On 13 and 15 July, Ufuoma Overo-Tarimo’s dramatic adaptation, The Miller’s Tale: Wahala Dey O! was finally brought to audiences in the western hemisphere. Featuring performers from Nigeria, England, Iceland, and Canada, the international troupe brought an exuberant interpretation of Chaucer’s tale, first to the Isabel Bader Theatre at Victoria College, Toronto, and then to Erindale Studio Theatre in Mississauga. True to the spirit of Nigerian dramatic tradition, the production enhanced the comic adaptation with music and dancing from many genres.
The first performance coincided with the New Chaucer Society Congress being held at Victoria College, so the filled house was not surprising. It was good to learn that the second performance also played to a full house.
The large undertaking would not have been possible without the support of the 2018 NCS Congress hosts, Alex Gillespie, Will Robins, and their exceptional University of Toronto team.
The December 2017 issue of The Atlantic features Nathan Perl-Rosenthal’s lovely, timely essay on Barbara Cooney and her illustrated children’s books . Cooney’s 1979 Caldecott-winning Ox-Cart Man, with its tender depictions of the countryside’s cycles of growth and loss was a favorite when our household had young ones to read to. Perl-Rosenthal writes of Cooney’s transformation of Donald Hall’s text into a “meditation of love and loss,” which seems to me a perfect way to describe its impact and importance.
He opens his essay, though, discussing Cooney’s first picture book, Chanticleer and the Fox (1958), her first Caldecott winner and a work that stands in marked contrast to the usual late-50’s fare “of mild humor laced with bland moral guidance” targeting American children. After reminding his audience that Chanticleer is based on the “salty Middle English of The Canterbury Tales” and recounting the narrative Cooney adapted from Chaucer’s beast fable, Perl-Rosenthal goes on to provide Cooney’s perspective on her little book:
In her acceptance speech for the award, the small blond author, gesturing with her long hands, conceded the anomaly of her book. “Much of what I put into my pictures,” she admitted,” will not be understood.” But she had chosen to write it because she thought that the “children in this country need a more robust literary diet than they are getting.” “It does not hurt them,” Cooney insisted before her audience of senior librarians and educators, to hear about the real stuff of life, about “good and evil, love and hate, life and death.” … She vowed that she would never “talk down to–or draw down to–children.
We can see her refusal to condescend to young audiences in the book’s visual layout. Though clearly a picture book, Chanticleer and the Fox balances the images with significant blocks of text. This is not an oversimplified redaction of Chaucer’s text. And neither the story nor the pictures rely on the comic silliness of talking chickens to create its appeal to children. Instead, it imagines a world of quiet duties, a place where, sometimes, the best of us make foolish mistakes. If we’re lucky, friends and family will overlook our flaws and come to our rescue.
With its generous text from a canonical source, this picture book imagines itself as a book adults can read to pre-schoolers as well as a book that young readers can approach and engage with by themselves, finding new delights and new lessons in book designed to mature with its readers.
It was good to be reminded of this little book’s virtues by Perl-Rosenthal.
Patience Agbabi’s East Coast speaking tour has an additional date and locale: Monday, 13 November 2017, at Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York. If you’re in the vicinity, we highly recommend you make the effort to attend–and bring your students.
Patience Agbabi will be making one of her few U.S. appearances on 25 November 2017, 7pm, at Boston College. Her readings and performances are unparalleled, as those of us at NCS 2016 in London witnessed. If you’re in the area, don’t miss this opportunity.
This week features the premiere of A Mulher de Bath, a stage production based on José Francisco Botelho’s 2013 translation of The Canterbury Tales and starring Maitê Proença. This Brazilian actor, known for her extensive filmography and her outspokenness, commissioned the play and seems the perfect embodiment for Chaucer’s Wife of Bath, a woman the promotional material identifies as “uma mulher de vasta experiência e de ardorosa oratória” (a woman of vast experience and ardent oratory).
O que quer esta muhler?
The opening performances are this weekend, 28 and 29 October 2017, in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, north of Rio de Janiero.
In the small Sonoran city of Magdalena de Kino, 126 miles due south of Tucson, Arizona, the Church of Santa María Magdalena houses an recumbent image of St. Francis Xavier (co-founder of the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits). Pilgrims who seek help from the saint can ascertain whether their prayers have been deemed worthy of intercession by trying to lift the statue’s head. If it moves, their prayers have been acknowledged; if it doesn’t, the saint himself has remained unmoved, their devotion insufficient to merit his help.
In a convenient cross-over between saints’ days, 4 October (feast day for St. Francis of Assisi) seems to be a favorite time for making this pilgrimage into the Sonoran desert. Former head of the University of Arizona’s Southwest Folklore Center, Jim Griffith, has compared these autumnal pilgrimages to the springtime pilgrimage in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. He provides this instructive paraphrase:
When October with its relatively cool winds has taken the real edge off the fierce desert heat. When it’s cool enough that you can stand to walk around outdoors. When the summer rains have stopped and the roads aren’t a sea of mud and it’s pretty easy to move. Then folks want to move.
And, as he adds, “they want to move on a spiritually sanctioned trip.” To hear Griffith recite these lines from his General Prologue-redux, listen to Pulse of the Planet’s recent rebroadcast of a 1997 show about autumn’s migrations and pilgrimages.
Thanks to our intrepid contact for all things regarding Chaucer in Mexico, Raúl Ariza-Barile (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México), for this Borderlands Chaucer.
In November 2016, Sue Niebrzydowski introduced us to Peniarth MS 106 and its anonymous Troelus a Chresyd. In February, the National Library of Wales followed up with news of the manuscript on its blog. From NLW, we owe our gratitude to Iwan ap Dafydd,Maredudd ap Huw, and Rhodri Shore for their gracious and generous help. And a special thanks to Jacqueline Burek for making us aware of this understudied appropriation of Troilus and Criseyde. By permission of Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru / National Library of Wales.
As an additional treat for Global Chaucers’s readers, Maredudd ap Huw recorded a clip from the prologue to Troelus a Chresyd. Listen and imagine yourself back in a sixteenth-century Welsh-speaking household where a performance of Chaucer’s Trojan love story is about to begin.
by Sue Niebrzydowski, Darllendydd/Reader, Ysgol Llendyddiaeth Saesneg/School of English Literature, Prifysgol Bangor University
Troelus a Chresyd is an example of putting old wine into new bottles. Why was Chaucer’s romance of Troilus and Criseyde translated into a Welsh language play at the close of the sixteenth century? In 1598 George Chapman translated the Seven Books of the Iliades, and there followed a series of Trojan plays: an unidentified play of Troy (1596), Dekker and Chettle’s Troyeles and Creasse daye (1599), both now lost, Thomas Heywood’s two-part play, The Iron Age (?1595–?1596), and Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida (1602 or 1603, published 1609). Whoever wrote Troelus a Chresyd did so amid a flurry of interest in all things Trojan.
Troelus a Chresyd differs from English plays about Troy in its emphasis on the doomed relationship of two lovers caught up in the conflict. In basing his play on Chaucer and Henryson, and translating their poetry into another language, our playwright was following in the footsteps of Nicholas Grimald who, in 1559, so John Bale tells us, wrote a Latin, comic play, Troilus ex Chaucero (‘Troilus from Chaucer’) based on Chaucer’s romance. Sadly, this play is now lost.
How might Troelus a Chresyd have been performed? Jones’ copy lacks annotation, and some pages remain uncut, suggesting that the manuscript was used neither as a prompt book nor an acting text of any kind. The ’Iawn urddassol ddarlleydd’ / ‘Right Honorable Reader’ (pp. 38 and 106 of the manuscript) is addressed twice and Chaucer’s narrator, transformed into a ‘chorus’ figure, speaks to an implied audience of ‘Chwchwi rasysol gwmpeini’ / ‘you gracious company’ (opening of Book 1). Troelus a Chresyd may have been designed to be read aloud. Its stage directions, however, suggest performance:
Kalchas yn dywedyd wrtho ei hun / ‘Calchas talking to himself’ (stanza 6)
Kressyd yn dyfod gida Synon, ag yn syrthio ar in glinieu/ ‘Chresyd comes in with Sinon and falls to her knees’ (stanza 25)
Troelws yn dywedydyn issel ynghlysd i vrawd Hector / ‘Troilus whispers into his brother Hector’s ear’ (stanza 32)
Ac ar hynn yma yn llesmeirio. Troylus [sic] a’i gleddyf noeth yn ei law yn ymkanu ei ladd ei hunan / ‘At this point she faints. Troelus draws his sword with the intention of killing himself’ (stanza 146)
Kressyd yn rhoddi ei llaw i Ddiomedes / ‘Chresyd gives her hand to Diomedes’ (stanza 171)
Here we see instructions for entrances and exits, bodily gesture, facial expression, soliloquy and dialogue. Props are required – Troelus’ sword, the brooch that he gives to Chresyd, the mirror in which she sees her altered state, the purse of gold and jewels given to her by Troelus – as is sound (a bell is rung before the judgement of the gods on Chresyd), and costume; Diomedes’ cloak. David Klausner has suggested that during the judgement of the gods against Chresyd, some of the gods may have entered and then paraded wearing headdresses and carrying symbols of their power, akin to masque performance. If so, then music would be appropriate at this point. The whole play can be performed in around an hour-and-a-half, with as few as ten players, and in a single playing space. In August 1954, Gwyn Williams directed Troelus a Chresyd at the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Ystradgynlass in the Gwwini Theatre y Deau, demonstrating that it is a performable play.
Where might Troelus a Chresyd have been performed? One possibility is before a Welsh speaking audience of cultured guests, settled comfortably in the hall of a wealthy house in the March of Wales. A private, domestic context might have allowed for the play’s performance by friends or local actors, and for female parts to be played by women. The Welsh-speaking household may have been London-based, those living away from their native Wales, gathering and socialising in their language of choice, to watch or participate in a play on a topic much in vogue. A further possibility is that Troelus a Chresyd was performed at one of the Inns of Court in London. Between 1590 and 1639, 526 members were admitted from Wales, with a strong representation at Lincoln’s Inn and Inner Temple.
That someone chose to translate Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde into Welsh should not surprise as his countrymen had a long established tradition of translation of Latin, French and English works into their native tongue, and vice versa. ‘Troy Story’ was a trend at the turn of the sixteenth century, and the play catered for those interested in Chaucer and this narrative. For those away from their homeland, Chresyd’s lament for her lost city of Troy may have served as a poignant reminder of the North Walian walled cities – of Biwmaris, Conwy and Caernarfon – and of the pain that separation from beloved people and places can cause:
Arnad, Troea, mewn hiraeth a thrymder yr wy’n edrych –
dy dyre uchel a’th reiol gaeref kwmpaswych;
llawer diwrnod llawen a fewn dy gaeref a gefais,
a llawer o hiraeth amdanad ti a ddygais.
O Troea, gwae fi o’r myned!
O Troelus, gwae fi dy weled!
O Troelus, fy anwylyd
On you, Troy, I look with longing and sorrow –
On your high towers and grand encircling walls;
I have had many a glad day within your walls,
and I bear great longing for you.
O Troy, alas for my leaving
O Troilus, alas for my seeing you
O Troilus, my beloved
Troelus a Chresyd, stanza 180
With so many people today exiled from their country and language of origin, this play still has much to say.
 David Klausner ‘English Economies and Welsh Realities: Drama in Medieval and Early Modern Wales’ in Authority and Subjugation in Writing of Medieval Wales edited Ruth Kennedy and Simon Meecham-Jones (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008) 213-229 (219).
 Wilfred R. Prest The Inns of Court under Elizabeth I and the Early Stuarts 1590-1640 (London: Longman Group, London, 1972) 33, 36, 37.