The Wife of Bath Spurs Her Way onto the Brazilian Stage!

A Mulher de Bath.102417This 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.

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Borderlands Chaucer

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.

Iglesia en Magdalena
Braulio Rivera Enriquez https://ssl.panoramio.com/photo/118060568

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.

 

New resource: Open Access Companion to The Canterbury Tales

oacctlogoNow available!

For those who teach The Canterbury Tales or want to know more about the Tales, check out the new Open Access Companion to the Canterbury Tales, a free and downloadable resource.

Chapters can be downloaded individually, making it perfect for classroom use or personal edification.

Please let the editors know what you think about it (opencanterburytales AT gmail dot com).  They are especially eager to learn how it is used in classrooms outside the UK-US-Canada-Australasia matrix.

To learn about updates to the Open Access Companion to the Canterbury Tales, follow it on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/OACCT/ .

A conversation with José Francisco Botelho

gaucho-culture-and-chaucer

 

Last February 2016, José Francisco Botelho, Chaucer’s award-winning Brazilian translator, traveled to Connecticut. He was scheduled to speak twice, at Central Connecticut State University on translating The Canterbury Tales and at Southern Connecticut State University on translating Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Though a snow storm that shut down the entire eastern seaboard caused us to cancel the SCSU presentation (and added an extra day to Chico’s Connecticut stay), we were able to squeeze in the conversation at CCSU. There, he and I held a conversation about his translation strategies and how looking at the Tales through the lens of Brazilian-Portuguese provided him insights that English readers might miss.  We arranged to have the conversation videotaped using a stationary camera, and after a delay, I’m pleased to provide a link to the video: Gaucho Culture and Chaucer: Translating The Canterbury Tales for Brazil. 

Chico’s appearance at CCSU was supported in part by the CCSU English Department.

Review of Zarins’ Sometimes We Tell The Truth

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The following review came about when I learned that a former student, Chloe Spinnanger, had a fabulous summer internship at a publisher reading Young Adult novels.  Because Chloe had taken my The Canterbury Tales course in the spring, I thought her expertise made her perfect for reviewing a recent Canterbury appropriation, Kim Zarins’ Sometimes We Tell the Truth (Simon Pulse, 2016), which had just been released in paperback.  A senior English major at Central Connecticut State University, Chloe didn’t hesitate a second, and her review is below.

The center of Kim Zarins’ first novel is a high-school pilgrimage to Washington D.C.

The story opens with “Just a General Prologue,” which serves as an introduction to the students of Southwark High. The trip takes place “Well into April.” Led by their teacher, Mr. Bailey, the teenagers must each tell a tale to pass the time on the bus. The prize for the best tale? A free A in Civics. Some of the tales are nonsensical, others are pipe dreams. But before long, they get increasingly personal. The title, Sometimes We Tell The Truth, encapsulates the core of the story. Some of the tales are purely fictional. Some use fictional tales to tell the truth about someone. Some use the truth as a preface to a fictional tale. While others simply tell the truth.

It isn’t difficult to connect these high-schoolers to their medieval counterparts. The cover and jacket give no hints to this novel being an appropriation of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Instead, this connection is left for readers to figure out on their own. But anyone who has read The Canterbury Tales will find these millennial teenagers familiar. The story is narrated by Jeff, known in his school as a future famous writer. So when Mr. Bailey calls his name, Jeff feels the pressure to tell a good tale. But instead of fiction he ends up exposing something about himself to the whole bus. Jeff’s constant over-analyzing of every social situation makes him the perfect narrator for the tales. It also gives him the believable voice of an an insecure, cynical high-school senior with an AP vocabulary. The other characters are easily identified as well. In this appropriation, however, some of Chaucer’s most loathsome pilgrims, like the Miller (Rooster) or the Pardoner (Pard), are transformed into misunderstood, even likable teenagers. Pard is described as a “Pale, thin haired, high-voiced, tiny guy with extreme fashion sense.” His relationship to Jeff: “It’s complicated.” In Pard’s tale, three of his classmates murder each other for wealth. Is this story ringing any bells yet?

Zarins draws on the complexity of Chaucer’s pilgrims to build relationships between the characters in her story, yet these relationships are where her story differs from Chaucer’s original. One major difference between Zarins’ novel and Chaucer’s tales is the communication between characters. In Sometimes We Tell The Truth, interruptions are a constant: “But what do women want?” Reeve interjects during Alison’s tale. “‘Not you,’ Reiko quips, and everyone laughs.” Some tales are even given second endings by dissatisfied classmates. Another notable change Zarins’ makes is in the gender ratio. While Sometimes We Tell The Truth may have more female characters than Chaucer’s writing did, Zarins makes a point to draw more attention the the still-uneven gender ratio: “This name-drawing thing is a joke—We’ve had four men in a row. And now you want five? Lets have some women speaking here. Enough with mansplaining. It’s our turn.”  While this book is aimed towards a YA audience, any fan of Chaucer would find it compelling. It is no surprise that Zarins is a professor of Medieval Literature at Sacramento State University in California.

On the surface, Sometimes We Tell the Truth is a coming of age novel, firmly grounded in the 21st century by a plethora of pop-culture references. But Zarins preserves all of the rivalry, sexuality and even the violence of Chaucer’s original tales. “Bard had the perfect view as Fist came up behind face and shoved a knife under Face’s rib cage. He had the perfect view of Face’s expression, turning from concerned to agonized and betrayed.”  In some ways the modernization of Zarin’s teenagers makes Chaucer’s characters more relatable. The passage of time and change in language can alienate modern readers. Today, many readers might not flinch at the Wife of Bath’s young first marriage. However, it is shocking to read about Alison, as she announces to the class “No one loves sex more than I do, but even I’ve had some bumps along the road.” Before she tells her Arthurian romance, she prefaces it with the true story of losing her virginity to a college guy at the age of twelve. As young Jeff confronts the taboos of rape, gender identity, and death, Zarins affirms that these themes are just as prevalent today as they were in Chaucer’s time.

Chloe Spinnanger is a senior English major at Central Connecticut State University. She has interned at Elephant Rock Books, where she was the initial reader of Young Adult novels for the Helen Sheehan Book Prize.  Currently, she is an intern at Mandel Vilar Press, where she works as assistant to the editor for the Press’s translations of Spanish-language and environmental authors from Latin America. 

Published by: SIMON PULSE 2016

ISBN: 9781481464994

Buy on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Sometimes-Tell-Truth-Kim-Zarins/dp/148146499X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1499542415&sr=8-1&keywords=sometimes+we+tell+the+truth

 

Troelus a Chresyd: ‘Putting old wine into new bottles’

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 dywedyd yn 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.[1] 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.[2]

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.

[1] 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).

[2]  Wilfred R. Prest The Inns of Court under Elizabeth I and the Early Stuarts 1590-1640 (London: Longman Group, London, 1972) 33, 36, 37.

The Canterbury Pilgrims and the US entry into the Great War

A century ago, the United States declared war against Germany and its allies.  The same week, Chaucer was making his first (and perhaps) only appearance on the stage of New York’s Metropolitan Opera in Reginald deKoven and Percy MacKaye’s English-language opera,  The Canterbury Pilgrims. To mark this double centennial, we’re reproducing Candace’s account in her  American Chaucers (2007) of the fifth performance when the evening was interrupted by news that the United States would be entering the Great War in Europe.

costume design canterbury pilgrims


During the spring of 1917, New York’s Metropolitan Opera lavishly mounted the premiere performances of Reginald deKoven and Percy MacKaye’s The Canterbury Pilgrims.[1] One of the first full-length American grand operas to appear on the Metropolitan’s stage, the opera received primarily lukewarm reviews: it seemed neither very grand nor very American. Sung in English by a largely German cast, the opera was frequently critiqued for being no more intelligible to the audience than an opera in German or Italian.[2] The only English words universally recognized by the audience were in Act Two, when the German-accented “Vife of Bat” cried “Shud upp-phh!”[3] On the evening of the fifth performance, however, the audience was probably less concerned than before about discerning the fine points of the pilgrims’ journey to Canterbury, preoccupied instead with the news due from the White House at any minute.

CanterburyPilgrimsOperaProgram

For months, the captains of American commerce and industry, many of whom were at the Metropolitan on that evening of April 2, were eager for President Wilson to declare the nation at war against Germany and its allies.[4] At the end of the third act, word arrived that President Wilson had advised Congress to accept “the status of belligerent” that the behavior of the Imperial German Government had thrust upon the American people.[5] As the New York Herald reported, the news spread as “the blackface typed extras” were passed from the lobby “to the orchestra seats and then to the boxes.”[6] Within five minutes, patrons had abandoned all decorum and newspapers were spread out over the box railings. The American audience was jubilant at the news. Whereas the librettist had once hoped the Chaucerian opera would “[restore] old merry England to the imaginations of men” and turn their minds to the woos of England under assault, this night the war in Europe captured American imaginations and turned their minds away from The Canterbury Pilgrims.[7] When it came time to begin the fourth and final act, Maestro Bodanzky soberly entered the orchestra pit and conducted the musicians in the national anthem, while the audience stood up and sang. James W. Gerard, the United States ambassador recalled from Germany, marshaled three cheers for President Wilson, and the house of 3,500 roared with approval for the President’s war message.[8] After the cheering died down, Bodanzky led the orchestra in “The Star-Spangled Banner” for a second time before finally starting Act Four.

The final act began in front of Canterbury Cathedral’s impressive west entrance, with the Canterbury Girls chorus hawking their wares. Then entered the Wife of Bath (German alto Margrete Ober), dressed “gorgeously as a bride,” ready to claim husband number six, and gloating about her newly-won “pot of honey.”[9] In the middle of a phrase, unable any longer to control her anxiety about the United State’s impending entry into hostilities against her native land, Mme. Ober fell back in a dead faint. “In that condition, she was lifted and dragged off with some difficulty, not to reappear, while the other stars made the best they could of the closing act without her.”[10] Offstage, Robert Leonhardt, the German baritone singing the role of the Knight, also fainted but was revived in time to join the final chorus.[11]

Despite the episode of the fainting Wife of Bath, ticket receipts for the Metropolitan’s seven productions of The Canterbury Pilgrims merited extending the opera company’s contract with deKoven for another season. But before the next season began, not only the fainting Germans but all German nationals were sent home, forcing the cancellation of The Canterbury Pilgrims’ second season and allowing its chances to join the Metropolitan’s repertory to slip away. The opera, however, had faced a Sisyphean task: it sought to bring a vernacular libretto and music to an audience that distinguished itself from the rabble precisely by dismissing the American vernacular in favor of European standards of verse and music. As much as the opera was undermined by the repatriated Germans, ultimately the opera was undermined by the production conditions, in particular the decision to use German soloists to sing the principle parts in English, a decision neither the composer nor the librettist could control.

[1]. The opera had its world premiere at the Metropolitan Opera on March 8, 1917.

[2]. Irving Kolodin, The Metropolitan Opera, 1883–1966: A Candid History (New York: Knopf, 1966), 309–13.

[3]. Scrapbook Clipping, New York Evening Journal, March 9, 1917, MacKaye Family Archives, “Percy MacKaye Papers,” Collection housed at Dartmouth College Library, Hanover, New Hampshire, ML 5.

[4]. Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, 1492-Present (New York: Harper Collins, 1995), 352–54. Though the war was a boon to commercial interests, the majority of Americans did not support entering the war (T. J. Jackson Lears, “The Concept of Cultural Hegemony: Problems and Possibilities,” The American Historical Review 90, no. 3 [June 1985]: 586, fn 46).

[5]. Woodrow Wilson, “War Message,” in War Messages, Senate Doc. No. 5 (Washington, D.C.: 65th Congress, 1st Session, 1917), http://www.lib.byu.edu/~rdh/wwi/1917/wilswarm.html.

[6]. Scrapbook clipping, New York Herald, April 8, 1917, “Percy MacKaye Papers.”

[7]. Correspondence, PM to RdK, July 19, 1915, “Percy MacKaye Papers”.

[8]. Quaintance Eaton, The Miracle of the Met: An Informal History of the Metropolitan Opera, 1883–1967 (New York: Meredith Press, 1968), 194–95.

[9]. Percy MacKaye, lyricist, and Reginald deKoven, composer, The Canterbury Pilgrims, An Opera in Four Acts (Cincinnati and New York: John Church Company, 1916), 54.

[10]. Percy MacKaye, The Canterbury Pilgrims: An Opera (Libretto) (New York: Macmillan, 1916), 54; and, Scrapbook clipping, unknown source, April 3, 1917, “Percy MacKaye Papers”. Compare this with Metropolitan manager, Giulio Gatti-Casazza’s version: “There was an immense stir in the house. Backstage, in the wings, Mme. Margarete Ober, who was a patriotic German, was so affected by the news that she fainted away, and we had to go through the last act without her” (Memories of the Opera [New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1941], 179–80). According to all sources, Mme. Ober did sing the season’s remaining two performances.

Already, the opera was associated with entering the war: the second performance had been attended by Ambassador James Gerard (had he nothing better to do?), and the New York City Times duly noted that he “listened with evident interest to a language which he and his official staff had been hissed for using when attending theatres in Berlin” (Scrapbook clipping, March 17, 1917, “Percy MacKaye Papers”).

[11]. Eaton, The Miracle of the Met, 193–95.