How to Celebrate “Whan That Aprille Day” (2017)

A guest posting by COURTNEY RYDEL

Cover of the Whan That Aprille Day event program at Washington College
Cover the program for “Whan That Aprille Day” celebrations last year at Washington College. Program designed by Olivia Serio (President of the Poetry Club, Washington College, class of 2017).

“Whan that Aprille Day” (the annual celebration of old, dead, and undead tongues) is rapidly approaching! Enjoy this posting by Prof. Courtney Rydel (Washington College) on ways to celebrate this occasion. – Global Chaucers co-directors

Coming at the beginning of April, National Poetry Month in the United States, “Whan That Aprille Day” is a holiday begun by the @LeVostreGC persona behind “Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog” and “Chaucer Doth Tweet” in 2014. @LeVostreGC proposed medievalists unite in our efforts to celebrate “the beauty and great loveliness of studying the words of the past. Our mission is to bring to mind the importance of supporting the scholarship and labor that brings these words to us…and the teaching of these…languages. For without all of this, the past would have no words for us” [read the full 2017 iteration of this open call at the medieval studies blog In The Middle].

In spring 2016, I curated an event on Multilingual Chaucer, gathering students and faculty from across Washington College, the small liberal arts college in Maryland where I teach.  Since then, I’ve participated in another large-scale Chaucer project that was directed towards the larger community, #MedievalBirds with ornithologist Jennie Carr, work on which is still ongoing. Currently I am planning a major Chaucerian event for spring 2018, with guest speaker Kim Zarins, that will involve collaboration with the Education department and local high school teachers.

Based on these experiences, I would like to offer some suggestions for other medievalists looking to create exciting events to celebrate “Whan That Aprille Day” on their campus.   Although the event originated with celebrating Chaucer, that context should not be limiting. “Whan That Aprille Day” has the goal of celebrating the “beauty and great loveliness” in all languages.  Any language, literature, or poetry is welcome!  In this contemporary moment when the NEA and NEH are threatened, we need to come together as humanists and poetry lovers.  The more that medievalists connect with scholars of modern languages and across disciplines, and with our larger community, the stronger we will be.

  • Celebrate the gifts and skills of your students and faculty, and show them how they connect to Chaucer. At Washington College we hosted a reading of “Multilingual Chaucer,” which included students and faculty reading poetry in languages including Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Latin, Spanish, French, Russian, German, Hindi, Old English, and Middle English.  Some readers read their favorite poems in other languages, and some read Chaucer or Chaucer translations.  The mixture of languages and diverse poems brought alive how “The Father of English Poetry” inhabited a multilingual space, and allowed us to hear the many languages of our polyglot, increasingly international campus.
  • If you’re going global, check out the fantastic Global Chaucers online archive, created by Jonathan Hsy and Candace Barrington. This resource for post-1945 global non-Anglophone translations of Chaucer offers sample texts, blog posts and scholarship on Chaucer in modern contexts, and reflections on his impact in the contemporary landscape.
  • Look to interdisciplinary and collaborative research. My biologist colleague Jennie Carr and I undertook a project on #MedievalBirds in fall 2016, in which we combined her expertise on ornithology with my research to create an interactive downtown gallery exhibit on Chaucer’s Parliament of Fowls.  We involved students in creating a physical tree that branched onto the ceiling, showing how Chaucer’s categories of birds overlapped with evolutionary development, and in creating videos of students reciting passages from the Parliament of Fowls with present-day English translations in closed captioning.
  • Think about going beyond your college into the community. For Spring 2018, Washington College is planning an event that brings together high school teachers with our community to think about Chaucer in relation to the brilliant YA lit retelling of the Canterbury Tales by Kim Zarins, Sometimes We Tell the Truth. This event will give us an opportunity to bring together our LGBTQIA student groups as well as our secondary ed community with lovers of poetry and medieval studies.  Kim has graciously agreed to come and do a reading and craft talk, and the Education department is collaborating with us on a workshop with high school teachers to help them craft more in-depth lesson plans and relate Chaucer to contemporary issues.
  • Include other medievalists, faculty, and even emeritus faculty with a love of Chaucer! Our beloved emeritus faculty Bennett Lamond, who taught Chaucer for decades at Washington College starting back in 1965, read at our Multilingual Chaucer event.  He gave a hilarious, spirited reading of “To Rosamunde,” likening it to the Rolling Stones song “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”
  • Get students involved in their own retellings and rewritings of Chaucer. David Wallace’s undergraduate Chaucer course at the University of Pennsylvania in spring 2014 held an event in which students debuted both their own readings of Chaucer in the original Middle English as well as inspired, irreverent translations into present-day English.
  • Direct your event to increase opportunities for outreach on your campus. Are there other departments or programs with which you want to collaborate?  How can Chaucer connect to other time periods and topics?  Maybe you want to celebrate Chaucer’s influence on later art and media with your Media Studies or Art History departments.  Perhaps you want to work with your Gender Studies department on an event that looks at gender roles in Chaucer, or with Comparative Literature or Modern Languages scholars on an event that highlights translation.
  • Advertise! We had co-sponsors who also helped to publicize the event, including the Global Education Office, Department of English, Department of Modern Languages, Rose O’Neill Literary House, Poetry Club, and Sigma Tau Delta (English Honor Society).  Their efforts, along with our posters, tweets, and announcements, ensured a good turnout for the event.
  • Use social media for collaboration, connections and archiving. This international holiday was created and promoted through social media, so it’s important to create records, post pictures and videos, and tweet, blog or Facebook with the hashtag #WhanThatAprilleDay17 (please note the spelling).

Of course, all of these reflections come from the perspective of a medievalist working in English, who teaches Chaucer. Although “Whan That Aprille Day” started from a Chaucer parody account and remains Middle English heavy, its goal is wide and universal, and it offers possibilities for global and multilingual exchange, just as Chaucer himself makes in his poetry.  In the words of @LeVostreGC, “we hope that the connections, affinities, and joys of this made-up linguistic holiday will widely overflow their initial medieval English context.”

WATD Washington College event group photo
Readers pose for a group photo after the “Whan That Aprille Day” event at the Rose O’Neill Literary House, Washington College (2016).

Teaching and Researching the Medieval Past in the Face of Present Crisis: Why and How Medieval Studies *Now*?

On Monday, 8 March 2016, Medievalists at the University of Chicago hosted a discussion on the ways we can resist the appropriation of the Middle Ages by the political right.  Follow this link for Carly Boxer’s very useful storification of the event. It includes not only the event’s twitter conversation, but also links to the readings.

Thrice Translations

Front of the King's Theatre, Haymarket, London

At Penn Humanities Forum’s 28 February 2017 seminar, Lily Kass asked us to consider what happens when a text is translated across multiple languages, multiple genres, and multiple cultures, landing back in the source culture in an intermediary genre but in still another language.  Such is the back history of Da Ponte and Antonio Sacchini’s late 1790s’s opera, Evelina; or, the triumph of the English over the Romans. Although the opera’s roots are in William Mason’s 1749 closet drama, Caractacus, a Dramatic Poem: Written on the Model of the Ancient Greek Tragedy—and though it goes through a couple of generic and linguistic transformations in France—when the opera returns to London it dressed as an Italian opera with an Italian libretto based on the French, not the English text.  Moreover, when the text returns to London nearly half a century later, it appears in an entirely different political environment, necessitating us to recognized another generic translation.

Akin to a game of telephone, the series of translations ostensibly maintain the basic thrust of Mason’s lines through the series of translations. Yet, because the musical score requires adjustments be made as the text moves across languages, change is introduced. Sometimes, however, changes appear for no discernible reason, and we’re left to speculate what sort of effect the word choices would have on the audience.

Global Chaucers in UVA and DC

by CANDACE BARRINGTON and JONATHAN HSY

The Global Chaucers co-directors are currently in UVA! We’ll be appearing at the Scholars’ Lab on Thursday to discuss “Digital Hospitality” and the Medieval Colloquium on Friday for a workshop on “Linguistic and Cultural Hospitality.” More than ever, we are hoping this project can create a more empathetic, culturally aware, and interconnected world.

We the co-directors also proud to be taking part in an interdisciplinary symposium on Saturday organized by the GW Digital Humanities Institute at George Washington University (Washington, DC) on Saturday entitled “Global Chaucer and Shakespeare in a Digital World.” Visit the symposium website for full information [and note the informational flyer below]. The symposium features José Francisco Botelho (Brazilian translator of both Chaucer and Shakespeare) among many other exciting folks! The conference in DC is FREE and open to the public.

After the DC event, Botelho will continue on to Connecticut for a conversation about his Contos da Cantuária.

gwdh17.jpg

Chaucer ‘to Walys fledde’

It is difficult to describe our excitement when we learned about the anonymous Welsh play based on Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde as well as Henryson’s  Testament of Cresseid.  And we were practically beside ourselves when Sue Niebrzydowski, senior lecturer at Bangor University, agreed to write a short series of posts for Global Chaucers.  To top things off, she also laid the groundwork for us to use 6 gorgeous images from Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru/National Library of Wales’ Peniarth MS 106.  From NLW, we owe our gratitude to Iwan ap Dafydd and Maredudd ap Huw 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.

The following is Part 1 of Sue’s two-part posting.  Stay tuned for the second part, in the queue for the end of November.

Chaucer’s poetry has a long association with Wales. In ‘The Man of Law’s Tale’ Chaucer recounts how, in the face of the pagan conquest of Northumberland, the Christian community had ‘to Walys fledde’ (The Canterbury Tales, II (B1) 544). During the early modern period Chaucerian manuscripts found a haven in Wales, entering the country via gentry families on the Chester/Denbighshire border. Among these was the earliest copy of The Canterbury Tales, now Aberystwyth, National Library of Wales MS Peniarth 392 D (c. 1399) that by the 1570s was associated with the Banestar or Bannester family, who had Chester connections but whose three youngest children were born at Llanfair-is-gaer, near Caernarfon.

Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde was translated into Welsh, and from poetry into drama, not long after the Hengwrt copy of The Canterbury Tales came into the Banestar’s keeping. The National Library of Wales holds the unique copy of a late sixteenth-century, Welsh-language play, Troelus a Chresyd.[1] Troelus a Chresyd is preserved in MS Peniarth 106 (formerly Hengwrt 338), the only text contained within a modestly sized, manuscript book. Troelus a Chresyd was one of many works copied by John Jones (b. before 1585–1658) of Gellilyvdy in Flintshire.[2]

Picture 127
By permission of Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru/National Library of Wales. NLW Peniarth MS 106: p. 30, Full page image showing speakers’ names in red.

In Jones’ manuscript speakers’ names, written in red, appear generally in the margin against their speeches. In the latter part of the codex space has been left for the rubricated names but Jones never went back to fill them in. Embellished initials suggest that Jones was aiming at an artistic product but, unfortunately, the quality of his ink was, on occasion, too acidic. This has led to blotches and the paper being burned through in places.

Who wrote Troelus a Chresyd and when remains a matter for debate. As he records in the manuscript, Jones copied the play in three sections, comprising two phases: section one complete by 14 February 1613, section two by 11 September 1622, and section three by 25 October 1622. Jones was the scribe but not author who remains unidentified but whose dialect suggests that he may have come from North Wales, probably Denbighshire or Flintshire. Although copied in the seventeenth century, Troelus a Chresyd may have been composed at any point from the 1570s onwards.

Troelus a Chresyd makes available in Welsh a synthesis of Books 1–4 of Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde and the conclusion of The Testament of Cresseid by Robert Henryson (c. 1475). The conclusion of Book 2 and the beginning of Book 3 are missing, suggesting that Jones’ exemplar was itself incomplete. The play’s fusion of Chaucer and Henryson can be explained by the edition of Chaucer’s romance to which our playwright turned. Since William Thynne’s 1532 edition of The works of Geffray Chaucer newly printed, with dyuers works whiche were never in print before, Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde had been followed by the unattributed Testament of Cresseid, leading early modern readers to believe that Chaucer was the author of both. Our playwright most probably used an edition of Chaucer’s work by Thomas Speght (1598, 1602) that reiterates Thynne’s identification of The Testament of Cresseid as Chaucer’s. The language of Speght’s edition was neither Chaucer’s Middle English nor Henryson’s Middle Scots but an ‘early modernised’ version of both. It is this that the playwright translates into his native Welsh, as can be seen in the translation of the Canticus Troili:

Picture 129
By permission of Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru/National Library of Wales. NLW Peniarth MS 106: p. 39, Full page image showing stanza 39, ‘Onid oes gariad’ (If no love is).

If no love is, O God, what fele I so?
And if love is, what thing and which is he?
If love be good, from whennes cometh my woo?

Speght, 1598, fol.153v

that the playwright renders as:

Onid oes gariad, O Dduw, pa beth sy’m trwblio?
Od oes gariad pa vodd pa sut sydd arno?
Os da kariad, of ble mae’n dyfod i’m blino?

Troelus a Chresyd, stanza 39, 1–4

Following Chaucer’s narrative structure, Troelus a Chresyd is divided into five books (the Welsh used is llyfrau (‘books’) not actiau (‘acts’)) and is written in a variety of stanzas, including rime–royal (for the Chaucerian sections), in places the bob and wheel familiar from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and the nine-line stanzas of Henryson’s verse form. The action is commented upon by a Chorus. The play includes the Canticus Troili, and the aubade spoken after the lovers have spent the night together. Their encounter at Pandarus’ house occurs ‘offstage’, and lacks Chaucer’s deft comic handling of the episode. Events follow Chaucer’s poem until Diomedes discards Chresyd. At this point, the Chorus summarises Chresyd’s demise as found in Henryson’s The Testament of Cresseid. Having been called a whore by Diomedes, Chresyd berates the Gods for which she is punished with leprosy. The play concludes with Chresyd’s death, and Troelus’ building her a tomb.

The playwright tells his audience that, ‘A mine, er mwyn yr wyllys da ytt a ddygais a’i trois i’th iaith Gymraeg yn ore ac i medrais’ [And I, for the good will which I bear you, translated it into your Welsh tongue as best I could] (Troelus a Chresyd, 62). Knowing Chaucer’s own commitment to translation, we can be confident that the London-based poet would have been delighted that his ‘litel bok’ had travelled so far through space and time.

Picture 130
By permission of Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru/National Library of Wales. NLW Peniarth MS 106: p. 160, detail of colophon.

[1] The entire Welsh text is available online at <http://people.ds.cam.ac.uk/dwew2/hcwl/tch/TCh_dipl.htm> [accessed 10 October 2016] as part of the Cambridge University Corpws hanesyddol yr iaith Gymraeg [Corpus of historical Welsh Language works] 1500-1850. See also Troelus A Chresyd (O lawysgrif Peniarth 106) edited W. Beynon Davies (Caerdydd: Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru, 1976) and for an English translation see Hadley Phillip Tremaine, The Welsh Troelus a Chresyd, University of Michigan PhD thesis, 1965.

[2] See Nesta Lloyd, ‘Jones, John (b. before 1585, d. in or before 1658)’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 <http://0-www.oxforddnb.com.unicat.bangor.ac.uk/view/article/68197> [accessed 11 October 2016].

The Mis-Attributed Translation

Brian Long’s “Symeon Seth between Islamicate Culture and Eleventh-century Byzantium” tells a story familiar to Chaucerians: a multilingual polymath associated with the seats of power translates works from a dominant language into the court vernacular; sometimes he acknowledges both the source text and source author, sometimes he acknowledges one but not the other, and sometimes he acknowledges neither. Wandering between close translation and free adaptation, his texts allow him to bring new learning in a variety of guises.  As his title reveals, Long’s subject is not Chaucer but Symeon Seth, an 11th-century Byzantine translator of medical, scientific, and natural philosophy texts from Arabic into Greek.

byzantine_greek_alexander_manuscript_bracca_cropped

One of Long’s concerns is the way Symeon Seth uses un- or mis-attributed translations and the guise of classical modes of discourse to transmit the new knowledge associated with Islamicate scholars.  Long suggests the motivation behind that strategy is the deeply conservative nature of Byzantine intellectual life. To make the new learning palatable, he had to dress it in the clothing of the classical style. Symeon Seth’s translations seem to imagine a resistance to Arabic modern learning—even if that resistance seems not to have materialized.

Seminar discussion raised several other possible motivations behind Symeon Seth’s strategy, including greater control of content, the sense of a unified or universal set of knowledge (that erases the Christian/Islamic distinction), a softening of his critique of Greek traditional knowledge, and an (apparent) denial of the superiority of Arabic learning.  In other words, these strategies either create distance between Symeon Seth and his sources or they close that distance.  Whatever his motives for recalibrating his relationship to the Arabic source texts, the translations provide clues for understanding the cultural politics of 11th-century Byzantine elite culture.

Whether studying Chaucer’s translations of European texts or non-Anglophone translations of the Tales, we’ve found the translations providing a similar window into the receiving culture.  The interpretive function of translation does not end with the translator’s interpretation of the source text.  Indeed, the translation weaves together interpretations of both the source text and the receiving culture, giving us a text that shines a light on both the source text and the receiving culture.

Article: Miller’s Tale and Chinese Culture

by JONATHAN HSY

collage-of-english-gentleman-and-confucian-imagery
Collage of images: English gentleman (early modern printed text), a Confucian scholar (modern drawing), and examples of ancient Chinese seal script. [original image here]

Several blog postings relating to Chaucer in Chinese contexts have appeared on this blog (see here, here, and here), and we are happy to draw attention to another resource:

Xiaolei Sun (孙晓蕾), a doctoral student at Shanghai International Studies University (and currently a visiting scholar at the University of Leeds), recently discovered this blog and kindly informed us of her article “When Fabliau Humour in Chaucer’s The Miller’s Prologue and Tale meets Chinese Translation and Culture,” published in the White Rose College of Arts & Sciences Journal (Universities of Leeds, Sheffield & York, 18 May 2016).

You can read the article online or download it as a PDF.