Pilgrim’s Prize (Pt.6): The Man of Law’s Tale (Chaucer Journal)
Onwards to the next great adventure!
What is it this time around? Well, more heteronormativity, unfortunately. More Christian-mongering, and more Islamophobia. Oh, well.
We move on to the Man of Law’s tale. It is a story of betrayal and all of the above. It starts with the sultan of Syria hearing of a beautiful Christian princess to wed, Constance. Since a suiter must be Christian to wed her, this sultan converts to Christ along with his subjects. He asks for the woman’s hand in marriage and receives it; soon after their wedding, though, the sultan’s family slaughters Constance’s family in what was bound to be a rather sucky honeymoon. So, Constance flees in a boat, washes up on Northumberland sometime later, and marries a good Christian man. Unfortunately, the devil beguiles a knight, some murder happens, and Constance again flees to Rome where she’s tight with some Imperial homies. More time passes, her old husband returns to her after learning of some deception which happens along the way, and everybody lives happily ever after (except Constance’s husband’s mother, who is killed by her son for messing with his marriage). Fantastic.
As a tale, it feels inflated. This is something I have come to notice about the stories in The Canterbury Tales. So many of them simply feel like at least a quarter, if not half, of the content, could have been left out and still retain the basic idea of the story. Undoubtedly, in the future, when I have given this tale a thorough close reading in its original Middle English, I will feel differently. For now, though, it seems ponderous and slightly phoned in as the content is little different in theme from some of the previous tales—morality, Christianity, and some good old fashioned moralizing on husbandry (the old definition, that is).
But, that is just my own take on the tale. Let’s see what the modern take is as told through the contest hosted on Pilgrim Literary.
Told by Hamish Campbell, this rendition of The Man of Law’s Tale uses short paragraphs, a short gif, a brief video, and a handful of images to recreate the plot. This time around, instead of sultans and knights, we have CEOs and entrepreneurs. Gone are letters and here are emails and hacking. Though the conversion narrative remains the same, Campbell injects some humor into the narrative by offering curt asides on the lawfulness of certain legal practices and how they clash today; namely, it is not very legal to drag a corpse to an MP’s front door and demand action.
In all, Campbell’s retelling is amusing but not particularly creative, I feel. At least as far as I have seen in some of the previous entries. This is not to say that her submission is bad, just that it is a little on the stilted side. She spends too long simply rearranging some pieces instead of reimaging the pieces; in my mind, what makes for an original iteration of a classic is a willingness to retain the core of the original text while remolding it in a new design which is noticeable modern, something strikingly a corpus of different techniques. Though I do see this here with the different pieces—gifs, images, text, video—it is in service of a lackluster narrative and makes me notice the degree of disintegration.
At the end, I give Campbell’s take a 6.5/10.