Geoffrey Chaucer is often called the “father of English”, and is known as one of history’s greatest poets. Spinning fantastic tales of medieval life, Chaucer brought to life English in a way no other poet of his time could; when everyone was writing in Anglo-Norman, Chaucer bucked trends and wrote in English, a defiance against language conventions at the time. Making his living as a royal clerk while writing at night, Chaucer’s texts told stunning tales of fantasy and reality.

 
Today, The Canterbury Tales stands the test of time. Read and studied by every true fan of English literature, the Tales tell how a collection of pilgrims come together at an inn and tell stories; with each lusting after the prize offered by their host for who can tell the best story, what transpires is a lucid account of the medieval Man as brought to life by an amazingly talented poet.

 
Though Chaucer is not as well-known as his contemporaries today—he certainly does not have the same reputation of Shakespeare or even John Milton—he remains an integral part of English literature and even language. His magnum opus concerning pilgrims and the stories they tell manages to retain its charm despite the passing of the centuries and the lack of relative praise and Hollywood-esque adaptations.

 
For this reason, it is a fun find to discover a critical engagement with Chaucer which breaks new ground. Hence, the existence of this series—introducing “Chaucer and Today”, a critical appraisal and commentary series on works adapting Chaucer’s works into contemporary language and meaning.

 
Join us as we delve into this oft unappreciated niche and find what makes the medieval man today tick! Comment and suggest texts to tackle and help make this project go from one to sixty in a matter of seconds! Regardless, sit back and enjoy the ride.

 

 

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Pilgrim’s Prize (Part 1): General Prologue

Discovered as I was careening across the medieval web, Pilgrim’s Prize (Pilgrim Literary) is a modern attempt at recreating The Canterbury Tales; the idea is to create a series of stories, each story an attempt to “one-up” the previous tale and storyteller. Edited by Harry Bailey and performed by a wide variety of people, each tale is wildly different: not all are told in the same medium but all are powerful attempts at re-creating Chaucer’s narrative of creative competition.

Previously, I have only skimmed these stories so I cannot say much more on the content until I go through. But, since there is an engagement for each tale of Chaucer’s novel, I will be going through tale-by-tale to see how these adaptations compare to the original; since I will be reading Chaucer’s original tales for the first time before I read these adapted tales, this will be a great chance for me to see with fresh eyes how well such attempts at recreation hold together.

Understanding this, the first tale which is up is not even a tale. It is just Bailey’s introduction to the project disguised as the General Prologue.

Normally, introductions are stiff affairs, no matter who is writing them. But on this introduction, I was pleasantly surprised. Bailey manages to charmingly imbue his introduction with a flair of Chaucerian familiarity. Though there are no long-winded descriptions of the pilgrims, he casts himself as Chaucer and recounts how the participants of Pilgrim’s Prize “were all so different and yet all seemed to be going in the same direction: a pilgrimage into the Internet to thank the patron saint of anonymity for helping them recover from whatever it is that life afflicted on them”. Truly, a hilarious yet faithful way to associate religious pilgrimage with what is arguably the modern religion of today—the internet.

In sum, then, I was satisfied with the General Prologue. While it does not speak much of Chaucer’s original, of which the introduction is one of the most quoted English literary texts of all-time, Bailey’s piece matches his role as the project’s founder as well as successfully relating the idea of the mother text to the adaptation itself. Short and snappy but great all the same.

Though I would have liked a mock-run down of the participating artists in the same manner that the Host of Chaucer’s book recounts the pilgrims, I suppose this may be forgiven; after all, I am not even sure all the artists were assembled at this point, so it is probably not fair to be too harsh on what was out of the editor’s hands. Still, if it was possible for a brief run-down, I would have liked one.

All in all, I give this entry a solid four out of ten. Not a very high score but this is more for technical reasons than anything else (it is still merely an introduction, after all, and as I said, lacks much of anything as Chaucer related his General Prologue). I will be looking forward to my time in engaging with the first real tale and grilling how it holds up.

 

Link: http://www.pilgrimliterary.com/blog/2015/3/27/general-first-post-1


 

Other Media

Since there is a whole internet worth of materials worth checking out on Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, I would like to take this time to mention assorted YouTube videos.  Most of these videos were done as part of a student’s assignment project, but once in a while, I came across something more tantalizing than a sullen teenager’s half-hearted project. That in mind, check out the following below and comment on anything you find that you would like to share.

 

Obviously, a homemade school project, certain details about the general prologue are goofed, such as the knight participating in more than a dozen crusades. But, as a video brought to life with but a camera and paper cutouts, there is a certain charm in this shoestring production. One can tell that more than a blithe effort was put into making this video. It is not a Michael Bay-esque production but I am hardly holding that against it.

 

I have to say that I have a soft spot in my heart when it comes to stop-motion animation; it is a time-consuming art, and though easy to begin, takes ages to master. Bringing a feature film to life using this charming art is something of a dwindling form but delightful all the same. So, a stop-motion film re-telling Chaucer’s grand tale? Sign me up!

I honestly have no idea who the studio is that made this film but the production values have money behind it. Not Hollywood levels, mind you, but something far above a mere amateur production. Split between the stop-motion segments are the tales themselves rendered in more traditional hand-drawn animation. Clearly done to save on time, these more traditional segments actually are a nice aesthetic change to the film. With the Chaucer-character then adding several levels of witty sarcasm on each pilgrim and tale, this is a film any Chaucerian lover should watch. That being said, this is all I will say about the film right now, at least until I review this film properly.

 

Okay, this video is fun: it pegs itself as a recreation of the first performance of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. But, since they use modern technology, it is already anachronistic, especially with the of disbelief which must be expelled when they incorporate technology into what is supposedly a medieval setting. Such temporal fusion makes for an entertaining video as it both entertains as well as educates; the video switches back and forth between theatrics and informational slides, so it strikes a fair balance between “just another educational project” and “low-budget theatre production”. I plan on offering a full review of this production later.

 

Performed by Dai Jenkins, this lively series of performances retells a few of Chaucer’s tales within a poetic monologue. Though it is entertaining, there is not much to each performance, though if you are a fan of one-man shows, then it may offer more than it offered me. In any case, however, the performance is incomplete with not all of Chaucer’s tales being recreated.

 

Without a doubt one of the most imaginative recreations of Chaucer’s well-known introduction, these gentlemen perform a Middle English rap of the first few lines of The Canterbury Tales. Though to my ears it was a bit cringe-inducing, it also made me smile, so like all things in contradiction, the good and bad dance together. In terms of medieval modernity, though, I admit that the Middle English of Chaucer fits in well with Hip-Hop as one could mistake a substantial amount of the Middle English for Hip-Hop neologisms; an angle of Chaucer’s writing I had never before considered.

 

I liked this short video a lot. The rough animations bring a fanciful life to Chaucer’s language and reveal a dimension to his writing which one can easily ignore underneath the academicism of the text. Alongside the original music, one can see in their mind’s eye a top-rank production hiding in the shadows, even a Disney-like feature complete with anthropormorphiszed animals and objects. Obviously, the current production is a long way away from that but kudos to this small endeavor all the same for allowing some different energies to escape from Chaucer’s language.

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