach themselves, to take Chaucer's language into themselves. More and more, I also ask class members to memorize a passage as one such effort of internalization. In various travels and circumstances, when I have identified myself as a student of medieval literature, those opening lines of the Canterbury Tales have been recited to me by people of many ages and occupations; many people carry a little Chaucer with them as they live. None of the students in my Chaucer class last spring (1995) thought she or he could memorize those famous first eighteen lines, but not one failed to do so by the end of the course. This accomplishment may not in itself represent a major pedagogical advance, and yet, committing a little verse to memory changes one's relationship to the printed page.

Translations present other issues.[10] Some students obviously make use of translations, so one assignment in my Old and Middle English courses involves a comparative critique of two or more translations, including our own, as well as the invitation to write a better one of a selected passage. Many of you have probably made use of such assignments; they sharpen both our sense of the grammar and idiom of the source language, as well as our sensibilities about the inadequacies of any translation. Student-colleagues show a great deal of sensitivity to these issues. In my own cultural situation in Miami I have no difficulty urging what is lost in translation between languages such as English and Spanish ("Spanglish" may be heard daily on our campus), or between dialects. Differences between idioms and pronunciations of Spanish are consistent sources of conversation, discrimination, and humor in my community. Miami is home to Felix Morisseau-Leroy, a leading activist for making vernacular Creole, instead of French, the official language of Haiti. A discussion, then, of translating Chaucer can be cultivated from talking about the subtitles for Belle Epoque, or about the differences between The Miami Herald and El Miami Herald. It can also begin with talking about frustration and exclusion among English-only speakers, "official language" amendments (as currently supported by presidential candidate Bob Dole), and the politics of assimilation for multilingual or Spanish-only speakers; the conversation can be generated from a page of W. S. Merwin's facing-page translation and edition of the Poema del Cid. Creating a bridge, then, to Chaucer's historical moment of vernacularism, and the cultural politics of careerism and of scriptural translation, is not difficult. What looks strange on the page takes on some human dimensions when we talk a little about language issues in our time and then about Chaucer's history and the languages of his culture. I would call such efforts comparative, rather than "presentist," in their strategies. And I certainly agree with Professor Beidler that in some pedagogical circumstances it is "better to read a translated Chaucer . . . than to read no Chaucer at all"-- but doing so may be another step towards the way of so many language studies in the United States.[11]

Such encouragements for Middle English literacy can be taken beyond Chaucer, as well. Recently I taught an honors course in alliterative poetry for a fairly small group of students, most of whom had read some or a great deal of Chaucer in Middle English. We worked initially from translations, spent time on descriptive grammar, then read in Middle English the Alliterative Morte Arthure, Pearl, Gawain and the Green Knight, and great swatches of Piers Plowman (the Finnegans Wake of the Middle Ages). For the final examination, these students handled unglossed passages with great facility. Along the way, they became keen critics of the translations, and of editions. In a lower level course on Arthurian sources this past term, during an impromptu mid-semester evaluation, I actually received requests for including more Middle English in the course. To be honest, however, I must mention that few wanted to read more of Malory than we did; we had read a good four-fifths of that text.

Some creative concessions may help to sustain literacy in medieval languages. I saw the writing on the wall when I first offered a graduate-level Old English language course followed by a Beowulf seminar; with our low enrollment we barely survived the Provost's knife. We needed a bit of strategy to keep Old English in the curriculum, especially since our graduate students were no longer required specifically to take a course in medieval literature. A couple of years ago my colleague Hugh Thomas in History and I taught a fully-enrolled undergraduate course on Anglo-Saxon History and Literature using translated sources; the course created in some students an appetite for the source-language. Last year, having gotten approval for undergraduate courses in Old English, I offered the language course as cross-listed on both the undergraduate and graduate level. This practice is already in place, I know, in many departments where an Anglo-Saxon course is still on the books. Some of the students who took the history and literature course were part of the language class, which went slightly over its enrollment limit. I should add, however, that efforts to reach across disciplinary boundaries--even between two fields as closely related as literature and history--do not in themselves present solutions. We met with a fair amount of resistance from students who had strong notions of what constituted literary texts and historical texts, and what the values and the uses were of each, depending on ones disciplinary affiliation: obviously a lot of academic ideological imprinting occurs early on in life. And my effort to offer a follow-up seminar to read Beowulf in Old English was not successful; I had to adapt to a mixed group of students, only some of whom could read Old English, as we pursued the variety of ways in which readers of Beowulf inevitably help to write the poem.

There are other situations and forms of literacy we can encourage to sustain the languages and the texts and thereby the courses and our scholarship. The ubiquity of books, and the ease of acquiring so many things in our economic and cultural circumstances, can cloud the chancey paths by which Beowulf and Gawain and a continuous text of Piers Plowman come to us, so I always make some use of manuscript pages in the classroom, undergraduate or graduate, survey to seminar, and I often share the story of the Cotton library fire of 1731. Paleography, as my teachers showed me, can be a fun game of detective work, and students' eyes are often sharper than our own. My effort is to create points of contact with the bones of texts, to show the students old fragments of a past that is not neat and clean, not complete, not unified; more complex than our narrative histories, with whatever disclaimers they offer, sometimes suggest.[12] Something of texture is added by reading of Arthur's efforts at Badon Hill in the Latin hand of the Welsh Annals, or by looking at alternate texts of Canterbury tales, and of the variants in spelling and in wording of individual lines. By making material the differences and the interpretive decisions between folio and page, hand and print, Chaucer's language can take on dimension--and, of course, editions with glosses look all the more inviting when compared with fifteenth-century hands. Likewise, in accord with Daniel Pinti's practice, I teach Lydgate's imitations of the General Prologue, or one of the supplementary tales supplied by Chaucer's successors.

We can also take our reading outside the classroom. From Alfred David I learned the engaging pleasure of having a Valentine's Day dinner with a Chaucer class structured around a reading performance of The Parliament of Fowls. We've mounted small and comically amateur stagings of medieval and Renaissance plays, or pieces of them; I remembered this practice from Peter Stallybrass' productions of the Rude Mechanicals' play while at Sussex University. Reading circles--for the pleasures of reading medieval texts--can flourish alongside our critical theory groups. Eight graduate students recently asked me to lead a Latin reading group, and next term an Old Irish group is forming--who woulda thunk it?

Besides linguistic literacy in medieval languages, we can do much to encourage cultural literacy. In my teaching practice such encouragement involves something different from the use of manuscripts to show in material terms the distance between us and the scribes, and accidental and fragmentary nature of our texts. This other effort encourages students--and I have in mind now graduate students in particular--not to assume that the past is a monolithic and dead one. Some syllabi graciously shared by Kathleen Biddick from the University of Notre Dame have given me examples of how to make more fluid the boundaries between a medieval past and our present. A recent graduate seminar centered on the theme of "reading roses," including Eco's novel and essays, Theresa Coletti's critical/theoretical response, and texts of de Lorris, de Meun, Dante, and de Pisan. We read a good way into antifeminism via sources and R. Howard Bloch, including responses to his work, and I encouraged seminar papers that examined how the Middle Ages are represented and negotiated in post-medieval texts. Projects included "The Ravishing Rose," Andrea St. John's examination of the representation of rape in the Roman de la Rose and in the popular contemporary romance, The Flame and the Flower; Andrew Haggerty's paper, "Finn and Flann," which studies Flann O'Brien's satiric treatment in At-Swim-Two-Birds of the cleaning up of the Fenian cycle in the context of Nationalist politics of the 1920s, and Jill Vining-Donovan's essay on the derogatory uses of "medieval" in critical assessments of string theory in physics scholarship. The invitation for such work was an effort on my part to reach students in a program dominated by High Modernist studies. The seminar I have just finished combined pedagogical interests with a focus on the circumstances of recovering each work that we read, from Madden's edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to Crowley's 1550 editions of Piers Plowman. As Eco's widely read essay "Dreaming of the Middle Ages" suggests, we do not let go of the post-classical past; instead, we return again and again with a variety of nostalgic agendae.[13]

My gyre widens; I reiterate that we need to encourage and, in some cases, revive linguistic and so-called cultural literacies in the Middle Ages for more than one reason. First, because the period forms a site of frequent and significant recurrence in various channels of popular culture. While I'm not invested in the idea of getting the story "right," so to speak, I am interested in what stories we tell ourselves, and how we tell them, and why.[14] Recent years have seen two productions of "Robin Hood" and an immediate parody; the last year has produced two new Arthurian films (however dreadful), as well as Mel Gibson's reading of the Wallace and the Bruce, as interesting for its interpretation of history as for its anxious reinscription of gender roles. There may not always be an audience for the tales of medieval Western European culture, or at least not an audience outside of Europe, but while there is, we can be critically interested receivers, and the popular forms of film, fantasy fiction, and video game present doorways for our students to the texts and times we study.

A second reason for encouraging literacy implicitly asks the question of whether or not our students really need to be literate in Middle English. Why preserve a dead language? Well, not to do so, I think, is to lose a trail into the sound and look and feel of a familiar difference. Middle English is, and is not, our language. To read it, out loud, with others, shows a way into the difference (rather than monolithic "otherness") of the Middle Ages, more than into our--or anyone's--origins. Reading Chaucer allows us to see that language is a fluid matter of construction and of tentative and temporary consensus: syntax and sound, spelling and names can be different from what they have been, what they are. Including examples of variance and of correctness--grammatical or political--from contemporary English is not at odds with encouraging Middle English literacy.

Teaching basic skills in any language is not usually much fun for instructors. One complaint from the 1980 MLA volume on Approaches to Teaching Chaucer's Canterbury Tales was that students are not well prepared and motivated to read in Middle English.[15] Of course not. Isn't it our work to prepare them and to motivate them to do so? If we give away the opportunity to teach Chaucer in Middle English at the survey course level, we create a situation where we are then teaching Chaucer courses (IF we are teaching Chaucer courses) to first-time readers of Middle English. We miss opportunities for introducing students to Middle English, then, in using translations in survey courses, and Chaucer's writing becomes more and more the province of fewer and fewer.

The warning note for medieval studies sounded by scholars such as Anne Middleton, Lee Patterson, and Allen J. Frantzen suggests the first act of a long play in which the value and the variety of liberal arts education undergo renegotiation in the United States. The confident connection between liberal education and white collar employment that sustained the expansion of colleges and universities in the twenty-five years following World War II has certainly eroded. The end of this period of growth has for twenty years kept many, many gifted people from tenure-track employment in the humanities. Meanwhile, everything we discuss here has to do with teaching Chaucer, an activity often undervalued in our professional evaluation--not in our working lives--among ourselves, first, and then, more typically, by our administrators and employers.[16] But I would guess that most of us could tell stories of teachers who first opened for us, with us, these wonderful things we study, and that we wanted to become teaching scholars because what our teachers did seemed like good work. We can support and reward energetic and creative teaching without taking anything away from publication.

When some administrators and trustees speak of teaching productivity, we recognize the language of mechanistic utility. Recently one such administrator, who is also a working faculty member, in discussing with me legislators' attitudes towards faculty members at publicly-funded universities, concluded that faculty need to do a better job at explaining to the public what we do and the value of what we do. He added that, in his opinion, English professors were the worst at this work.[17] Even in preaching to the converted, as I am here, I would be hard-pressed to offer any purely utilitarian arguments for the ability to read Middle English. But utilitarian attitudes about learning and literacy have produced not only a society including reputedly functionally illiterate people, but many, many people who are not critically minded, who are, instead, hostile to critical thinking.

My conservative plea to sustain literacy in Middle English involves a re-engagement with literacy in our pedagogies that follows Allen J. Frantzen's recent prompts to, in the first instance, embrace the political dimensions of literary criticism that in his analysis were, until the last few decades, recognized and engaged and, in the second instance, to begin to take our skills in literacy outside the classroom and off the writing desk and into our larger society, where there are still many individuals who live out the exclusions concomitant with illiteracy in some arenas of our particular society.

By no means do I mean to imply that literacy inherently brings social freedom and economic and political participation. Literacy in the West has most often served the State; as Robert Pattison reminds us, "the result of mass literacy in industrial America as elsewhere has been to train the citizen body only for social efficiency and obedience."[18] What is not wanted is a populace literate in the second sense: a critically literate society. We have just passed through a decade in which opposition to the policies of the administration was consistently constructed as "unAmerican" behavior. I believe that, both inside and beyond our classrooms, we have good opportunities for fostering literacy in both of its senses: first, as the acquisition of the distinct skills of reading and of writing and second, as the development of critical awareness in interpretation and communication. Here also is the space for a new literary history.[19] By sustaining literacy in Middle English (as well as in other medieval languages) we will obviously help to sustain our livelihoods; we will also open others to the pleasures of new kinds of literacy. For many of us, it is, after all, a great deal of politicized, gendered, historically-enmeshed, culturally constructed fun to read Chaucer.

I mean, in short, that as medievalists we can do a lot to hold up our end of the trivia of grammars, logics, and rhetorics in a critical return to the liberal arts. In doing so, we will do the most to communicate with our society that sustains us (for the moment) economically and culturally, and to answer the voices criticizing academic elitism and radicalism. We ought indeed, in Gerald Graff's words, to teach the conflicts: we are one of them, ourselves.

"Medieval studies is a clerisy," states Lee Patterson, "and the more difficult of access are its central mysteries the more authority is invested in the high priests."[20] It has been five years since the Speculum issue devoted to the "New Philology," and one year since the issue devoted to women's studies; we can hope that these efforts will prove to be more than editorial one-offs from our own Medieval Academy, even while its directors solicit more financial support from us. Indeed, the "opportunity that [the] return [of history] offers medieval studies requires rethinking scholarly practice and institutional arrangements."[21] And while, among ourselves, participating in discourses that are arcane and specialized, neologist and nuanced, is often useful, pleasurable, and ultimately unstoppable, we can, if we like, take off our clerical collars in many circumstances.[22] We have a triple challenge, then: to re-engage post-medieval colleagues of post-medieval sources as well as the sources themselves in our teaching, to invite new undergraduate and graduate students of the medieval, and to re-enter public discourse as critical historians, in Professor Patterson's phrase. We can accomplish none of these tasks, however, either by remaining within the feudal principalities of medieval studies or, I think, by giving up the sustenance of literacy in the languages and texts of our fields. The more we allow what we study to be reified and rarefied, the more susceptible we will be to an already evident, displacing "reformation" of the sort experienced by the primary institution of the period we study.

University of Miami

Thomas Goodman


Of Sondry Folk:
The Canterbury Pilgrimage as Metaphor for Teaching Chaucer at the Community College

Cathalin B. Folks

As I mused upon the subject of teaching Chaucer at Pellissippi State Technical Community College, a marvelous dream came to me of my sophomore literature class, wondrously transformed:

Bifil that in that seson on a day
In Knoxville at my office as I lay,
Redy to wenden on my pilgrymage
To World Lit I, with ful devout corage,
At ten there came into that Building B,
Wel nyne and twenty in a compaignye,
Of sondry folk, by aventure yfalle
In felaweshipe, and students were they alle,
That toward Pellissippi wolden ryde.
The more I thought about the Canterbury pilgrimage as a metaphor for community college teaching, the more intriguing parallels I noticed.

First, I saw a similarity in the way modern community colleges, like medieval saints' shrines, welcome all comers--indeed, the more the merrier, no matter what the limitations of space or staff! Both institutions follow an open admissions policy and promote themselves as sites for the miraculous transformation of their clientele. Canterbury Cathedral's stained glass displays the healing miracles of its "hooly blisful martir;" likewise, Pellissippi State's billboards proclaim the college as "YOUR SUCCESS CONNECTION." Chaucer shows us that the Canterbury pilgrims come from nearly all walks of life and conditions of spiritual preparedness, while no student-pilgrim seeking educational or economic salvation is ever turned away from Pellissippi State. Even those unfortunate student-pilgrims who dropped out of earlier pilgrimages, known to us as high schools, are given provisional entry. They must do penance for former educational sins in developmental classes, until passing the GED test and being granted absolution in the form of a High School Equivalency Diploma. Having been thus cleansed, they are ready for full-fledged admission into the shrine of Saint (or is it State?) Education, where further miracles await them. Canterbury was the most accessible shrine for most of Chaucer's English pilgrims, making a pilgrimage possible for those lacking sufficient wherewithal or zeal for the arduous journey to Rome or Jerusalem. Pellissippi State has convenient branch campuses, combined with low tuition, bringing higher education to students who could never afford four years at a residential college or university.

Unlike Chaucer, I have neither time nor space to tell you the condition of each of my student-pilgrims, so some generalizations and a few examples will have to suffice. Community college students, like Chaucer's pilgrims, represent a varied cross-section of society, but certainly not the elite. What especially distinguishes them, a feature shared with many Canterbury pilgrims, is the dominance of vocational concerns over their lives. Whether they are young students working to pay their expenses or adults returning to college while continuing to work full-time, most community college students place a high priority on their current jobs, and many have families to support as well. Their educational pilgrimage may be viewed as a detour in their lives, rather than the main road--a detour quickly abandoned in times of crisis. While a few student-pilgrims seek Saint Education out of pure devotion to learning, most come primarily for the increase of their winnings and will readily admit that they are seeking a degree and a decent job, rather than knowledge of the subjects they study. Like the Canterbury pilgrims, they may approach their vocational goals in an honest and business-like way or prefer various con games. Some resent being compelled to take a literature class, believing it has no relationship to their major. Such students are predisposed to view the readings in the course as a barely tolerable penance imposed by the high priest of public education as the price for a degree. Fortunately, most community college literature students can be led to appreciate tales of best sentence and most solace if the journey is relatively pleasant, a function dependent on the wisdom and tact of their professor, whose role often seems to parallel that of Chaucer's HOST.

Chaucer's pilgrims tell, rather than read, their tales along the road to Canterbury; my students also prefer the spoken to the written word. Unfortunately, the educational system now uses the printed page as the principal means of textual dissemination. Like the WIFE OF BATH, who has absorbed much auctoritee from hearing her husband Jankin read from his book of "wicked wives," many of my students rely upon extra- textual methods of learning, often because they are insecure readers, if not actively hostile to books. Yet their discomfort with the written word does not prevent these students from enjoying good literature. However, the primarily oral culture of these student-pilgrims does present a challenge to those of us brought up to venerate the written text. How does one overcome this obstacle?

One answer to my students' bewilderment with the written text is a return to the medieval practice of oral dissemination--generous portions of Chaucer read aloud, in both Middle English and translation. Since I am obligated in my world literature class to use a textbook that presents Chaucer in modern English, I usually take upon myself the primary responsibility for reading selected passages in Middle English, though I give a special blessing to any student willing to make the attempt. Photocopies of the Middle English text are supplied for these relatively short readings, with my own additional glosses for troublesome words and phrases, since, even though students have the translations of parallel passages, I want them to see some of the subtle differences in language that can only be discovered by comparing particular words and phrases. Often, these glimpses at the original prove very enlightening to students, particularly when the translation is relatively colorless in comparison to Chaucer's words. I hope I at least succeed in showing my students that reading Middle English is not as impossible as they might assume.

Even when they are reading in modern English, I encourage students to get into the spirit of the selections and to give some thought to the nature of the pilgrims being described or dramatized. As HARRY BAILLY discovers on the Canterbury pilgrimage, it is often the spontaneous and unrehearsed productions that prove the most interesting--even when they reveal various degrees of ineptitude among the speakers. At any rate, I now rely on relatively frequent, unpretentious reading sessions and dramatizations, after experiencing many painful and embarrassing performances, or--what is worse--total refusals to perform--when I assigned Chaucer dramatizations as formal projects. I encourage all students in the class to participate on a roughly equal footing--another analogy to the Canterbury storytelling. Our readings are more like rehearsals than finished productions, being all that our very confining time-frame of less than two weeks on Chaucer allows. Luckily, this flexible approach opens up the discussion of troublesome passages, which can be reinterpreted by several students or glossed as we go. Students soon relax and are less likely to freeze up with self- consciousness. The variant readings of individual pilgrims lead naturally into a discussion of different critical approaches: often a learning experience for students and teacher alike. What this approach lacks in elegance and polish, it gains in student engagement and rapid uncovering of perplexities and misreadings. Reading aloud draws attention to one of the chief delights of The Canterbury Tales--their connection to oral and dramatic traditions. My students appreciate learning that literature can be enjoyed in other ways than the silent reading that many of them seem to find such a turn-off. I should add that students have already grown accustomed to this method of reading from several earlier sessions of the class, when we read a Greek play and dramatized passages from Dante's Inferno.

Like Chaucer's HOST, every good community college teacher must strike the right balance between following an orderly plan for the pilgrimage (the course syllabus) and yielding to the impulses of his lively student-pilgrims, impulses that may produce a fracas, spontaneous enlightenment, or both. The time limitations imposed by our schedule are especially confining, as is the limited selection of tales in the anthology. While it is hard enough to teach the General Prologue and two or three tales in the limited time available for Chaucer, the difficulty is often compounded by the students' own struggle to absorb enough of the background for an appreciation of the Tales on even the most literal level, let alone the many layers of Chaucerian allusion and irony. One must resist the temptation to provide a pre-packaged reading as a quick fix for students lost along the way and to urge students to seek their own interpretations, despite their confusion and misunderstandings. Under these circumstances, sensitivity to the bewilderment of many students and a willingness to set aside a prepared agenda when things go awry, as they often do, are essential community college teaching skills. But sometimes such wanderings by the way may turn out, as in the Canterbury Tales, to be the most interesting, if not educational, moments of the pilgrimage.

Community college teachers would do well to model their stance toward their students on Chaucer's handling of his pilgrims. While the uncritical praise of his pilgrims by Chaucer the naive pilgrim-narrator is qualified by numerous ironies, Chaucer's generosity also reassures the reader of the author's trust in the healing power of the pilgrimage, not a small part of which springs from the fellowship the pilgrims share in telling and responding to their tales. Hoping for the educational salvation of whatever student-pilgrims open admissions brings us, while never losing sight of the condition of each of them, community college teachers need a Chaucerian spirit of humor and forbearance. Like CHAUCER the humble Pilgrim, we must often keep a low profile to avoid intimidating our students with erudition or boring them with verbosity. If we subject them to abstruse lectures or tedious jargon, they will tune us out or cut us off as unceremoniously as the inept Sir Thopas and Monk's Tale were terminated on the road to Canterbury.

Finally, the incompleteness of the Canterbury Tales is an appropriate concluding metaphor for the community college pilgrimage. Particularly applicable is the possibility that the expanding personalities of the pilgrims and the scope of their tales overwhelmed Chaucer's original plan for two tales per pilgrim. Community college teachers with four or five freshman and sophomore classes, all of them writing-intensive, can understand Chaucer's difficulties in completing The Canterbury Tales. Many a scholarly project started by any community college professor mad enough to attempt more than classroom teaching has met with a similar fate. Then there is the incompleteness of our reading of the Canterbury Tales, which always leaves me hoping World Literature I will not be the end of my students' encounter with Chaucer, though few will probably take upper division English classes. For my busy student-pilgrims, the analogy of the never-ending pilgrimage is perhaps even more appropriate, since their educational ambitions often outgrow their initial plans, while the demands of jobs and families leave them wondering whether their journey will ever be finished. Here I speak especially about the relatively small number of student-pilgrims who have finally discovered the educational equivalent of the PARSON's "parfit glorious pilgrymage/That highte Jerusalem celestial," as well as finding comfort and mirth along the way.

Pellissippi State Technical Community College

Cathalin B. Folks


The Disenchanted Classroom

Lee Patterson

"If a life fulfilled its vocation directly, it would miss it."
Adorno[23]

Discussions of pedagogy are subject to many different interests, not all of them compatible and some even disagreeable. The genre asks for descriptive pragmatism, a dispassionate account of the materials and strategies of teaching a certain body of texts. But as soon as one begins to reflect on why one does what one does in the classroom, self-justifying and polemical interests inevitably emerge. This essay will not pretend to have avoided such unattractive qualities, even as it argues against self- justification and polemic in the classroom. But pedagogical practice always rests on theoretical presumptions, and in the second part of this essay I shall draw upon the work of Max Weber in order to make those presumptions explicit: I shall argue that there is a connection between a "responsible" pedagogy (in Weberian terms) and a historicist approach. However, I claim neither that what I shall describe as my practice is my actual practice-- it is instead a model from which the imperfect reality of day-to- day work diverges--nor that this practice is appropriate for anyone else. While this essay offers a rationale for teaching literature that means to be valid in general rather than merely personal terms, it also argues that values are by definition incapable of proof, an incapacity that must also apply to mine. Finally, as a last demurral, I shall not appeal to student response as proof of anything. Teaching and learning are different activities, and to measure what students learn from a course in literature would require a serious investigation that cannot be accomplished by the sketchy course evaluations that typically serve as the sole investigation of classroom practice.[24]

1

If the question of "what" cannot be divorced from "why", neither can it be divorced from "how." And "how" is conditioned above all by institutional requirements. At present the question of method is understood largely in the terms most influentially expressed by Paolo Freire in The Pedagogy of the Oppressed. As we all know, perhaps without quite knowing precisely how it happened, Freire has made current a distinction between a "banking model" of education, in which students are regarded as empty receptacles into which the all-knowing teacher "deposits" knowledge, and "problem- posing education," in which the teacher, as a "culture worker," creates a dialogue with students in order, in Freire's words, to "develop their power to perceive critically the way they exist in the world with which and in which they find themselves; they come to see the world not as a static reality, but as a reality in process, in transformation."[25] In this model--designed by Freire to confront the social needs of his native Brazil--the goal of teaching is to free students from the false consciousness that allows them to accept as inevitable life conditions that can be changed. At every stage the teacher seeks to subvert rather than encourage passivity, a process that requires not monologue but dialogue.

Current discussions of pedagogy ring with Freire-inspired manifestos. As the editors of a recent book of essays on teaching declare, "Pedagogy is about the linkage of teaching to social empowerment, leading to a politics of social strength, but in the context of shared social conceptions of justice and rights--that is to say, the radical pedagogy of the engaged intellectual is connected to the politics of everyday life."[26] Well, maybe. Given the heterogeneity of the students who attend the various kinds of post-secondary institutions available in the United States (not to speak of all the potential students to whom post-secondary education is closed), it would be wrong to declare that this is simply an inappropriate goal for American literary educators. But the Freire model does carry with it four assumptions that actually work against its premise of the dialogic equality of teacher and student. 1) It assumes that the student is actually in a condition of false consciousness concerning contemporary social conditions, which is--at least in my experience as both teacher and parent--a large assumption; 2) it assumes, perhaps even more egregiously, that the teacher is somehow uncontaminated by this false consciousness and perceives the truth of things; 3) it assumes that the goal of the teaching process is to transform the student's consciousness into that of the teacher, which hardly implies equality; and 4) it assumes that classroom education is capable of playing this kind of role in students' lives--lives about which most college and university teachers, quite properly, know little.[27] Even putting aside the very real pragmatic questions, then, one can legitimately ask whether the Freire model of pedagogy is capable of enacting, at least within an American context, the politics it promotes.

Obviously no teacher can be in favor of passivity or want to restrict engagement. But there are institutional realities that most discussions of pedagogical method ignore. The teacher is rarely in a position to decide unilaterally what size class he or she will be assigned; for a variety of reasons, most of them curricular and institutional, I have taught for over 25 years in both public and private institutions without ever teaching an undergraduate Chaucer course as a seminar.[28] As a result, many of the discussions that stress either the value of "dialogue" in the classroom or the engagement of students' life-experiences in the pedagogical experience become largely irrelevant.[29] The brutal fact is that as soon as class size moves beyond twenty-five or thirty, as soon as the room configuration is that of the lecture hall, with a podium or desk at the front and rows of seats facing it, and as soon as the course is formally designated as a lecture rather than a seminar, then there is no point in pretending to stage a dialogue. No lecture need be an uninterrupted monologue, just as not every seminar achieves the give-and-take of dialogue. But like it or not, in a lecture course the voice that is going to be heard most of the time is the teacher's.

One must therefore take seriously the limitations of the lecture form as a pedagogical method, limitations that have been depicted in especially mordant terms by David Punter. "Lecturing is a passive-aggressive mode of relating," says Punter, in which

all fantasy power is invested in the lecturer, while the member of the audience is allowed to experience total irresponsibility [in order] to habituate the junior participant to powerlessness, and render him or her grateful for the condescension that may occasionally palliate the operations of absolute power.[30]
Despite its extravagance, and its assumption that teachers are stooges of the capitalist system who blindly reproduce its values in their duped victims/students, this description still contains enough truth to strike home. Which of us has not had the curious experience of being regarded simultaneously as both an omnipotent oracle dispensing truth before dutiful scribes and an infommercial host irritating viewers who are denied access to the remote control that would change the channel?

Nevertheless, the inherent disadvantages of the lecture system can be ameliorated. Perhaps the most important way is through the section system used by many large universities, which allows undergraduates an opportunity to meet in a small group with a graduate teaching assistant. While the lecturer will visit these sections on occasion, my own policy is merely to observe so as to offer the graduate assistant whatever pedagogical advice might be helpful. A largely hands-off role is important to ensure the intellectual independence of the graduate assistant, who function best when they bring to the material viewpoints slighted by or opposed to those of the lecturer and so support the undergraduates' intellectual independence.

There are other, structural means by which the imbalances of the lecture system can be ameliorated. One is to use either in-class quizzes or daily exercises (e.g., journals) to ensure that the students do the reading before the lecture. For all the coerciveness (and infantilization) implicit in this procedure, it does preempt one of the most unpleasant of pedagogical experiences. This is when the teacher strongly suspects that the students have not done the reading, but pretends that they have; the students know they have not done the reading but feign attentiveness to a largely incomprehensible lecture; and the teacher then treats this attentiveness with a jaded tolerance that silently admires the students' dramatic abilities while being irritated at the bad faith everyone is displaying--all the while trying to deliver an interesting lecture to the few members of the audience who are prepared. In any case, the unpleasantness of the quiz method can itself be ameliorated. One way is to make the quizzes very easy, so that a student who has done the reading will get a high grade; a second is to substitute the quizzes for either or both of a mid-term or final exam, so that students get a genuine compensation at the busiest times of the term for working conscientiously at other times; and a third is to offer an optional final exam, with short, quiz-like questions, for those who have done so badly on the quizzes--or have declined to attend the lectures--that they need a last-minute reprieve.[31]

Another way to soften the impersonality and imbalance of the lecture system is to develop a lecture style informal enough to allow for--and to invite--discussion from the floor. Whether this is possible depends not just on the lecturer's personality but also on the size of the class, the nature of the room, and--perhaps most important--the character of the institution. Whatever the reason, such informal exchanges between lecturer and student are in my experience much easier at some institutions than others. This has nothing to do with how "good" the students are but rather with expectations, specific to each institution, about teacher-student relations and the responsibility of each party for the effectiveness of lecture courses. In some institutions this responsibility is felt to be shared, while in others it is thought to rest exclusively with the lecturer. Why this should be so is to me a mystery, but that it is so is unmistakable.

Finally, the lecture format can be softened by inviting students to participate in the performance. In most of my courses, and in all lecture courses, I offer the students a variety of options for doing the written work of the course. Students can, for example, write anywhere from one long to three short critical essays; or they can substitute for one or more essays a different sort of writing, such as a short story based on one of the texts--the most memorable instance was a retelling of Troilus and Criseyde in the context of World War II Germany--or even an original Canterbury tale, sometimes in Middle English verse, sometimes not. It is a prejudice of academic culture to assume that the only form of work that engages meaningfully with literature is the critical essay--a form that the vast majority of students will never again be called upon to produce after graduation. It is a similar prejudice to assume that the only form of work that counts is written. In fact, when students are offered the opportunity to engage in some kind of performance relevant to the materials of the course the results are often stunning. These have ranged from an accomplished performance of the Miller's Tale to a one-act opera based on the Prioress's Tale. But whatever the students have produced, it has defined the cultural space of the class as by rights open to all members.

2

Even if we grant that the lecture format need not be as alienating as is sometimes assumed, it still remains true that the intellectual purpose the course hopes to achieve is largely dependent on the instructor's decisions. To discuss the goals of education in the 1990s is to enter a controversy in which academics' appetite for the pleasures of self-righteousness finds free rein, where the satisfaction of pointing out others' limitations not only guarantees but authorizes one's blindness to one's own. Nonetheless, it is finally impossible to discuss teaching anything, including Chaucer, without candidly acknowledging that the practical choices one makes derive from value commitments. In what follows I shall define my own classroom decisions by contrasting them not to the pedagogical practices--of which I know nothing--but to the critical arguments of other Chaucerians. I do not assume that these arguments are in fact transferred in whole or even in part into the classroom: I am simply extrapolating from critical writings the pedagogical consequences they entail. If I am wrong in these extrapolations, it is an error of misunderstanding rather than malice, an error for which I apologize in advance.

The debate about course content entails two components, one relevant to humanities teaching in general, the other specific to medievalists. First, if for the purposes of analysis we think of our teaching in terms of knowledge and values, where should our emphasis fall? Second, should we teach medieval literature primarily in terms of its relevance to or difference from contemporary life? These questions are interrelated: an explicit emphasis on values in the classroom sits more comfortably with a present-minded approach, while past-mindedness leads to a focus on historical knowledge. These alternatives are far from exclusive: no one can teach Chaucer without also teaching how to read and pronounce Middle English accurately, and no literature course can avoid a persistent involvement in the fundamental skills of literary interpretation. Indeed, this second topic--too easily dismissed as mere "close reading" and sometimes thought to be both politically inert and culturally pass�--remains a central and necessary preoccupation of every literature course, regardless of its level or subject matter. Nor should this be a matter for lament, as English professors sometimes seem to think. The penetrating analysis of texts is a difficult but crucial competence for young men and women entering an economy whose rewards are increasingly reserved for a professional and managerial class skilled in verbal analysis. Whether or not we like the way the global economy is developing, part of our job as teachers must be not merely to credential our students but to prepare them to compete successfully in a harsh economic world from which many of us (myself included) are institutionally shielded. This may make us complicit with the injustices of that world, but we can hardly confirm our virtue as challengers of the system of cultural power by declining to provide our students with the tools they need to prosper in a labor market from which we have withdrawn. I shall return to this question of the responsibility of the intellectual at the end of this essay, but for the moment my point is simply that every literature course, including a Chaucer course, not only must but should focus on the skills required for accurate reading and effective writing.[32]

One way to enter the controversy over how to balance a present- minded emphasis upon values with a past-minded emphasis upon knowledge--again, all the while acknowledging that these alternatives never present themselves in a pure form--is to turn to an earlier moment in academic history when these issues presented themselves in a different but still recognizable form. In 1917 Max Weber delivered a lecture to an audience of German university students on the topic of "Wissenschaft als Beruf"--a title typically translated as "Science as a Vocation" but perhaps better understood as "Scholarship [or even Knowledge] as a Vocation."[33] Weber's essay, and his scholarly position as a whole, is often misrepresented as promoting a naive claim to objectivity, a disengaged intellectual neutrality, and a pedantic retreat into specialization as a goal in and of itself.[34] These misunderstandings are caused by not locating the lecture either in relation to Weber's thought as a whole or to the intellectual traditions within which he worked. Indeed, much of the recent concern in Anglo-American literary studies over questions of critical method ignores the historicist and hermeneutical theory developed by German thinkers from Dilthey to Gadamer and Habermas. This may be because Anglo-American cultural studies escaped from a naive empiricism and objectivism only much later than the German tradition and under the post-structuralist tutelage of French interpreters of that tradition: Heidegger as reread by Derrida, Nietzsche as reread by Foucault, Freud as reread by Lacan. The result has been to declare the problem of the methodology of the cultural sciences a pseudo-problem by consigning difficult concepts like objectivity and validity to the dust-heap of an outworn metaphysics. In addition, the intense particularism of recent American life, and of American academia especially, has meant that questions that smack of universalism--such as those of methodology- -have been seen as simply disguises for bids for power by one identity group (typically white males) at the expense of others. If, in Carroll Smith-Rosenberg's words, women's history can only be legitimately written from a feminist standpoint because of "women's absolute Otherness," then the common ground on which methodological questions can be discussed diminishes to zero.[35]

Unlike many contemporary theorists, Max Weber was interested not in transforming society, or in imagining utopianist alternatives, but in understanding the role that scholarship and pedagogy could legitimately play within the world as he took it to be. To many Weber's realism is a not unadmirable "heroic cynicism;" to others it is a quietist acceptance of, even a spiteful apologetics for, bourgeois capitalism.[36] Certainly in this lecture, Weber is as always intensely aware of the socio-cultural context. Locally this meant the growth of nationalist pan-Germanism spurred by the military and political crises of 1917: much of Weber's methodological pronouncements were delivered in response to the growing pressure of the right-wing nationalism that would, after his death in 1920, develop into Nazism. More broadly, the context to which he addressed himself was a world that was, in the one Weberian term that remains current, "disenchanted." The progressive domination of the world by practical reason means, wrote Weber, that "there are no mysterious incalculable forces that come into play, but rather that one can, in principle, master all things by calculation."[37] And calculation can teach us how the world works but not what it means. As Weber says, with typical acerbity, "I may leave aside altogether the naive optimism in which science--that is, the technique of mastering life which rests upon science--has been celebrated as the way to happiness. Who believes in this?--aside from a few big children in university chairs or editorial offices." And he goes on to cite Tolstoy: "'science is meaningless because it gives no answer to our question, the only question important for us: `What shall we do and how shall we live?'" (143).

In methodological terms, Weber insists that values remain incapable of scientific--that is, empirical--demonstration. In an earlier essay, he had also explained that

only positive religions--or more precisely expressed: dogmatically bound sects--are able to confer on the content of cultural values the status of unconditionally valid ethical imperatives. . . . The fate of an epoch which has eaten of the tree of knowledge is that it must know that we cannot learn the meaning of the world from the results of its analysis, be it ever so perfect; it must rather be in a position to create this meaning itself. It must recognize that general views of life and the universe can never be the products of increasing empirical knowledge, and that the highest ideals, which move us most forcefully, are always formed only in the struggle with other ideals which are just as sacred to others as ours are to us.[38]
Knowing as much about the world as we do, Weber urges us to admit, with a realism that recommends tolerance, that the values by which we live cannot be defended by appealing to canons of validity.

How, then, can people make sense of their lives? Weber's answer is the notion of Beruf, translated as "calling" or "vocation." In The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904-5), he argues that the sixteenth-century collapse of Catholicism generated "a feeling of unprecedented inner loneliness of the single individual" through the withdrawal of a providential deity and its replacement with the distant Protestant, and specifically Calvinist, God.[39] This "disillusioned and pessimistically inclined individualism" (105) found its salvation neither in ritualized religion nor in monastic withdrawal but instead in a "this-worldly asceticism:"

The only way of living acceptably to God was not to surpass worldly morality in monastic asceticism, but solely through the fulfillment of the obligations imposed upon the individual by his position in the world. That was his calling. (80)
This notion of vocation, a definition of "labour as an end in itself," was crucially necessary to the development of the morality required by capitalism: "The ability of mental concentration, as well as the absolutely essential feeling of obligation to one's job, are here most often combined with a strict economy which calculates the possibility of high earnings, and a cool self- control and frugality which enormously increase productivity" (63). The notion of vocation in the Calvinist scheme of salvation provided the model from which other notions of vocation developed, not least those that now hold sway in the professions of law, medicine, science, and academic scholarship. In short, we live not only in a disenchanted world, in which the connection between fact and value, between is and ought, is definitively broken, but in a capitalist world that provides existence with meaning in terms of a life of labor defined by the ideology of vocation.[40] As Carlyle said, "Blessed is he who has found his work; let him ask for no other blessedness."[41] Or in a phrase often repeated by my father-in-law, a farmer, "What's life without hard work?"[42]

These, according to Weber, are the conditions of modern, disenchanted life, and there are only two possible responses: a futile, even self-deluding rejection, or a clear-eyed, pragmatic acceptance. Rejection can be accomplished by what he calls "an ethic of commitment" (Weber's word is Gesinnungsethik, which can also be translated as "an ethic of ultimate ends" or "an ethic of conviction"); acceptance entails what he calls "an ethic of responsibility." These are terms whose relevance to the vocation of teaching I wish to explore at some length.

The ethic of commitment is a response to what Weber calls "the ethical irrationality of the world," the fact that the conflict of values cannot be resolved by empirical means. Unwilling to accept disenchantment, some set themselves on fire with "the flame of pure intentions;"[43] they seek to "break out of the disenchanted world . . . [through] self-clarification and self-determination in opposition to, and no longer within, the iron constraints of society."[44] In the context of pedagogy, the ethic of commitment tempts the teacher to become a preacher or prophet, an "impresario" (137) of the lectern. But "the prophet and the demagogue do not belong on the academic platform" (146), in part because of the power relations that structure the educational situation,[45] in larger part because the teacher should not promote values that are by definition beyond empirical demonstration. On the contrary, "The task of the teacher is to serve the students with his knowledge and scientific [i.e., scholarly] experience and not to imprint upon them his personal political views" (146). Indeed, Weber went further, opposing the prevailing view that the role of the university was that "of forming the minds of men and of propagating political, ethical, aesthetic, cultural or other views."[46] In this he rejected the idea, central to German intellectual life, that the purpose of education was the formation (Bildung) of the student's personality by imbuing it with the deepest, most permanent ideals of German Kultur.[47] And with this idea he rejected as well the deep complicity of the German universities with the state that financed them. Indeed, Weber was resolute in insisting that academic freedom meant independence from government intervention, an idea first promoted by von Hulmboldt at the very beginning of the German university tradition and, although under increasing pressure, still central to American post-secondary education.[48]

The "ethic of responsibility" that Weber opposes to the ethic of commitment must be understood in relation to one of his most important--and most misunderstood--ideas, that of Wertfreiheit or value-freedom. This has both a methodological and a pedagogical dimension. Pedagogically, value- freedom means that the teacher must distinguish, as best he or she can, between the meaning of the cultural objects under scrutiny and their value. "Consider the historical and cultural sciences," says Weber.

They teach us how to understand and interpret political, artistic, literary, and social phenomena in terms of their origins. But they give us no answer to the question, whether the existence of these cultural phenomena have been and are worth while. And they do not answer the further question, whether it is worth the effort required to know them. (145, emphasis in original)[49]
Weber here raises two interrelated points. One is that teaching the "cultural sciences" requires a reticence about questions of value because they seek not to measure the past by the standards of the present but to explain cultural phenomena "in terms of their origins." As Weber argues throughout, the purpose of education is to provide knowledge not about what ought to be but about what is, to explain the functioning of cultural practices and particulars, in the sense of their historical causes and meanings (what he also calls "the internal structure of cultural values" [146]), rather than their significance, in the sense of their value to us.[50]

Weber's second point is about specialization, which he promotes for four reasons. The first is that the initial goal of education must be to teach the student to think "independently" (134), an independence that is impossible unless the student is endowed with both the historical information and the conceptual and methodological tools to offer solutions to cultural problems. Second, the segmentation and rationalization of modern life means that productive work is possible only through specialization, a narrowing of focus that is a prerequisite for the attainment of vocational satisfaction: "A really definitive and good accomplishment is today always a specialized accomplishment. And whoever lacks the capacity to put on blinders, so to speak, and to come up to the idea that the fate of his soul depends upon whether or nor not he makes the correct conjecture at this passage of this manuscript may as well stay away from science [i.e., scholarship]" (135). Third, specialist training disabuses the student of the notion that empirical knowledge can solve the central problems of life: "One does not wish to see the deepest and most intimately personal decisions in life, the ones in which a man must rely on his own resources, jumbled up with specialist training, and that one wishes to see them solved by the student in the light of his own conscience, not on the basis of any suggestions from his teachers."[51] And finally, Weber argues that only specialist training provides the student with the conceptual ability to recognize facts ("especially those which he finds personally inconvenient"[52]) and to draw from them the appropriate conclusions. This ability has not merely a technical value. On the contrary, being taught how to follow out the relation of means to ends, of actions to consequences, can bring the student to understand the way in which "such and such a practical stand can be derived with inner consistency, and hence integrity, from this or that ultimate weltanschauliche position" (151). Put simply, given the values you espouse, then certain life-choices are consistent and others not. "Thus, if we are competent in our pursuit," argues Weber, "we can force the individual, or at least we can help him, to give himself an account of the ultimate meaning of his own conduct" (152; emphasis in original). Clearly this is an ethical lesson, but one that can be learnt only if the teacher seeks not to impose upon the student his or her own values.

The self-denying severity of Weber's thinking on pedagogy depends throughout on the fact-value distinction that he expresses in the controversial notion of Wertfreiheit. Since post- structuralist thought would seem to have demolished any such notion, it may be well to explain briefly what Weber meant by it. As we would expect of a thinker who emerges from the tradition of Nietzsche and Dilthey, Weber is intensely aware that any such distinction is, in practical terms, difficult to draw, and-- following Dilthey--he rejected the simplistic empiricism that would apply the methodology of the natural sciences to the study of cultural practices and products. As he says, with some exasperation,

I would rather not discuss any further whether it is "difficult" to distinguish between statements of empirical fact and practical value-judgments. It is. . . . [Indeed], it is possible, precisely when one appears to be eliminating all practical value-judgments, to suggest them very strongly, following the well-known formula, "Let the facts speak for themselves."[53]
As this formulation suggests, Weber is quite aware that all knowledge is developed within a value-laden socio-historical context that determines not merely the object of inquiry but the methodology and, to an important degree, the results. Weber called the historical situatedness of scholarly inquiry Wertbeziehung, which can be awkwardly translated as "value- relatedness." But if value-relatedness is unavoidable, it has as its counterpart Wertfreiheit: scholarship may be interdependent with its cultural moment, but it can also achieve some measure of independence. This partial independence is possible by means of what Talcott Parsons, the most important American sociologist influenced by Weber, calls "the familiar norms of objectivity both in verification of statements of empirical facts, and in logical inference and analysis." As Parsons says,
a particular subvalue system must be paramount for the investigator, that in which conceptual clarity, consistency and generality on the one hand, empirical accuracy and verifiability on the other are the valued outputs of the process of investigation.
Value freedom thus means "freedom to pursue the values of science within the relevant limits, without their being overridden by values either contradictory to or irrelevant to those of scientific investigation."[54] In short, "value-freedom" refers to the rigorous application of empirical methods within the context of a project that is necessarily defined by the investigator's values.

This idea was important to Weber not because it guaranteed "objectivity." On the contrary, he was perfectly aware that "the most certain proposition of our theoretical sciences--e.g., the exact natural sciences or mathematics, is, like the cultivation and refinement of the conscience, a product of culture," and he insisted that "all knowledge of cultural reality . . . is always knowledge from particular points of view."[55] But he nonetheless thought it possible to protect scholarly investigation from what he called "party-political" opinions, those political programs that are consciously adopted and explicitly pursued within the context of one's life as a citizen.[56] More important, he thought it possible, through a process of rigorous self- examination, to become aware of the relation of party-political opinions to one's larger value structure; in saying that students could learn to understand the relation of their value-system to various courses of action, he assumed that their teachers were capable of the same process. Hence he maintained that, for all its difficulty, it was not merely possible but necessary for

the academic teacher [to] impose on himself the unconditional obligation of rigorously making clear to his audience, and above all to himself, in each individual case (even at the risk of making his lectures boring), which of his statements on that occasion is an assertion of fact, either logically demonstrable or empirically observable, and which a practical value-judgment. To do this certainly seems to me to be a straightforward requirement of intellectual integrity, once the distinction between the two domains is conceded: in this case it is the absolute minimum that is required.[57]
In part this rigorous program was necessary if teachers were to avoid gratifying both students and themselves by playing the prophet in a disenchanted world: "academic prophecy will create only fanatical sects but never a genuine community" (155). In a larger sense, however, Weber's program is motivated by a limited but genuine idealism. If in a disenchanted world all activities are subordinated to pragmatic ends, then scholarship offers a space of resistance: because of its wertfrei character it can escape from the iron cage of pragmatic rationality and pursue the goal of a knowledge valuable in and of itself.
3

Weber's pedagogic imperatives constitute only one program among many and can make no claim to correctness.[58] But his analysis of the cultural context of modernity within which we live and work, and the kind of lives and work that are therefore both possible and valuable within that world, claims our attention for a number of reasons. For one thing, to accept Weber's central principle that the triumph of rationality precludes any means of ascertaining the validity of any one set of values over others is to become deeply skeptical of the notion--currently prevalent on both the right and left--that universities are appropriate places in which to teach civic virtue. And even if such a goal were thought both desirable and possible for the university, one must be even more skeptical of the idea that literature provides an appropriate means. To be sure, one cannot disagree that in the last analysis "everything is political." But the number of steps that a careful textual reading must take before this "last analysis" is reached undermines the force of whatever moral lesson might be taught. As Paul de Man has unpopularly but persuasively argued, "attention to the philological or rhetorical devices of language . . . transform[s] critical discourse in a manner that would appear deeply subversive to those who think of the teaching of literature as a substitute for the teaching of theology, ethics, psychology, or intellectual history"- -or politics.[59] On the contrary, the best a careful rhetorical analysis can finally provide is the "negative knowledge" that "it is not . . . certain that literature is a reliable source of information about anything."[60]

The values that the teaching of literature can plausibly promote are not party-political opinions but the more general habits of mind that Weber designates as "intellectual integrity" and "independence of mind." By intellectual integrity he meant nothing more (nor less) than that the basic rules of empiricism be observed: as much of the evidence as possible must be incorporated, especially facts that are "inconvenient" both to the hypothesis being pursued and to one's own commitments; conclusions must be consistent with the evidence; and, above all, every effort must be made to observe the perplexing but still feasible distinction between "facts" and "values." By "independence of mind" he meant the capacity to pursue an intellectual project to its conclusion, regardless of its implications, and the ability to recognize that just as life choices are distinct from (although hardly irrelevant to) intellectual endeavors, so too specialized knowledge can provide little guidance in making them. For Weber, this independence could be accomplished only through a focused effort-- through specialization--that made possible the skill and knowledge required for cogent results.

My way of pursuing these educational goals--the essence of Weber's ethics of responsibility--is by attending attends above all to the historicity of texts. This is not to say that historicist scholarship does not itself entail party-political opinions, nor that a course designed from a historicist standpoint cannot be pursued according to an ethic of commitment.[61] But in the classroom, historicism need make few or no claims about the present.[62] Its central ambition is to discover original meaning-- that is, the meaning of a text to its author, to its original audience, and in the largest sense, to history itself.[63] That this ambition is philosophically controversial and intellectually difficult should be no cause for criticism, since the same strictures apply to all critical enterprises of any scope. As Adorno has said, "Every thought which is not idle . . . bears branded on it the impossibility of its full legitimation."[64] Historicism wants to understand nothing less than what Chaucer meant when he wrote his poems, what the poems meant to the society within which they circulated, and--at a higher level of abstraction--how the poems connect not just to the self-aware intentions of the poet and the explicit expectations of his audience but to larger patterns of social practice and ideology. Despite the profusion of discussions of historicist theory and practice, there is nothing particularly esoteric or complicated about what is involved. Historicism concerns itself with the literary traditions upon which Chaucer drew, with the political, economic, social and cultural environment within which he lived, and with the ways in which his poetry--in both form and content--is related to the local context of late fourteenth-century life and to the larger structures of the historical process, specifically the transition from the Middle Ages to modernity. That this is a strenuous program is true, but the goal is perfectly clear: to understand Chaucer's poetry as above all a phenomenon of late fourteenth-century England.

There can be no sense here of an "absolute" or "totalized alterity," of trying to recover the past in a pure or unadulterated form.[65] The distinction between past and present is not only not absolute but methodologically nonexistent: we know the past only in the terms that the present makes available to us. Every investigation of whatever sort begins by eliciting various significances from a text, a process necessarily and appropriately governed by modern interests. But the question is what happens then. Does one try to understand how these significances were or were not figured in other medieval cultural objects and practices? Or does one locate these significances in relation to modern culture? It is only at this relatively late point in the process of understanding that distinctions among different ways of being interested in the past can be made. Marshall Leicester is right to insist that his readings of Chaucer's poems, for all their disregard for historical context, are not ahistorical but are instead "a preliminary contribution to a . . . properly historical account of the Middle Ages."[66] That Leicester himself does not move beyond this preliminary stage neither supports nor challenges his interpretations. For he is interested not in a historical argument but in describing the way Chaucer's poetry can be read in terms of certain modern, largely psychoanalytic preoccupations-- preoccupations whose connection to medieval writers other than Chaucer remains to be demonstrated. A "properly historical account," on the other hand, is concerned to provide such a demonstration, which in no way limits its access to theoretical formulations such as psychoanalysis. But it is required both to accommodate its interpretive schemes to the empirical canons that govern historical investigation per se and, as well, to discover how its textual interpretations relate to the cultural practices of Chaucer's England. At its best, then, historicism is both a restrictive and an expansive practice: it imposes methodological limits at the same time as it widens the field of inquiry.

The double process of restriction and expansion required by historicism is appropriate to a pedagogical program governed by Weber's ethic of responsibility. However politically-charged our interpretive schemes, however vivid the analogies we draw between past and present, the final and definitive resort of historicist inquiry must always be to fourteenth-century England. The last question it asks of a text is not "What does this mean to us?" but "What might it have meant to them?" The effect of this imperative is to interpose, at least for a moment, a protective pause before the closure of understanding, a moment of deferral that can encourage the reader to listen to voices distant in time and different in purport. And by insisting that texts must be related to contexts, historicism can present literature as providing not values upon which to pass judgment, nor examples to be pressed into the service of a current preoccupations, but problems that require solutions. By no means the only way to maintain the disinterestedness needed to avoid an ethic of commitment, and hardly providing a guarantee, historicism nonetheless erects systemic barriers that can help to protect us from our own enthusiasms.

Because most students know next to nothing about late fourteenth-century England, teaching Chaucer historically does require some special materials. But the teacher isn't starting from scratch. Many students enter a Chaucer course with an interest in things medieval gleaned from a variety of unofficial sources--an inspiring high school course, a trip to Europe, the movies, an early obsession with Dungeons and Dragons or the medievalized fantasy books by authors like Tolkien or Piers Anthony. However fragmentary and idiosyncratic, this knowledge provides a core of experience that can be developed toward a deeper interest in a more formal historical knowledge. This further development can be accomplished in a number of ways. For myself, I provide the students with a Course Pack of nine or ten essays drawn largely from the work of historians: in an appendix I have listed the repertoire from which I currently draw these essays, a list that is subject to continual revision.[67] These essays are read within the first four or five weeks of term, and the students fill in a worksheet on each essay that focuses on central points. Students are given as well a list of some twenty books relevant to the period and of the standard bibliographies (current versions of these are also included in the appendix). The goal is to provide fundamental information about the period that can then serve as a point of reference throughout the term and show students how to follow up on more specific interests.

But in practice, what does teaching Chaucer historically entail? A good example is provided by the Book of the Duchess, not least because it has a conspicuous if enigmatic historical pertinence that current criticism has largely disregarded. Recent critical discussions of the poem focus on topics that have an obvious modern interest: the inability of language to represent reality, the colloquy between dreamer and black knight as a psychoanalytic "talking cure" for a neurotic mourner, the narcissistic subjectivity of the bereft male, the poem as an originary moment of a national literary culture, and--perhaps above all--the way in which the poem stages a dialogue between men that programmatically excludes the woman to the point of actually requiring her death.[68] In this last kind of reading, Blanche's death is not the subject of the poem but the occasion that makes possible male homosociality, just as the interpretations of the poem accomplished by male critics accomplish a "heroic" bonding between critic and poet. These critics are by and large uninterested in medieval literary and social contexts; indeed, for Fradenburg, Hansen, and Margherita the place of the feminist critic within the contemporary world of Chaucer studies is of greater interest than the place of Chaucer within the late fourteenth century. These three critics explicitly found their readings upon an ethic of commitment.

That the issues this criticism finds in the poem are really there can hardly be doubted: they have been, in one form or another, the common currency of criticism of the poem for half a century. The question, rather, is the relation of these issues to the historical context in which the poem was written and read.[69] This context is constituted in part by the general crisis of the aristocracy that became increasingly acute as the century progressed (see the essays by Bolton, Dyer, Faith, Hilton, Macfarlane, and Myers), in part by the conditions of the aristocratic court culture within which Chaucer wrote all his poetry (with the possible exception of the House of Fame) prior to the Canterbury Tales. To understand this latter context is to deal with the difference between maker and poete, to assess the ambiguous status of the maker within the court, and in general to explore the way in which aristocratic culture used a series of literary and quasi-literary practices as a form of symbolic capital--all under the growing pressures being felt by the English governing classes (see the essays by Starkey, Olson, Green, and Benson).

In dealing with the Book of the Duchess, then, the question of narcissism is treated not psychoanalytically but socially. In the Fonteinne amoureuse, Machaut had provided a penetrating critique of the aristocratic habit of privatizing political problems and recasting them into the language of fine amor: for Machaut the fonteinne amoureuse is the fountain of Narcissus, established by Venus and carved by Pygmalion.[70] In drawing on this poem for his account of Ceys, Alcyone and Morpheus, Chaucer reveals the dangers inherent in the "douce ymagination" that absorbs the lover and that the poet feeds.[71] So too, the analogy that the poem establishes between the aristocratic activities of hunting and versifying has a social valence: one demonstrates power over the land and its inhabitants (both human and animal), the other power over language. In this light Chaucer's decision to write in English is seen less as a matter of asserting nationalist pride than of defending class prestige: the poem demonstrates that English is as elegant, as fashionable, and as articulate as French, thus making it clear that the maternal tongue is not only not the exclusive property of the commoner but finds its highest mission when it expresses aristocratic interests.[72] And the poem's interest in the inability of language to represent reality, and specifically a relationship of trusting mutuality--so that we get an elaborate discussion of courtship but almost none of achieved love--clearly has a social meaning. For the world of courtly ambition in which the poem is located stresses both the verbal facility of the courtier (with its playful masquerades) and the "trouthe" of the man of honor (with its demand of full commitment), capacities that are not just different but dangerously contradictory. Linguistic misrepresentation is in this world less a philosophical than a political problem, especially given the growth of retaining as the primary mode of social bonding among the knightly class. In this connection, it is relevant to observe that Gaunt granted Chaucer his annuity of �10 on une 13, 1374, just 5 days after he was appointed Controller of Customs and left the royal household.[73]

Indeed, the central historical problem the poem poses is about its relevance to John of Gaunt: why would it be in his interest to be represented as the black knight? This is a good question for the classroom because it is at once conspicuous and difficult to answer.[74] The answer is unlikely to be found in speculations on the personal relationship between Blanche and her husband. For one thing, sexual fidelity seems to have been no more one of Gaunt's virtues than of the other men of his time and class. Everyone knows of his involvement with Catherine Swynford before and during his marriage to Constance of Castile, but less well known is the fact that in 1358 or 1359, very close to the time of his marriage to Blanche on May 20, 1359, he had a daughter by a woman named Marie de Saint-Hilaire, one of the Queen's ladies-in-waiting--a daughter named, with to us amazing gracelessness (or bad luck), Blanche.[75] More important, by invoking at the end of the poem "A long castel with walles white" (1318), Chaucer makes all too clear that the true value of Blanche of Lancaster to Gaunt was the property and title that survived the person whose death his poetic alter ego had just been so plangently lamenting. Indeed, that Chaucer could include so obvious a reminder of the economic and political rationale for the marriage within an elegy suggests that medieval men (and perhaps women as well) were less disturbed by the Realpolitik of aristocratic marriage--or perhaps less sentimental about marriage per se--than modern critics sometimes think they should have been. But quite apart from either Gaunt's sexual history or his personal feelings for Blanche, about which we know nothing, the representation of courtship in the Book of the Duchess is so stylized and derivative as to render moot the question of emotional appropriateness. The interesting (and potentially answerable) question is not, "Did Gaunt feel this way about his dead wife?" but rather, "Why did Chaucer represent Gaunt in this particular way?"

An answer to this question must begin then with the representation of the black knight. His eloquence and emotional intensity are a given: like any aristocrat, he can talk the talk and walk the walk of love. But he is also youthful: he is only 24 and "Upon hys berd but lytel her" (455-56), while Gaunt was 29 when Blanche died and so somewhat older when the poem was composed. He is not merely a loyal but a submissive, even timorous lover: he provides a vivid account of his terror at having to speak to the lady and his despair at her initial rebuff (1182-1257). And above all, he is nothing but a lover. As he says, in one of the poem's few enigmatic passages, as a youth he could have followed "other art or letre" (788) but "I ches love to my firste craft," adding, with unexpected bitterness, "Therfore hit ys with me laft" (791- 92). The reason for his bad decision was that he didn't know the consequences: because he was governed by Idleness,

Al my werkes were flyttynge
That tyme, and al my thoght varyinge.
Al were to me ylyche good
That I knew thoo.
(801-804)
Lacking judgment, he chose unwisely and now, apparently, has no recourse.[76]

The picture one gets of Gaunt from the historical record is of an immensely ambitious and energetic man who could never quite find the proper stage for his talents. He may have been, thanks to his marriage and to the early death of Blanche's co-heir (her older sister Maud), one of the richest and most powerful men in England. But he was still only the king's third surviving son, and after the births of the Black Prince's two sons, Edward in 1365 and Richard in 1367, he must have known, despite the death of his older brother Lionel in 1368, that he was never likely to become king of England. He consequently focused his attention on foreign ventures: from 1369 until 1376, when the Black Prince died, he never spent a consecutive twelve months in England. The most serious of these ventures was the marriage to Constance in September, 1371 and the assumption of the title of King of Castile and León the following January, events which may well predate the composition of the Book of the Duchess.[77] And what historians have called Gaunt's "princely hauteur," his "blazing temper," and his "powerful and exigent personality" must have been well in evidence by the time he was in his late 20s or early 30s, when the poem was written, while it seems to have been only later in his career that he developed what capacity he had for "politic flexibility."[78]

Given this account, the problem of the appropriateness of the portrait of the black knight solicits a number of hypotheses. One can argue, for example, that the very inappositeness of the portrait makes it politically useful: a powerful and overbearing young man intensely concerned with making a public career for himself is here presented as a wholly private figure, subordinate both to his lady and to his own feelings. One can also see in the poem the powerful strain of noble pathos so prominent in chivalric literature, especially in the Arthurian romances that most noble households seem to have possessed. This is a theme that stresses the burden of eminence and the unwarranted misfortune that afflicts the ambitious honorman, and by staging and endorsing the powerlessness felt by the powerful it provides a defense of privilege. The theme is central to both Troilus and Criseyde and the Knight's Tale, although presented in those poems in a progressively more critical light. Yet the Book of the Duchess is also something of a mirror for this prince, suggesting in its oddly skeptical account of its young lover's career choice the dangers of youthful impulsiveness--and yet by representing this as a fault of youth exempting the now older Gaunt from its critique. Finally, whether these hypotheses be found persuasive is, in the classroom, less important than what they make visible--the kind of knowledge and imagination historical understanding encourages and enables.

4

At a time when academics feel the need to engage their political convictions in action, the kind of teaching I have described may seem a timid retreat from the vividness of the present into the pallid world of historical specialization. Yet Weber is surely right in arguing that specialization is the best way for the scholar-teacher to adhere to an ethic of responsibility while avoiding the powerful appeal of an ethic of commitment.[79] Moreover, as Weber's own life demonstrated, no scholar needs to or should take a vow of celibacy in regard to the civic responsibilities of the citizen outside the academy. But civic duty is a different part of life; and while all of us want to understand our lives as wholes, the way we achieve that understanding is a personal matter that is strictly irrelevant to our professional practice.

That these two areas of life can be pursued with success while respecting the difference between them is well illustrated by the example of Noam Chomsky. Chomsky insists that his specialist work as a linguist and his civic work as a critic of American foreign policy are distinct enterprises.

What special knowledge I have concerning language has no immediate bearing on social and political issues. Everything I have written on these topics could have been written by someone else.[80]
Indeed, Chomsky goes further by arguing that intellectuals should not think that their expertise grants them a special capacity to understand the truth of anything other than their specialty. The realities of public life are not "inaccessible to simple people," as intellectuals sometimes like to think. "In the analysis of social and political issues," Chomsky continues,
it is sufficient to face the facts and to be willing to follow a rational line of argument. Only Cartesian common sense, which is quite evenly distributed, is needed . . . if by that you understand the willingness to look at the facts with an open mind, to put simple assumptions to the test, and to pursue an argument to its conclusion (p. 5, ellipsis in the original).
Chomsky's "Cartesian common sense" is equivalent to Weber's "intellectual integrity" and "independence of mind." To help students to develop this capacity cannot be the most immediate purpose of a Chaucer course, but it can be one of its underlying assumptions. Indeed, one could hardly ask more of any course than that it promote open mindedness, encourage the testing of simple assumptions, and teach the pursuit of an argument to its conclusion.

Yale University

Lee Patterson


Appendix

I: Essays

  1. Larry D. Benson, "Courtly Love and Chivalry in the Later Middle Ages," in Robert F. Yeager, ed., Fifteenth-Century Studies: Recent Essays (Hamden: Archon Books, 1984), 237-57.
  2. Judith M. Bennett, "Public Power and Authority in the Medieval English Countryside," in Mary Erler and Maryanne Kowaleski, eds., Women and Power in the Middle Ages (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1988), 18-36.
  3. J. L. Bolton, "Crisis and Change in the Agrarian Economy," chapter 7 of The Medieval English Economy 1150-1500 (London: Dent, 1980), 207-45, 354.
  4. Christopher Dyer, "Late Medieval Society," chapter 1 of Standards of Living in the Later Middle Ages: Social Change in England c. 1200-1520 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 10-26.
  5. Rosamond Faith, "The Class Struggle in Fourteenth-Century England," in Raphael Samuel, ed., The People's History and Socialist Theory (London: New Left Books, 1981), pp. 50-60.
  6. Chris Given-Wilson, Introduction to The English Nobility in the Late Middle Ages (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1987), 1-25, 181-83.
  7. Richard Firth Green, "The Court of Cupid," Chapter 4 of Poets and Princepleasers: Literature and the English Court in the Late Middle Ages (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1980), 101-34.
  8. Rodney Hilton, "Social Concepts in the English Rising of 1381," chapter 17 of Class Conflict and the Crisis of Feudalism: Essays in Medieval Social History (London: The Hambledon Press, 1985), 216-26, 330-31.
  9. Maurice Keen, "The Clerical Estate," chapter 10 in English Society in the Later Middle Ages 1348-1500 (Hambledon: Penguin Books, 1990), 240-70, 312-13.
  10. Kay E. Lacey, "Women and Work in Fourteenth and Fifteenth Century London," in Lindsey Charles and Lorna Duffin, eds., Women and Work in Pre-Industrial England (London: Croom Helm, 1985), 24-82.
  11. Alan Macfarlane, "English Economy and Society in the Thirteenth to Fifteenth Centuries," chapter 6 of The Origins of English Individualism: The Family, Property and Social Transition (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 131-64.
  12. A. R. Myers, "The Tragic Dilemma," chapter 1 of England in the Late Middle Ages, 1307-1536, 2d ed. (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1963), 1-22.
  13. Glending Olson, "Making and Poetry in the Age of Chaucer," Comparative Literature 31 (1979): 272-90.
  14. M. M. Postan, "Markets, Towns and Gilds," chapter 12 of The Medieval Economy and Society: An Economic History of Britain in the Middle Ages (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1972), 233-52.
  15. Michael J. Sheehan, "Choice of a Marriage Partner in the Middle Ages: Development and Mode of Application of a Theory of Marriage," Studies in Medieval and Renaissance History, n.s. 1 (1978): 1-33.
  16. David Starkey, "The Age of the Household: Politics, Society and the Arts c. 1350-1550," in Stephen Medcalf, ed., The Later Middle Ages (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1981), 225-90.
  17. Sylvia Thrupp, "A General View of the Middle Strata of the Nation," chapter 7 of The Merchant Class of Medieval London, 1300-1500 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1948), 288- 319.

    II: Books on Fourteenth-Century England

  18. J. J. G. Alexander and Paul Binski, eds., The Age of Chivalry: Art in Plantagenet England (1987)
  19. John Barnie, War in Medieval English Society: Social Values and the Hundred Years War (1974)
  20. J. L. Bolton, The Medieval English Economy, 1150-1500 (1980)
  21. Judith M. Bennett, Women in the Medieval English Countryside (1987)
  22. Christopher Dyer, Standards of Living in the Later Middle Ages (1989)
  23. Chris Given-Wilson, The English Nobility in the Late Middle Ages (1987)
  24. Barbara Hanawalt, The Ties that Bound: Peasant Families in Medieval England (1986)
  25. Rodney Hilton, Bond Men Made Free (1973)
  26. Rodney Hilton, The English Peasantry in the Later Middle Ages (1975)
  27. Anne Hudson, The Premature Reformation: Wycliffite Texts and Lollard History (1988)
  28. Gordon Leff, The Dissolution of the Medieval Outlook (1976)
  29. Alan MacFarlane, The Origins of English Individualism (1979)
  30. May McKisack, The Fourteenth Century (1959)
  31. K. B. McFarlane, The Nobility of Later Medieval England (1973)
  32. Harry Miskimin, The Economy of Early Renaissance Europe, 1300-1460 (1969)
  33. A. R. Myers, England in the Late Middle Ages (1952)
  34. A. R. Myers, London in the Age of Chaucer (1972)
  35. J. J. N. Palmer, England, France and Christendom, 1377- 99 (1972)
  36. M. M. Postan, The Medieval Economy and Society (1975)
  37. R. N. Swanson, Church and Society in Late Medieval England (1989)
  38. Sylvia Thrupp, The Merchant Class of Medieval London (1948)
  39. Anthony Tuck, Richard II and the English Nobility (1974)

    III: Bibliographies on Medieval England

  40. Charles Gross, A Bibliography of English History to 1485, ed. Edgar B. Graves (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975).
  41. DeLloyd J. Guth, Late-Medieval England, 1377-1485 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976).
  42. Joel T. Rosenthal, Late Medieval England: A Bibliography of Historical Scholarship (1975-1989) (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1994).

Questions of Subjectivity and Ideology in the Production of an Electronic Text of the Canterbury Tales


Paul G. Remley

When I have the good fortune to teach a course devoted (at least in the listing) entirely to Chaucer, there are moments--especially during the first few class meetings--when I feel the exhilaration of shifting abruptly from the literary mind-set of the very early Middle Ages to what is in many respects the first English literature to manifest an outlook that is (in some sense) modern, or proto-modern, or to retreat to more secure terminology altogether, humanistic. I should explain that the bulk of my teaching addresses the literature of the Old English period, and even when I conduct survey courses on English Literature to 1600 there is rarely an opportunity (having to contend with a ten-week quarter) to spend more than two weeks or three at the most on Chaucer. Now I would be the first to deny that, say, Beowulf is anything other than and ideologically predicated construct. The status of Old English poetry generally as a self-perpetuating cultural reflex is, in my view, beyond cavil. The rigidness and, past a point, predictability of much Old English verse presents one of the greatest challenges available to an instructor in the undergraduate classroom, and this is one reason why it is especially pleasant to have the opportunity to turn to Chaucer. I can detect no pervasive ideological argument that extends across the Chaucerian canon in the same way that the monolithic and unironized syncretism of the lord-retainer relationship, for example, suffuses the Christian verse of the Junius manuscript and the Exeter Book--save perhaps in Chaucer's seemingly incessant eagerness to indulge (or scandalize) the tastes of the aristocracy. Simply put, when I begin to teach a course on Chaucer I do not simply perceive that I am expounding Middle English to the students of the 1990s; rather I feel as if I have awakened in the 1990s out of a millenium-long sleep induced by an overly strenuous collation of Mercian and West Saxon glosses.

Here we have an author who not only tells us that he is using sources but proceeds to confound the efforts of readers who bother to chase down the allusions by recasting the material at will. Chaucer is not only aware of the traditional roles of medieval poets, story-tellers and church authors as exponents of generic manipulation, he will not let his audience escape without being bombarded by two, three, or more discrete discursive modes at the same time. Students must be able to come to terms with a juxtaposition of, say, representatives of beast-fable, homiletic exemplum, scholastic debate and medieval medical writing within a short sequence of lines. Teaching Chaucer to undergraduates does not simply require an instructor to explain the mechanics of rhetoric or the aesthetic of a culture that often valued imitation over innovation in rewarding its literati. It is necessary to show how Chaucer, living in the first century of the new Italian writing, has nevertheless absorbed the lessons of his own schooling in scholastic and neo-classical traditions so thoroughly that (with his proto-modern outlook) he is capable of producing passages whose descriptive, narrative and (frequently enough) ideological force exceeds that of its immediate sources by an order of magnitude.

Related to the question of rhetoric, and no less challenging to convey to newcomers, is Chaucer's well-known talents as an impersonator of voices and celebrant of colloquial diction. Fortunately, the clearly expressed (if ultimately unfulfilled) structural declarations of the General Prologue offer pragmatically-minded students the standard if generally rewarding exercise of judging the suitability of tale to teller.

It never ceases to amaze me, having recently marked yet another brace of papers offering a Freudian reading of the episode in Grendel's mere and a treatment of the Anglo-Saxon empowerment of Eve, how conducive Chaucer's poetry is to many of the insights offered by the recent course of critical theory. Chaucer discusses hermeneutics and reader-response right there in the text. When he treats gender issues he lets us know that the balance of power between the sexes is the central subject matter of his verse. Chaucer's writings embody some of the earliest reasonably credible attempts to psychologize female characters undertaken by any male author in the Middle Ages. There is never a sense of begging the question in offering a politicized reading of Troilus and Criseyde or one or more of the Tales. Chaucer's writings even conform to the requirements for guaranteed admission to the canon of "classic" works: Blur your authorial persona beyond redefinition and endow the most poignant moments of your work with as many levels of ambiguity as possible.

Though few if any passages in the Chaucerian canon are wholly devoid of medieval Christian sentiment, we nevertheless encounter a readiness to satirize the secular clergy and monastic sectors that exceeds anything I know of in the literature of the very early Middle Ages--with the possible exception of the corpus of Old and Middle Irish. Many students come to my classes with the impression- -usually attributable to a reading of the Miller's Tale in high school or repeated viewings of the Pythonesque oeuvre--that the story of the Middle Ages is one long fabliau. But this in itself raises issues that may be profitably addressed in the undergraduate classroom, since it is a fairly delicate matter to contextualize the novelty of the production of a learned (albeit vernacular) literary work punctuated by and depictions of the sexual act and various other bodily concerns in the later fourteenth century.

Turning now to some of the pedagogical issues that form the basis of this session, how do I--having emerged from the Anglo-Saxon fens onto the blossoming fields of the Chaucerian universe--manage to communicate even a fraction of the literary-historical insights filling my vision to a room full of undergraduates already overwhelmed at the prospect of facing something other than verisimilitudinous prose?

As several session participants have already remarked, one of the greatest obstacles to the effective teaching of Chaucer is the language barrier. At the University of Washington, our so-called quarters last precisely ten weeks (nine in the summer) and Chaucer classes normally meet five days a week for fifty minutes. The basic text for the course--first, last, and always--is Benson's Riverside edition; the original Middle English. The Riverside is the only book resting on my podium and it is the source of all texts set on examinations. But I regularly encourage students to plow through a translation in their first approach to a selection. For $3.95, the Bantam facing-page, dual-language edition is still the most effective shoehorn I have found for slipping into a text as weighty as, say, the Knight's Tale in anything under a week of fifty-minute periods. I generally try to include the Book of the Duchess, House of Fame, Parliament of Fowls and at least the Prologue and some representative portraits from the Legend of Good Women. This quite simply would not be possible without the availability of Brian Stone's crib in the Penguin Love Visions, though this volume seems to out of print at the moment. I am interested in experimenting with the new Ecker and Crook translation of the whole of the Canterbury Tales (published by Hodge and Braddock) in the hope that it might facilitate a first approach to Melibee and the Parson's Tale in an undergraduate setting. (It is my fervent wish that no one will issue an inexpensive modern-language school-text of the Treatise on the Astrolabe, or I might try that too.) I have certain misgivings about encouraging even a limited use translations, but frankly I don't see that there is much choice in the matter. My colleagues and I are members of one of the larger departments of a large state university--standard class sizes range from 35 to 50 and (less often) may go as high as 150, serving about nine hundred declared English majors, down from a peak of nearly twelve hundred before a stiffening of the entry requirements; about two and fifty hundred graduate students in English Language and Literature, and hundreds of other students seeking to broaden the compass of their transcripts. Classes, including 310 Chaucer, taught at various times by four different faculty members, are usually well attended. The "up side" of these access-related issues is that we are well supplied at Washington with pedagogical support and other valuable resources, including the most valuable resource of all, large numbers of bright and enthusiastic students. But given the number of students present in the classroom, the prospects of facing an excessive amount of conversational dead-air, putting up with other signs of student disinterest, or experiencing a massive drop in enrollment are not very appealing. Whatever my colleagues and I ultimately resolve to do when we teach Chaucer, there is one certainty: it has to work.

The most elegant solution to the problem I have found involves keeping the discussion as lively as possible while seeking to achieve a level of intellectual complexity that is perhaps higher rather than lower. There has been a strong emphasis in meetings with representatives of the college on encouraging professors to use examples drawn from their own research in class. I play a game whereby I try to include as much graduate-level material in my classes as I can without the students suspecting it. Teaching Chaucer provides an opportunity to introduce a wealth of historical information as background material, to summarize recent scholarship in the field and facts drawn from kindred disciplines such as art history, music, and paleography. It never hurts to include a generous assortment of factual material, suitable for note-taking, whether or not anyone has anything to say--since they most certainly will by the time you finish.

Class discussion is also ideally suited to exploring questions of theory and method in ways that students will be able to apply in other classes both within and without the humanities curriculum; and, certainly not least of all, to stimulate debate among students on a range of social and political issues pertinent to Chaucer and his times. Thus, as hard as it may be for a devotee of Verner's Law to admit, questions of metrics, Middle English dialectology, the pronunciation of Chaucerian English, proto-Germanic etymology and the like often receive less emphasis in the course of fifty minutes than larger issues pertaining to the literary content of the Chaucerian canon. I have found, however, that paleography, codicology and attendant issues pertaining to the manuscript culture usually do go over well in the undergraduate classroom.

Nevertheless, it was largely my concern about the lack of explicit attention given to some of the nuts-and-bolts subjects that led me to undertake the production of the hypertext resource that is mentioned in the title of the present paper. I should state at the outset that this project is not an example of what might be termed an exercise in "hypermedia", involving sound, graphics, video and so on. The main idea once again was to provide a specifically philological focus, so the electronic Chaucer took shape as a kind of lexicon-or thesaurus-building project. In terms of mechanics, the system behaves very much as Thomas Goodman envisions in his remarks on CD-ROM. At first glance, all the student sees before her is the unadorned Middle English text. She clicks the mouse on a word and a gloss comes into view. But the very process of glossing words raises difficult problems of subjectivity and semantic weight. Which words are worth glossing? Do you attempt to preserve resources by skipping over every ond and hir or avoid making a student feel inadequate for failing to recognize the plural sense of the latter? By class consensus we solved this crux resolving to gloss every word. The basis of the hypertext apparatus is a linked set comprising a complete Middle English dictionary and a thesaurus. Various students have contributed many different services in producing the resource and in some respects we have initiated a never-ending project. The main fields in the database of the "dictionary" contains the following categories: Formae, Formae Propriae, Lemmata, Interpretamenta, Interpretamenta Longa, Synonymae, Synonymae Latinae, Synonymae Gallicae, Antonymae, Syntactica, Rhetorica, Etymologica, Annotationes, Genera, and Conferenda. There is in my experience a certain type of student--often as not a pre-business major or engineer--who will delight in working through the etymological roots of Middle English terms beginning with the letter B. The last category, Genera has proved especially challenging--and provided a source for ideological debate--insofar as it supplies the conceptual links used to provide the hypertextual ability to search for themes, images and topoi, say, even beyond specific words or phrases. It was interesting to note in the early days of the project the fact that existing thesauri of Middle English regularly address a fairly unspectacular range of subjects--military terms, proper nouns, terminology relating to medieval dress, musical instruments, and so on. It was not too hard to find volunteers to supply matrixes of related terms for emotions, social-hierarchy designators, antifeminist allusions, generic evocations, and a range of other topics traditionally neglected by lexicographers but mined profitably in recent years by theorists. I have tried to keep my remarks here fairly expansive in compass and so it would probably be better to discuss (and, perhaps, demonstrate) the system informally. But I should add before closing that no aspect of the "philological" hypertext project has ever been made the subject of a required assignment. I do require classes to produce some sort of creative "project" in the course of ten weeks; making a contribution to the dictionary or thesaurus is one option out of many. This spring my students came up with a wonderful assortment of projects, including sculpture, dramatic productions, and even a medieval feast.

University of Washington

Paul Remley


Teaching Chaucer as Drama: The Garden Scene in the Shipman's Tale

Peter G. Beidler

When I say that it is useful to "teach Chaucer as drama" I must hasten to say first what I do NOT mean by that phrase. I do NOT mean that we should teach the "dramatic theory" as made almost famous by George Lyman Kittredge,[81] made almost absurd by Robert M. Lumiansky,[82] and made almost obsolete by C. David Benson,[83] and made almost up-side-down by H. Marshall Leicester, Jr.[84] That is, I do not mean that we should urge on students the necessity of interpreting every tale through the real or supposed biography or psychology of its fictional teller.

Nor do I mean that we should teach "Chaucer aloud" in the sense that Betsy Bowden means that term[85] and that Alan T. Gaylord challenged by saying that it should not be "allowed."[86] That is, I do not mean that we should get a series of well-known Chaucerians to read a series of passages in an effort to see how such readers inflect the text and inflict us with their own interpretations.

Nor do I mean that we should teach "Chaucerian theatricality" in the rather specialized and postmodern sense discussed by John M. Ganim.[87] That is, I do not mean that we should teach the Canterbury stories as carnivalesque expressions by pilgrims suddenly freed from the social constraints normally placed on them.

Nor do I mean by "teaching Chaucer as drama" that we should force our students to listen to the tapes of the "performed readings" that Paul Thomas and Tom Burton of the Chaucer Studio[88] are now making available to teachers. That is, I do not mean that we should have our students listen to other people doing oral dramatizations of the various tales.

I reject none of these approaches. Indeed when I teach Chaucer as drama I sometimes find myself brushing up against several of these approaches, and doing so with pleasure. It is simply that they are not what I mean when I say that it is useful to "teach Chaucer as drama." I mean, rather, that it is useful from a pedagogical standpoint to involve our students in small readers' theater productions of scenes from Chaucer. I began experimenting with such skits in my own Chaucer classroom several years ago, and now they are a regular feature of my undergraduate classroom teaching of Chaucer.

I got started doing these skits because I take seriously my teaching of Chaucerian Middle English. Indeed, for years the first two or three full weeks of my 14-week semester have been taken up with teaching Chaucer's language. I have worked up a series of exercises designed to acquaint students with pronouncing Chaucerian Middle English, understanding it, and learning the basics of its grammar and diction. In the third week I have every student come individually to my office for a 20- minute conference in which I have them recite from memory six lines of their own choosing from the General Prologue and then read aloud to me some lines from the Knight's Tale. From that tale they must read to me one set of lines they know about in advance and can work up, another set I select for them to read from the tale cold, with no practice. For reasons I have not quite figured out, some of the students do better on the piece they have not had a chance to study in advance.

Along the way I have my students write and turn in a couple of passages in Modern English iambic pentameter rhyming couplets. I put them through that agony because I find that one of the most serious impediments to effective readings of Chaucer's verse is that many students simply do not know what an iamb is or what it means to string five of them into a line. The rhyming is easy for them; the iambic pentameter is not.

In any case, these exercises and the individual oral performance in my office have most of my students reading Middle English pretty well after the first three weeks, at which time we shift away from these linguistic and prosodic matters and set to work on our discussion of the literary qualities of the tales themselves. It is that shifting away that began to trouble me, and that got me started in teaching Chaucer as drama.

I love teaching Chaucer, and I am always amazed that after two or three weeks most of my students are quite competent readers of Middle English, a few of them better than I am. But I noticed that after those three weeks, my students' language skills often seemed to decline, if only because, in the press of reading all those tales silently, they were slipping into a more Modern English way of reading the lines. In order to encourage my students to keep their Middle English reading skills alive after their one-on-one session in my office, I have begun the practice of selecting from the tale of the day a scene or two for oral reading in class.

For the first such scene one I have come to encourage a couple of my best readers to "volunteer" to take part in the readings. Curiously, they are eager to do so, proud of their new-found skill, and pleased that I tell them how good they are. The volunteers come to my office the day before their performance and we read through the scene together. I help them with their pronunciation, make sure they understood their characters, and then we do simple blocking. The next day the students read their parts in front of the class, bow to the polite applause of their classmates, and beam when I tell the rest of the class how well they did.

After that I send around a sign-up sheet asking for others who would like to volunteer to take part in a skit later in the term. Typically around two-thirds of the students do volunteer. The ones who do not are either ashamed--sometimes with some justification--of their ability to read Middle English or just plain shy. Sometimes students whose Middle English is not well polished want to volunteer, either to improve their pronunciation or just because they want to be part of the fun. I am realistic enough to know that those who do volunteer do so in part because they know that some portion of their final grade assesses the quality and spirit of their class participation, but mostly it seems they just think it looks like fun. And it is.

The volunteers always come together in my office at some time the day before they perform so that they have a chance to meet one another, practice their lines, and learn the routine. They they have time that evening or the next day before class to review their lines so they can be less halting in front of their peers.

Sometimes, if the scene lends itself to simple actions, we experiment with the simplest of stage movements--entering, exiting, kneeling. More complicated stuff is hampered by the fact that the performers all have scripts in their hands. (Incidentally, I find that it works best if I make enlarged Xerox copies of the lines in the scene, make enough copies so that I can give a set to each for each performer, and yellow-mark the lines to be spoken by each of them. That frees them from having to drag the book up to the front of the room and makes it far less likely that they will lose their places during their performance.) Sometimes we have a simple prop: a wooden sword, a stuffed animal, a pail of water, a Bible. Sometimes a character will wear a black sheet over her shoulders to show that she is a friar or a monk. If the scene calls for a tree or a window we sometimes draw them on the blackboard.

After the scene is performed I find that I sometimes want to comment on or ask questions about the scene. Indeed, I now find myself selecting for dramatization scenes that I want to comment on, or that may clarify certain puzzling points or raise interesting issues.

By now these little skits--rarely more than 100 lines--are a regular feature of my teaching. I now "do" some eight or ten scenes from the Canterbury Tales in my course, depending in large part on how many volunteers I have. Sometimes I read a part myself, but usually I don't. The simple play-acting my students do has become one of the most useful pedagogical devices I use.

It is time for an example. One of my own favorite scenes is the wonderfully dramatic garden scene in Chaucer's Shipman's Tale, the scene in which the monk, Daun John, and the wife of the merchant of St. Denis meet and arrange their little liaison. Lines 1279, where Daun John rises and walks in the garden to say his "thynges," to 1393, where he grabs the wife by the flanks and kisses her, make a wonderfully dramatic scene. Before my student narrator, monk, and wife do their thing in front of their classmates, I like to read them, from the first story of the eighth day of Boccaccio's Decameron, the passage parallel to Chaucer's garden scene in the Shipman's Tale. This tale may have been Chaucer's source for the Shipman's Tale; certainly it is one of the closest analogues. Decameron VIII, 1 is about a German soldier who visits Milan and falls in love with the wife of a wealthy Milanese merchant. In the Boccaccian version of the events that Chaucer was later to place in the garden scene, we have this brief narrative account (my translation): One day the soldier sent the merchant's wife a messenger imploring her to reward his devotion and assuring her that he would do whatever she might ask of him. After much hesitation, the lady made up her mind and sent word to him that she would comply with his request on two conditions: first, he must never tell anyone about it and, second, since he was well off and she wanted to buy something for herself, he was to give her 200 gold florins, and then she would be at his service.

After I read that section from the Decameron, my students perform the parallel passage in the Shipman's Tale, the scene in which the monk and the wife of the merchant of St. Denis meet in the garden. It is a wonderful scene in Chaucer. As the monk says his prayers in the dawn garden, the wife comes to him. In the conversational interplay between them the wife says she would confess her troubles but does not want to cast aspersions on the monk's cousin, and the monk disclaims cousinship to encourage her to confess her unhappiness. The wife then complains about her husband's stinginess and asks for the loan of 100 franks, in exchange for whatever services the monk wants. The scene ends with Daun John grabbing the merchant's wife by the flanks and kissing her.

After my students' brief performance of the scene, I reread the parallel Boccaccian passage and ask them to compare the two. Here are some of the responses I hope to elicit from my class. Usually I am not disappointed, but sometimes my students need a little teacherly encouragement and guidance:

--Chaucer gives us a longer scene. If we actually add up the words in the two passages, Chaucer's passage is a full ten times as long as Boccaccio's. I ask my students what Chaucer does that takes so much time, indeed that makes the garden scene a full quarter of the total length of the Shipman's Tale.

--Chaucer dramatizes the scene. Whereas Boccaccio has the soldier and the merchant's wife arrange their affair by means of messages sent through a third party, Chaucer gives us a face- to-face meeting between the two in which the would-be lovers negotiate their affair directly. There are not only the delightful conversation itself, but also entrances and exits and movement and shaking of heads and grabbing and kissing. I ask my students to tell me more about the kissing.

--Chaucer gives us two kiss-events. There is no kissing, no physical contact at all, in the parallel scene in Boccaccio, whereas Chaucer gives us not one, but two kiss sequences. The first is innocent enough, perhaps, the familial kiss of cousins. The second, however, is quite different, where Daun John lustily catches the wife by the flanks and embraces her hard and kisses her often. I ask my students to tell me how Chaucer prepares for the dramatic difference in the two kissing incidents, how the conversations lead us to see that the first garden kiss is far different from the second.

--Chaucer gives us dialogue. Whereas Boccaccio had reported messages and arrangements, Chaucer has the two principals talk. Whereas the narrator does all of the talking in Boccaccio, in Chaucer the narrator does only 17% of the talking in the 115-line garden scene, leaving the rest, or 83%; to the direct reporting of the speeches of the monk and the wife. I ask my students who does more of the talking, the monk or the wife?

--Chaucer increases the role of the wife. In the dialogue, the wife has almost twice as many lines (53% of the total 115 lines) as the monk (with only 30%). And whereas in Boccaccio, the soldier had been very much the aggressor in the affair, propositioning the wife to be his lover, in Chaucer the situation is quite different. In the garden scene the wife comes to the monk and salutes him; she complains of her husband's sexuality and his stinginess; she says she needs 100 franks and that if Daun John can lend them to her, she will not fail to express her thanks in whatever "service" he likes. I ask my students whether the monk is totally innocent in the affair.

--Chaucer darkens the role of the lover. Whereas in Boccaccio the soldier had been a good man acting the proper role of the courtly lover who is properly indignant when the wife he admires is so base as to ask for money for her sexual services, in Chaucer Daun John is rather more sleazy. He is, for one thing, a monk who has taken vows of celibacy, not an adventurous soldier for whom an attraction to a pretty wife seems entirely appropriate. But Daun John also too-quickly renounces his cousinhood to his friend the merchant of St. Denis, tells his friend's wife that he has loved her especially, "aboven alle wommen" (1344), and at the end of the scene grabs her by the flanks and kisses her hard and repeatedly.

Well, there is more that my students and I can talk about in the important garden scene in the Shipman's Tale: the setting (why a garden rather than, say, a parlor?); the maid child (who is she and where is she for the kissing scenes?); the "thynges sixe" that the wife says all wives need (why does her husband seem to measure up so well in giving them to her?); the tree (does that suggest that this scene is meant to parallel the Garden of Eden"?); and so on. We can also discuss the way my students portrayed of a certain character by asking questions like, "Would you have played the monk in that way?" I hasten to admit, of course, that my performing students are far more worried about their pronunciation than their acting, but inevitably the student-performers present a certain character when they read the words of a Chaucerian character, even if they do so fumblingly. My point is that my students, having just seen the scene portrayed in class, are ready to discuss such detailed questions with me, and with each other. Certainly they are far readier than they would be if I had to rely on a single and hasty reading they had done in their rooms the night before . . . if at all.

I close by mentioning five advantages of doing little skits or dramatic enactments in our classes. First, doing these skits reinforces the sounds of Chaucerian Middle English for our students. I find that students who are not comfortable with their Middle English are more willing to "practice it" in a group with their peers in a dramatic setting than they are if I ask them to read a certain passage solo, and without practice, out loud in class. I find, also, that students can hear the difference between a good reader, one who reads with expression and feeling, and one who reads without really comprehending the meaning of her or his lines. They can tell good from less-good, and in the hearing are learning what to do when their time comes.

Second, I find that being in a skit sometimes "breaks the ice" for them, and that after they have been "on stage" for a few minutes they are afterwards more willing to contribute to the discussion. Being in the skits also seems to bring me closer to my students and brings my students closer to each other. By having short rehearsals in my office the day before we do a scene in class, I not only get to know my students better as individuals, but also introduce them to one another, often for the first time. We tend to forget that most of our students are strangers to one another.

Third, doing the short dramatic enactments focuses students' attentions on Chaucer's text. Those who volunteer will have read a certain scene, or at least the words of a certain character, several times before coming to class, and we all know that no one even begins to understand Chaucer until they have reread him. But even for the non-participating audience, putting certain key scenes before my students makes them readier to discuss what happens in the scene than they would otherwise be. Instead of relying on a clouded and hasty private reading the night before, my students can build on what they have just heard and seen in class. The skits do wonders for discussion.

Fourth, students in the '90s are naturally attuned to the dramatic possibilities in Chaucerian fiction because they have been raised on a fare of television rather than reading. They feel very much at home taking part in and being audience to the dramatic scenes in Chaucerian fiction. The skits help them to "visualize" the story in ways that are more familiar to them.

Fifth, and most important, by making dramatic presentations of certain scenes in Chaucer we are emphasizing one of the key features of Chaucerian fiction--its drama, its theatricality. Chaucer never wrote a play, but there is no question that he knew about medieval drama. The Miller's Tale--with its reference to the Miller's Pilate-like voice, to Absolon's playing Herod upon the high scaffold, and to the troubles that Noah had getting his wife into the ship--is evidence of that knowledge, as is the fact that the Wife of Bath liked to go to miracle plays. I am convinced that Chaucerian fiction was influenced by the drama of his time and that Chaucer introduced into fiction techniques of drama--scene development, actor movement, characterization, dialogue--that were virtually unknown in fiction before him. I have found that it is easy to make skits of Chaucer because he has given us the characters and the settings and the dialogue that are the very stuff of drama. Far from merely pandering to the television-trained tastes of contemporary students, then, I insist that by introducing dramatic performances into our Chaucer classrooms we are helping our students to see not only why Chaucerian fiction has survived when much other medieval fiction has not, but also why it is accurate to suggest that Chaucer influenced the dramatists--most fundamentally Shakespeare--who came after him. Chaucer wrote great poetry, yes. Chaucer wrote great fiction, yes. But he also wrote great drama; more accurately, he wrote some of the most dramatic poetic fiction the world has ever known. Surely it is part of our jobs as teachers of Chaucer in the '90s to find ways to acquaint our students with that fact. What better way is there than, by having our students perform in brief skits, to "teach Chaucer as drama"?

Lehigh University

Peter G. Beidler


Teaching Chaucer in a Small Catholic Liberal Arts College

Velma Bourgeois Richmond

Two recent statements about the teaching of literature serve well as a context for my account of teaching Chaucer at a small Catholic liberal arts college in an urban setting. Charles Muscatine, serving on the California Humanities Council, raised questions about whether higher education in the state was serving the citizenry when it failed to address the world in which students live.[89] Patricia Meyer Spacks in a MLA President's Column expressed concern that graduate schools had produced a generation who were obsessively committed to their own careers, driven by a need to publish quickly. Having mastered a specific "theory," they used it to describe every work in the same way and produce an article, rather than seeking a broader understanding of literature that comes with "reflection and exploration."[90] These comments are very disturbing, but also personally reassuring because they indicate a need for the kinds of alternatives I have followed. Over the years, especially the last twenty, I have found that I had to be increasingly selective and careful about what I introduce to my students from the ever- growing mass of Chaucerian criticism and theory. Although I find some of it useful, my students frequently do not; they even think that such ingenuity is counter to their own interests and reasons for reading Chaucer or any other literature. Rather than making Chaucer more accessible and attractive, many recent studies discourage student interest because they are difficult to understand and very narrowly focussed. The liberal arts college has traditionally attracted a different kind of student and faculty from those at the larger research-oriented institutions. Its more "humane," less technical and impersonal approach, is especially crucial for the changed student population that I serve.

I teach in a small liberal arts Catholic college that has a Master's program in English. We are located in Oakland, California, as part of the Bay Area, and our student body of just under 1000 reflects its multi-cultural diversity. Twenty-five per cent are African-American, ten per cent are Hispanic, only thirty-five per cent are white, and the others are mixed, including international students from many countries.[91] This kind of statistic, today much a part of American higher education, at least in California, is significant to the teaching of Chaucer because it makes clear that the students in my classes rarely come with prior knowledge, or even acquaintance, with Chaucer or medieval Europe. Indeed much of their present cultural experience makes the study of Chaucer a challenge--to be euphemistic. The situation was not always thus, and the changes are a microcosm of much that is happening in the United States today.

When I began teaching at Holy Names College in 1958, undergraduates were all women, usually coming directly from high school, but with a sprinkling of older women, and most were Catholic. The Master's program was always open to men, and most of these students were teachers. The faculty at that time included about ten per cent lay persons; the other ninety per cent were members of the religious order, as were many of the staff. In 1971 we became co-educational, as did all the other Catholic private colleges in the area. Our current enrollment is a bit higher at about 950, but many are part-time students, often transfers. Two-thirds are "returning adults" (including about a third in a Weekend College that I introduced as Dean of Academic Affairs in 1981). The average age of undergraduates is thirty-two and of graduate students forty. There are many fewer sisters on the faculty and staff, almost a reversal of the religious-lay relationship of the late Fifties and Sixties; most of the students are not Catholic. Holy Names College is highly qualified as an institution that has experienced very great changes in the last twenty-five years.

At the start of my career and through the early 1970s I taught: 1) a required Major British Writers course for sophomores with a brief section on Chaucer in Middle English, 2) an upper division Chaucer class that was a requirement in competition with Milton, and 3) a graduate seminar, usually in alternate years. This was, I think, very standard, and large numbers of English majors easily sustained classes with Chaucer. Small liberal arts colleges, especially Catholic and former women's colleges, like Holy Names, have struggled to survive the upheaval in higher education since the early 1970s; our undergraduates now favor majors in social sciences, business, and nursing, again a rather typical change in emphasis. Thus it may be of interest to fellow Chaucerians to hear about some of the strategies that I have used in adjusting curriculum to sustain reading of Chaucer, and indeed to widen the audience. For the past two decades small private liberal arts colleges, especially denominational, have faced an imminent threat of collapse that anticipated current widespread apprehension of Chaucerians in more secure places in higher education that are now beset with budget cuts.

Our survey course is now three semesters of upper-division work, the first having about half of the time devoted to Chaucer. This course is required of all English undergraduate majors so that all now study Chaucer, albeit not the entire Canterbury Tales. We read the selections in the Norton Anthology, and I add another tale, either The Knight's or the Man of Law's, in Middle English. I rely more upon tapes for language training, especially in the Weekend College that has fewer contact hours. In addition, everyone reads all of the tales in translation, and each student makes an oral report, with a handout, about one of the tales not assigned in Middle English. The report includes sources, something about the kind of tale, a statement about a secondary reading that was helpful/challenging, and a brief statement about the reporter's interest in the tale. I fill in tales not chosen. In this class everyone makes a start at reading Middle English, learns something about the pilgrims, the basic stories, the types and sources of the tales, and reads a bit of criticism/theory.

I also introduce Chaucer to those who enroll in my class in Children's Literature, which always includes a section about "classic texts in the canon" read by children until very recently. My emphasis is upon Edwardian retellings because this Golden Age is so rich and varied for children's literature. I consider both the Canterbury Tales chosen for inclusion and those never included; this is a very specific way of examining changing social attitudes and values. I also devote some time to the illustrations, not infrequently from the Ellesmere manuscript. Chaucer's tales occur both in single volumes and as parts of larger series. Students are often startled to find that British and American children read the Canterbury Tales from the nursery through school. Sometimes British versions printed as separate books become part of a story volume of American encyclopedias and series like The Young Folks Treasury and The Bookshelf for Boys and Girls. A further indication of links within the audience is that F.J. Furnivall wrote the introduction to F.J. Harvey Darton's Tales of the Canterbury Pilgrims (1906), and Percy Mackaye acknowledges the help of J.S.P. Tatlock in his The Canterbury Tales (1904). This suggests that scholars who usually wrote for adults contributed to efforts to make Chaucer a familiar text for children, a basis for their role as mature audience. Further evidence of this objective is literary histories for children. H.E. Marshall's English Literature (1909), intended to be read "not as a task, but as a pleasure" (vii), describes many pilgrims, tells something about the society, indicates Chaucer's variety, and concludes that "He delights us not only with his stories, but with the beauty of the words he uses" (144) and quotes in Middle English with interlinear translation and a suggestion about sounding the final "e." Amy Cruse's English Literature through the Ages (1914) uses the Hoccleve portrait page as a frontispiece and contains a rich, imaginative chapter about Chaucer's life and age.

These two classes provide opportunities to teach Chaucer to rather different audiences--the survey attracts mostly English majors and Children's Literature appeals to many non-majors, especially Liberal Studies majors preparing for elementary teaching. In addition, there is a class that introduces Chaucer to every student at Holy Names College. We have a required Core Program in Humanistic Studies with a Medieval-Renaissance class that includes a Chaucer section. The courses are arranged chronologically, four semesters unified by the theme "The Human Person in Relation to Critical Aspects of Existence"--family, nature, community, work and play, inner self, and the divine--with the emphases changing in each historical period. I include, in translation, the "General Prologue" and the "Marriage Group." I have found that Chaucer is remarkably effective as a way of considering all of the themes, but especially the divine, work, community and self. Consistently students rank The Canterbury Tales at the top of favored texts; they love the stories, and they find both the characters and the moral and personal issues raised fascinating and helpful. They sometimes go on to take Major British Writers (Chaucer emphasis).

In addition, as part of the Humanistic Studies Program I introduced a campus festival, a Medieval Faire held about May 1. This two-hour event includes food of the period, crafts, and entertainment. For several Faires I have adapted tales (Wife's, Franklin's, Nun's Priest's) into dramatic plays and also as puppet shows; these are performed by students. Chaucer has become known throughout the campus community since the staff, as well as faculty and students, attend. The Faire has been very successful; I have described it at a California Teachers of English Conference, and it has attracted visitors from off campus. One of my graduate students, for example, made attending the Faire a field trip for her ninth-grade students, who were prepared by an extensive unit about medieval literature. Some schools in California stage similar events. Here then is a direct connection between what is taught in the classroom and serving the larger community. Early in the development of the Humanistic Studies Program NEH (National Endowment for the Humanities) awarded Holy Names College a four-year (1981-85) Implementation Grant, of which I was Director. This national recognition included significant financial support--for faculty development, performance activities, and adaptation of the program for returning adults in the Weekend College. The College has continued to support what has become a national model for interdisciplinary core programs.[92]

My work with the Humanistic Studies Program was part of the background for my writing and presenting a thirty-minute educational video A Prologue to Chaucer (1986), funded by NEH, produced through Educational Television at University of California, Berkeley, distributed by Films for the Humanities, and now widely used in schools and colleges in North America. I was unusually privileged to make the video, which gave an opportunity to use many materials (slides, music) that had always been part of my teaching and to enhance these with on-site footage--from Oxford, Bodiam Castle, Warwick Castle, Stokesay, Ewelme, the Priests' House at Alfriston, and Canterbury Cathedral. Increasingly I have found that videos and slides are crucial to my students' understanding and involvement in the study of Chaucer. Living in California, few have any experience of the images of the Middle Ages, and visual materials are a needed gloss and much appreciated enrichment of their reading and understanding. Moreover, this kind of experience of Chaucer leads to later involvement. Some of the most pleasing experiences of my life have been meeting my students in Britain, or receiving cards and letters from them, saying that they have finally come to look at the places and art that they first encountered in my classes. Video tapes have many advantages, for they are the familiar medium, and they are much simpler to use than slides, which take years to collect and hours to organize and present meaningfully. Nevertheless, I still make extensive use of slides, which focus interest in a different way, especially for topics that are not in any of the videos I know, and I continue to use recordings of Middle English and of music. Similarly, tapes of the "Chaucer plays" are very helpful for those who were not present at the original performance.

Our Wife of Bath is especially lively and charming. I used only a brief moment, the knight in bed with the old hag, in A Prologue to Chaucer, but there were many others. Let me describe the live performance. The Faire takes place in St. Francis's Court, a lovely space with grass and trees. We set up a wooden platform for the actors, with a curtain hung between two trees to frame the stage, quite a medieval effect. There is good interaction with the audience, who are seated on the ground or benches or standing. The Wife's Tale was especially effective because the knight, on his hobby horse, moved through the crowd to seek the answer to the question "What is it that women most desire?" The women who replied were well known on campus so that we got some extra humor. The play was a good interdisciplinary and community building event: I did the script, drama provided the director, music gave us players to introduce scenes and for the dance in the woods, performed by students from physical education. This event was our best effort; many exclaimed that they now knew why I so loved Chaucer, and some even thought they would read the stories for pleasure.

With all of these activities I think that I have expanded the audience for Chaucer far beyond the first undergraduate class that I taught in 1958. For graduate students the situation is different and similarly heartening. Just as I have devised alternatives for the teaching of Chaucer to undergraduates, so I have made changes for those in the Master's program, which has about thirty students, more than our number of undergraduate majors. Usually they have taken a class in Major British Writers (Chaucer emphasis). I offer a Chaucer seminar in alternate years, since most of the students take two years for the degree. We read both Troilus and Criseyde and some of the early poems as well as a selection from The Canterbury Tales. I made the decision to include wider reading rather than to concentrate on intensive study of the language. We make some efforts to read Middle English, but I encourage the use of translations to facilitate the wider reading that is more meaningful to our students (even to those specializing in TESL [Teaching English as a Second Language]) than the study of language. This is a difficult choice, and I had to set against the loss the advantages of more readers of Chaucer in classes that are designed to suit the students' interests and resources while preserving much that I think valuable in the study of Chaucer. Master's students at HNC are returning, working adults who are mature and often highly skilled professionals. Many did not have an undergraduate major in English, or have been away from academic study for several years. Fewer than half are in education. Only a small number proceed to doctoral study; those who do have some prior training to go on to more sophisticated study of Chaucer. Because of their backgrounds and career objectives the more theoretical and esoteric approaches to Chaucer are only marginally interesting to my students. A pragmatic approach to reading, which acknowledges that students will not become experts in Middle English, serves them well. These are students who missed an early discovery of Chaucer, but gain enormously from a later encounter. They acquire an appreciation of, if not a skill in Middle English, and they bring to the text a maturity and breadth of experience that is far beyond that of traditional aged undergraduates; they read Chaucer with understanding and appreciation. If I offered a concentrated study of language and the corollary of reading only a few texts, the students would elect other graduate seminars where they can read widely more easily; by making an accommodation I am able to introduce the study of Chaucer.

Anyone who has taught returning adults knows that the old easy hierarchy with eighteen to twenty year old students and mature professor is not present; this is both frightening and enlivening. Returning adults are much less likely to be impressed or interested by current esoteric critical and theoretical interpretations that scholars direct to and among themselves. Students' response to such work is the same as to the apocryphal scholastic debate of how many angels fit on the head of a pin. The appeal of Chaucer's tales is the encounter with medieval civilization, a time that is both very different from and analogous to the present (for example, disruption in the Church, sexuality, plague, uncertain economy), and for ways of deepening understanding of the circumstances of their lives. In short, the emphasis is an old fashioned concern with values, an alternative to the disorder of the marketplace. A banker, personnel officer, real estate agent, bail bondsman, office clerk, accountant (special affinity with Chaucer), or teacher in the inner city--some of the work my students do--makes short shrift of much of the secondary reading not just because it is difficult but also because it teaches little that they find meaningful. Chaucer is a great storyteller, and we read the tales as entertainment; moreover, the didactic qualities of the narratives are eagerly perceived, and moral issues in the broadest sense are a focus of memorable questions and discussions; many are startled to find this reading much more rewarding than the contemporary fiction that has often spurred them to study English.

Seeking yet another audience for Chaucer I have offered programs for the larger community of the Bay Area. One was part of a series, sponsored as a public service by the M.A. program at Holy Names College, with an average attendance of eighty; they are alumni, some teachers, and individuals who want academic enrichment presented in an engaging way. The day, nine to five, was devoted to "Contexts and Texts," and included lectures, film and slides, some discussion. In the morning I presented Chaucer, and the afternoon sessions, given by a colleague, were devoted to Romanticism. The contrast was a compelling one.[93] Another offering was through the University of California Extension Program, a weekend about "Chaucer and His World," that attracted about two hundred people. This was more elaborate, with lectures (some by distinguished Chaucerians who work in the Bay Area), performance, films, and slide presentation.[94] Such special programs carry academic credit for those who wish to complete postsession assignments. However, most who attend come for the immediate enrichment of their lives and learning, an addition to their work in business and professions or in retirement. These mature audiences are stimulating and challenging because the range of interests, expertise, and sophistication is wide. Several who attended enrolled in the HNC Master's Program in English, after being introduced to Chaucer.

In summary, let me say that my presentation of Chaucer is very different from what it was when I began my career at Holy Names College thirty-seven years ago. There are certainly some regrets about what has been lost, but far more joy in what I have been able to sustain and newly create. Although I had a substantial collection of slides, which I began taking during my Oxford days, I could not have imagined that I would be the writer and presenter of an educational video, nor would I have expected to do such extensive interdisciplinary work, including writing scripts for performances, making suggestions to the director of the plays and directing the puppet shows my self. I think that this sweep of experience may be of interest, especially to younger Chaucerians facing bleak prospects as I did midway my career. Most essentially, the changes have meant that as a Chaucerian I have students who want to read and learn about Chaucer--a solid answer to the question "To whom will Chaucerians teach Chaucer," eloquently posed by John Fisher after the 1988 Congress.[95] I do not ignore current emphasis upon Feminism, New Historicism, Deconstruction, Marxism, and other theories, but no one is the driving force in my teaching of Chaucer, not least because I have found that the singular focus of each seems inadequate to Chaucer. Much of this writing is of more interest to academics than to students. My own training was a combination of Old Historicism and New Criticism: know and understand the contexts and read the text carefully. These are still the approaches that are most convincing and intelligible to my students, who are not specialists but a part of that general reading public attracted to literature because it enriches their lives by deepening their understanding. They are the audience that I think we should cultivate if the study of English, especially Chaucer and other older authors, is to survive beyond a few ivory towers. I have found that Chaucer appeals across the diverse ethnic lines among a multi-cultural group like that Holy Names College serves in the Bay Area.

Some years ago I acknowledged that I often had greater affinity with first generation Chaucerians from the start of the twentieth century than with the vanguard of Postmodernism, and I wondered incidentally what came after "Postmodern." My teaching of Chaucer is in some ways a return to the past, but it also makes great use of current technology and performance; it has assured a future of readers and lovers of Chaucer in my classes. Beyond my small liberal arts Catholic college and the Bay Area's audience for cultural enrichment I am very heartened by the success of A Prologue to Chaucer, which has now sold more than 1500 copies, indicating a broad positive response in schools as well as colleges and universities. Similarly my book Geoffrey Chaucer (1992) has sold very well; it is part of the Frederick Ungar/ Continuum Literature and Life Series that is aimed at the "common reader" and intended to provide an introduction that gives substantial information about contexts, basic summaries of the principal texts and a few points to encourage thoughtful reading, without pressing for a particular critical interpretation. I dedicated the book to my Students at Holy Names College, "fellow pilgrims and readers of Chaucer," and I am encouraged that my efforts to reach a larger audience--not exclusively academic, but including many students who need an alternative to current specialized theory if they are to sustain an interest in Chaucer beyond the term of a class--are here meeting with some success. Some years ago a fellow Chaucerian quipped to me that my career was a study in being "marginalized." Certainly a small liberal arts Catholic college on the West Coast technically qualifies, but there are allegorical levels to the statement. Institutions like that in which I have spent my teaching career continue a very old Catholic tradition of combining intellectual excellence with service, especially to those who have been disadvantaged. This is a very far cry from a Platonic ideal, but I like to think that Chaucer, who--many scholars tell us--was uneasily placed by his class in a world of marketplace and court, would have approved.

Holy Names College

Velma B. Richmond


Teaching Chaucer Through the Fifteenth Century

Daniel J. Pinti

As someone interested in the history and historicity of texts, I am uncomfortably conscious of the fact that I am writing for a forum on "Teaching Chaucer in the 1990s" while never having taught Chaucer in the 1980s--or, for that matter, in any other decade but this one. In the 1980s I took Chaucer courses, two precisely, and while the success of those courses is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that I do find myself teaching Chaucer now, I cannot deny the limitations of my experience in the interrelated roles of both student and teacher. Already, however, the transition from the former role to the latter has forced me to ponder from a new perspective any number of ongoing pedagogical questions in our profession; some of the ones I have found most interesting concern how, and how much, current scholarship makes its way into the college classroom. My developing answer for my own Chaucer teaching grows out of the kind of class a Chaucer course typically is, the context in which I most often teach Chaucer: a "major author" course.

What should a "major author" course offer to students that other types of courses cannot? Ideally, in the case of a Chaucer class the students' increased familiarity with the poet's works and their cultural and historical contexts ought to be, and is, enough. But we should not overlook the fact that a Chaucer course may well be the only course in medieval literature many students ever take. Without for a moment suggesting that we ought not to make a basic understanding of Chaucer's works the primary goal of our Chaucer courses, I would like to propose that teaching Chaucer in the 1990s ought to mean bringing to the fore two things: first, the special challenges and delights afforded by the study of literature from a manuscript culture, and second, the construction of the figure of a major author, indeed, in this case, the commonly-proclaimed "father of English poetry." In order to address these issues we ought to make some time in Chaucer classes for teaching Chaucerian reception, for teaching Chaucer "through" the fifteenth century both by looking back at Chaucer through fifteenth-century lenses, and by examining the production and reproduction of Chaucerian texts after the poet's death in 1400 and on into the subsequent century.

I realize what I have just stated sounds like an impossible project for a fifteen-week Chaucer course (not to mention a ten- week one), and I hold no illusions with respect to how comprehensive such a project can be in a classroom context. But we should also recognize that, in one sense, what I'm calling for is what we are doing anyway; as Seth Lerer has reminded us, "Chaucer's poetry, in a quite literal sense, is the product of his fifteenth-century readers and writers."[96] Studying the Canterbury Tales in John Fisher's edition, for example, as my students do, means reading the tales in the order of the early fifteenth-century Ellesmere manuscript.[97] As scholars we are well aware of the profound implications of this choice, and even paying greater attention to that one remarkable manuscript as a cultural artifact can help our students get a sense of how Chaucer's earliest and most recent editors have reconstructed this authorial figure for our age. But I would encourage us to go further, to teach at least a little fifteenth-century Chaucerian writing in our Chaucer classes.

In her introduction to the MLA's Approaches to Teaching Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Florence Ridley, while describing the enduring nature of Chaucer's writing, asks, "[Chaucer's] contemporaries and early successors--John Gower, Thomas Hoccleve, John Lydgate, John Skelton--who reads them now?"[98] The point of her rhetorical question, of course, is that Chaucer seems intrinsically to command greater interest from contemporary readers than do other late-medieval writers. (That the question would hardly be asked today at all, and would be answered quite differently if it were, is a fine measure of the changing interests in Chaucer scholarship between 1980 to 1995.) Ridley's comments not far below this question, however, seem to me to point us right back to those writers so easily dismissed. One reason, Ridley asserts, for the "continuing appeal of Chaucer's work" is what "appears to be an intentional ambiguity, one that teases, inveigles the reader into the creative process."[99] As we teach Chaucer today, with increasing attention being paid in English studies to issues of canonization and periodization, with the increasingly self-conscious theorization of literary history, and with the work of Chaucerians like Seth Lerer, Lee Patterson, Paul Strohm, and others testifying to a renewed interest in fifteenth-century Chaucerian writing, it is an ideal time to bring marginalized and non-canonical works into the Chaucer classroom, and to consider what was "made" of Chaucer in the fifteenth century. In other words, we ought to find space in Chaucer courses for those readers/writers of Chaucer who can demonstrate in most interesting ways how they responded to being, to paraphrase Professor Ridley, inveigled into the creative process of Chaucer's work.[100] I believe that looking at such texts enables students to recognize better a number of important issues in Chaucer studies, among them: the active reception of Chaucer's texts, the textual responses his works have prompted, the social and literary uses to which Chaucer's texts can be put, and the historical and material construction of a "major author." Moreover, in this way students can get a better hold more quickly on fundamental issues of medieval textuality and the processes of reading and writing in a manuscript culture. As Barry Windeatt has observed, "The scribal responses to Chaucer's poetry, which are implicit in the variants offered by the mss for any work, are not to be despised as the equivalent of mere printing errors. The result of a completely different process, they are different in kind and in their literary implications";[101] thus, considering them more often in our Chaucer courses may well prove worthwhile. Finally, teaching fifteenth-century Chaucerian writing provides an intriguing (and increasingly useful) perspective on the class itself, as students are able to see some of what goes on in the contemporary college English class prefigured in early literary responses to Chaucer. We ask students to compose their own written responses to Chaucer's texts in every Chaucer class; it can be fascinating for students to see textual responses to Chaucerian texts that emerge from the very Middle Ages they are engaged in studying.

Accordingly, along with Fisher's edition of Chaucer mentioned earlier, I order for my Chaucer class John Bowers' recent TEAMS edition, The Canterbury Tales: Fifteenth-Century Continuations and Additions.[102] We read almost all of the Tales plus, from Bowers' edition, Lydgate's Prologue to the Siege of Thebes, the Ploughman's Tale in Christ Church Oxford ms 152, the Cook's Tale of Bodley ms 686, and"The Canterbury Interlude" preceding the Tale of Beryn from Northumberland ms 455. Thus, students are recurrently faced with contemporary editions of selections from a number of different Canterbury Tales manuscripts (along with, when practical and effective, facsimiles), and are repeatedly encouraged to recognize the variety and variability of the Canterbury Tales' manuscript tradition. When discussing Chaucer's own tales with my students I try to lead them to recognize the multiplicity of voices in the work, what John Fisher has called the "sine qua non for appreciating Chaucer's poetry";[103] if we have begun to accomplish this from the beginning of the course, students are usually on their way to being able to construct their own interpretations of the rich intertextuality that goes with the addition of later writers' voices to Chaucerian texts.

This enterprise was never more successful than when, after exploring the Cook's Tale as it is presented in Fisher's edition, we discussed the expanded and finished Cook's Tale in Bodley MS 686. With its relatively lengthy scribal additions of almost Langlandian allegorical personifications, written in semi-alliterative lines that proclaim their own distinctiveness from the surrounding Chaucerian text, this Cook's Tale afforded the students a unique opportunity to see a scribe at once maintaining and contributing to Chaucer's voice, as well as responding to the problems presented by this instance of frustrating lack of closure in Chaucer's poems.[104] I think it helped them to see better the two distinct voices evoked in Chaucer's own unfinished version of the tale--the ribald discourse of the fabliau coupled with the insistent moralizing prevalent here and in any number of the Canterbury Tales they were to read as the course continued--along with how one medieval reader rewrote Chaucer by silencing one of the voices even as he added his own.[105]

Of course, this particular approach to teaching Chaucer through the fifteenth century is only one of many; one could make a persuasive argument for focussing instead on Hoccleve and Lydgate along with Chaucer, or on Middle Scots poets like James I and Robert Henryson--all different and equally valid means to the same general end. And I would not insist that the discussion on the Bodley Cook's Tale was more engaging or illuminating than the discussions we had on the Knight's Tale, the Clerk's Tale, or any other of Chaucer's own Canterbury masterpieces. Nevertheless, I am sure the students began to understand the subject of Chaucerian reception and the problems surrounding it in ways that they otherwise might not have even been aware of. Bringing students to such an understanding ought to be one of our goals when teaching Chaucer in the 1990s.

New Mexico State University

Daniel J. Pinti