In late fall 2019, Creation Theatre (Oxford, UK) presented its adaptation of The Pardoner’s Tale to local audiences. Because the company sees the entire city as a
potential stage, this production was performed in multiple venues, including the Covered Market, Blackwell’s Bookshop, and the James Street Tavern’s beer garden where “spectators, huddled together under blankets and patio heaters.” In addition to a comic rendition of the Tale itself (as the company’s blog explained), audience members were also given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to purchase “sacred relics.”
Did you see this production? If so, drop us a note and tell us what you thought.
The production was announced as a prelude to developing the entire Canterbury Tales. For more about the company and its mission to tell “classic stories in new ways,” see their website.
Fifty years after it’s 1969 appearance in the Rose Bowl Parade with a giant replica of the Ellesmere Chaucer, the Huntington Library marked its centennial with another flower-studded entry in Pasadena’s 2020 Tournament of Roses Parade. Again, the Ellesmere Chaucer was prominently featured.
The 2019 Biennial London Chaucer Conference was held 28-29 June at St Bride’s Foundation, not far from where Wynken de Worde established his Fleet Street press (soon after printing his 1498 The Canterbury Tales in Westminster). The conference’s announced theme, Chaucer and Europe, only hints at the deeply international nature of the presentations, as I think the following summaries of select papers suggest.
David Wallace opened the proceedings with his plenary “Italy Made Me: Chaucer and Europe,” reminding us that the essential anti-Mediterranism at the foundation of Chaucer Studies (see for example Lewis’s “What Chaucer Really Did to Il Filostrato”), with its hard line dividing northern “Germanic” Europe from southern “Latin” Europe, was a useful fiction that does not correlate with the fourteenth-century Europe Chaucer knew.
In the “Chaucer and Boccaccio” panel, Leah Schwabel’s “‘Oon seyde that Omer made lyes’: Chaucer’s Intertexual Poetics” noted that Chaucer’s failure to identify Boccaccio as his source complied with classical translation practices that obscured and distorted sources; therefore, we should reconsider how we identify intertexual resources and look beyond echoes to modes of borrowing. During the Q&A, Kenneth Clarke reminded us that there is only one extant fourteenth-century manuscript of the Teseide, and that one is Boccaccio’s autograph; no one at the time seems to have read more Boccaccio than Chaucer [correction 7/13/2019*]. Clarke’s own presentation, “Medieval Humanism and Vernacular Poetics: Chaucer, Ovid, And Ceffi,” established that the gamma iteration of Fillipo Ceffi’s Italian translation of Ovid’s Heroides was one of the sources for the Legend of a Good Women, further complicating the network of European texts and books that Chaucer responded to.
In the Chaucer and Machaut panel, Juliette Vuille’s “French Kissing and Ménage à Trois: Machaudian influences in Chaucer’s metapoetic Pandarus” considered what Chaucer learned from Machaut regarding poetic voice and the process of invention. David Levinsky’s “European Peripheries: Machaut and the Monk’s Tale” looks to the tale’s four “modern instances” to consider the limits of exemplary and historical writing.
The Global Chaucers round table began with Ana Sáez-Hildago’s presentation on the earliest Spanish translation of Chaucer: a 1914 children’s book based on the British Tales from Chaucer. Preceding by seven years a full translation of The Canterbury Tales into Spanish, the small volume went through five printings across five regimes (1914-1956). Candace Barrington introduced some less-obvious Chaucerian influences in Tomáš Zmeškal’s 2008 Milostny dopis klínovym písmem (Love Letter in Cuneiform, translated by Alex Zucker in 2016), whose narrator was shaped by Chaucerian “misdirection.” Lydia Zeldenrust introduced us to an in-process Frisian translation of
the Tales. Because Frisian is a marginal language seldom written and with a small written literary tradition, Klaas Bruinsma’s project is to create a foundation of translated works on which to elevate a Frisian literary tradition. (Sounds very Chaucerian!) David Wallace kicked off the room discussion with an insightful response that asked us to consider what this reception history reveals about our own readings of the Tales.
The first day wrapped up with Laura Kendrick’s “Chaucer and Deschamps.”
The conference’s second day opened with a fascinating round table discussing the recently published Middle English Travel: A Critical Anthology, edited by Anthony Bale and Sebastian Sobecki. Designed for undergraduate use, the volume includes essays on travel-related topics, an anthology of medieval travel texts, and contextualizing material (such as maps and charts). Together, the entries help reveal the hitherto underestimated capabilities of these travel writers.
In the following session entitled “Senses and Emotions,” Eleanor Myerson’s “Mamlūk Spices and Medieval Digestion” stood out for its identification of connections between Chaucer’s family and the spice trade, connections which help elucidate his textual references to the remedial properties of spices.
After lunch, Patience Agbabi framed her readings from Telling Tales and The Refugee
Tales with a discussion of the importance of both celebrating verse as well as acknowledging storytelling’s therapeutic effect as a validator of traumatic experiences.
In one of the two final concurrent sessions, “European Afterlives,” Lotte Reinbold’s “A Diluted Drink: Dreaming Troilus and Criseyde” examined how Kynaston’s 1635 Latin translation removes ambiguity in Troilus’ dream of the eagle removing his heart, thereby rendering the text more tragic and suitable to his audience’s tastes. On the same panel, Sarah Salih returned to The Refugee Tales, which indirectly argue that we should be more like our medieval predecessors, making the collection an outlier in the work that the medieval does in the present day. The Refugee Tales is able to make this argument by reimagining the medieval past as a tolerant, multicultural one we’d like to emulate. As Salih makes clear, this sort of recreation doesn’t need to be condemned, but it does need to be correctly contextualized.
Marion Turner closed the conference with “Chaucer’s European Life.” Chaucer’s diplomatic journeys would have given him a close-up view of more tolerant, multicultural societies such as Naverre. And his bureaucratic jobs in London would have shown him how tightly connected English politics and economics were tied to those on the continent.
Many thanks to Alastair Bennett and Hetta Howes for putting together an engaging conference that examined Chaucer from a more European perspective. It was a fabulous conference!
[These summaries are from my jet-lagged notetaking at the conference. If I have misrepresented anything, please contact me. I will make the necessary corrections or clarifications.–CB
The 2nd edition of Peter Brown’s A New Companion to Chauceris now available. Featuring 36 alphabetically arranged chapter topics–Afterlives, Auctorite, Biography, Bodies, Bohemia, Chivalry, Comedy, Emotion, Ethnicity, Flemings, France, Genre, Ideology, Italy, Language, London, Love, Narrative, Other Thought-Worlds, Pagan Survivals, Patronage, Personal Identity, Pilgrimage and Travel, Religion, Richard II, Science, The Senses, Sexuality, Sin, Social Structures, Style, Texts, Things, Translation, Visualizing, and Women–the volume is noticeably heftier than the 2002 edition.
Currently the companion’s first chapter is freely available for download. In a nice piece of irony that tickles our hearts, that chapter is the one Jonathan and I contributed. Though our chapter “Afterlives” deals those things that come last chronologically, its title comes first alphabetically, making real the injunction that “the last will be first.”
Our deepest appreciate to Carolyn Collette for suggesting we take up the topic in her stead, and our thanks to Peter Brown for incorporating us into his excellent lineup of scholars.
Durham University is hosting the New Chaucer Society’s 2020 Congress, and there’s still time to submit paper proposals. The deadline is 20 May 2019.
Global Chaucers is organizing a lightening talk session on the Histories of Chaucer’s non-Anglophone Receptions (session 2). Jonathan and I invite your proposals exploring the histories of Chaucer’s reception beyond the Anglophone reception. Possible topics include the non-Anglophone, multilingual, or cross-cultural histories of textual transmission; translations and editions; Chaucer in the curriculum; and contributions to scholarship.
While you’re at the NCS website, take a look at Jonathan Fruoco’s session on Chaucer in the Non-Anglophone World: Translations and Cultural Appropriations (session 70).
In addition to these two sessions, many of the other sessions invite papers of global interest.
Please note the two-step process for submitting your proposal: first you register online, then you send your abstract to the session organizer(s).
Many thanks to the program organizers–Elliot Kendall, Robyn Malo, Mary Flannery, Wan-Chuan Kao, Philip Knox, Myra Seaman, Ruth Evans and Tom Goodmann –for the exciting program. The 2020 Congress in Durham promises to match the international breadth of the 2018 Congress in Toronto! Please join us!
The April 2019 issue of Speculum includes my review of David Wallace’s Geoffrey Chaucer: A New Introduction (Oxford UP, 2017), a lucid, witty presentation of Chaucer’s life, works, and influence.
Part of an ongoing promotion of Chaucer’s “promiscuous topographies,” A New Introduction continues Wallace’s twofold scholarly enterprise: to show not only that Chaucer’s verse embraces all the world known to educated fourteenth-century Europeans, but also that Chaucer’s subsequent influence has extended beyond the poets of Britain to make an impact on every hemisphere.
Wallace advertises this paradigm shift with his first sentence: “Geoffrey Chaucer is a medieval poet enjoying a global renaissance” (1). And it punctuates my review’s final sentence: the New Introduction‘s major contribution “has been to normalize Chaucer’s status as a global poet” (600).
For those already in the Global Chaucers vortex, David Wallace’s introduction confirms why we find this field of research so rich and exciting. For those who are Global Chaucers curious, Wallace provides the roadmap for following Chaucer’s off-island journeys.
In keeping with the conference’s theme, Chaucer and Europe, we’ve assembled a roundtable that explores Chaucer’s influences on the literary and artistic cultures of Europe, an area that we’ve just begun to explore. For instance, we know about Czech author Josef Škvorecký’s 1948 Nové canterburské povídky [The New Canterbury Tales], the Dutch comic books of Lük Bey, and French-Norwegian poet Caroline Bergvall’s Meddle English (2010). We have a core group for the roundtable, but we’d like to add a few more scholars sharing what they know about these and other continental European adaptations of Chaucer’s works.
If you plan to be in London at the end of June, please consider joining the Global Chaucers roundtable! Email Candace at BarringtonC (at) ccsu.edu for more information.