More responses from British Literature:
The general prologue
In reading the general prologue, I noticed many interesting language of Chaucer in his writing this masterful work of literature. Having briefly studied in other courses the language and literature of Old English in addition to have taken an entire course on Middle English, I noticed how easy it was to read the prologue in its original language. The influence of French is there but I am guessing this is much later Middle English and thus closer to Shakespeare’s English. Having also studied Scots, I can see many resemblances in the grammar, spelling, and orthography. Some of the lines still have an Old English type of syntax and are a little awkward to read.
On these two pages I noticed a heavy influence of classical poetic language such as “Zephyrus”, “Ram”, etc. which reminds me of Milton who wrote much later but with some of the same flare. There are various words in this long passage which I don’t recognize in Modern English or Old English (or perhaps they are OE but I haven’t crossed them till now in ME). Words like holt, soote, esed, etc. These words don’t appear to be French either. As far as the awkward poetic verse in the aforewritten response, the chiefest is in this passage on line17-18. From the way it sounds, it has an Old English ring to it or perhaps that is just the ring of Middle English.
There are some similar words in this passage which liken themselves to Scots, particularly words like maister (master), yen (eyes, Scots say een), heed (head, heid in Scots), doon (down), spak, etc. Such words would denote a similar phonetic spelling of words, just as in Scots and show the similarities between the two Germanic dialects/tongues. I find it interesting to see vowel lengthening in this text, words like “beerd”, “poore”, “bookes”, etc. I did not think it came during this time period unless this is indeed older Middle English. I can definitely see the French influence in words like wantounesse, eschaunge, governaunce, chevissaunce, etc.
The two characters in this passage, the sergeant of the law and the Franklin, are quite interesting and are very much ironic. The Sergeant or constable is a very wise and just man, is “ful riche of excellence”. His deeds are praised by Chaucer and for all his achievements the man is described as humble (even though he wears very rich clothes). The Franklin or prosperous country man is quite the opposite. While one might picture the sergeant as a tightfisted man, an older version of the common perception of a Puritan. The franklin is quite opposite in his love of ale and his ways of following Epicurus who made pleasure the chief goal of life. His description or achievements are the contents of his pantry and kitchen. This irony shall lend great humor to the rest of the story.
The plowman is perhaps the only man of this company that I would deem a man after my own heart. Though his description is brief, his character is priceless. Although his tasks are what we call menial or debased (being a plowman and carrying loads of dung), he is not envious of anyone else and is declared a good man. Due to the brevity of his description I don’t think Chaucer thinks much of him. The miller is a formidable man whose appearance is rather bristly. His red beard, which is compared in color to a fox or sow, makes one think it very unkempt and bushy. Chaucer goes into great depth to talk of his other facial features which include a wart that bears a tuft of hairs in it. This is truly a man whose outward appearance reflects the inward character in the man. His bristly, uncouth appearance is matched by his ribald storytelling, lewd behavior, and unjust business dealings. His bagpipe also accompanies his appearance by making him appear brash and harsh sounding, a man I would not welcome on my journey.
The summoner is by far the worst of the characters. His description makes you cringe and shudder to hear it. Chaucer makes a very interesting simile in the description by calling him “lecherous as a sparrow”; I never thought sparrows as lecherous until I discovered the males try to build harems and are quite noisy about it. From all accounts the man is definitely lecherous. The pardoner is perhaps a more sanctified companion at first glance but is quite devious underneath. His relics, thought until the Protestant Reformation to be holy, are his wares which he peddles and makes people his “apes” or dupes. The cross he wears, though full of stones, is made of brass which makes it seem cheap in my eyes. He also uses pig bones to pose as saint’s bones; this man is incredibly devious and hypocritical.
The Miller’s prologue and tale
In reading any of the parts of the Cantebury Tales, I have noticed that many words have a y affixed to the front of it and I have no clue why. There is yet another similarity in the syntax to Scots regarding the definite article “the” i.e. “Whan that the Knight thus his tale ytold,”. Another note about the language is the word “axed” or asked; it would seem then that this word is not a part of an African slave Creole but in fact English. The Miller’s tale is one I have read in high school and it humored me greatly despite the lechery involved. I must say this tale is the product of his drunkenness.