English 330 In-Class Tale Introduction Tips

Required Elements for a Basic Presentation:

        First, each presentation should account for the following basic aspects of the tale: its genre (defined in a sentence), its form (rhyming couplets, prose, or describe its stanza structure and part-divisions, if any), its characters and their distinguishing characteristics, its basic plot (in brief!--no more than a paragraph), its sources and/or analogues and Chaucer's adaptation of them, its teller's occupation and personality, its potential relationship to the pilgrim portrait of its teller in the General Prologue (if present), its position in the Hengwyrt or other possible tale orders (1118-21) and the effects of changing its position, major interpretive problems indicated by the Explanatory Notes (795-965) and any major manuscript variants indicated by the Textual Notes (1122-35). Each presentation also should include at least some readings of short, important passages in Middle English to illustrate your main points. 

        At least one short passage in Middle English should be recorded in two parallel performances using the Audioboo sound recording site.  The key standard of performance quality will be some degree of detectable dramatic control of the passages and a plausible explanation of why they might help us interpret the text.  I will be happy to explore your tales' interpretive possibilities with you in conference, by phone or in emails in the weeks and days before your presentation.  See the Audioboo Parallel Performance web page (linked here) for instructions and advice.

        In all performance readings, voice, pronunciation, and accuracy of the Middle English also will be evaluated, though I will be generous especially to those presenting in the early weeks, and I will always give you credit for a well-studied effort.  These are worth rehearsing (by yourself and with me) because performance of Chaucer's work teaches you much about how it was meant to work and what interpretive possibilities it contains.  Think about these tales as dramatic roles which can be acted in different ways depending upon your view of the characters and the teller's intentions.  This basic information should be presented economically.  Spend your time on those aspects of the tale or situation which are debatable, which present opportunities for interpretative insight.  In my responses to your presentations, I will try to lead you from those debates and insights to possible paper topics, which the presentations are intended to generate.

    The second, and far more important part of the presentation, should discuss how it can be interpreted in the light of critical theory and recent research (i.e., including since 1987, since the RC explanatory notes cover the period from 1957 to 1987).  This should approach the quality and quantity of research necessary to ground the introduction of a competent short paper.  Look carefully at the articles mentioned in the Explanatory Notes of the Riverside Chaucer.  Draw on what you have learned in English 200 and 215, refreshing your memory by reviewing your notes and texts.   Explore the MLA Bibliography, WilsonWeb, and other bibliographic sources available through the library, as well as the Medieval Review and other online tools for discovering interpretations.  Review the annotated bibliography entries from previous classes, and from our own.  Copy and paste the relevant MLA style citations into a bibliography to hand out in support of your presentation,  and if you use portions of the annotation, remember to treat it as a secondary source, crediting the author properly and following scholarly conventions governing quotation, paraphrase, and summary.  Take special care to make this portion of the presentation clear, insightful, and provocative.  It is worth a significant portion of your grade, and it will be enormously helpful when you prepare to write your papers for the course.   Perhaps the most important reason to do this carefully is that it will improve the quality of our seminar's weekly conversation.  Think of it as your tale about the Canterbury Tales, and an opportunity to join in this ancient discussion.

        Prepare a handout or web page to deliver much of the information above, especially the secondary source bibliographic information, as well as the interpretive questions, lines of argument, or additional materials you found. Your oral presentation should dispose of the genre, characters, and plot very quickly; you are only reminding us of what we already should know from having read the tale. Concentrate on Chaucer's changes in sources and analogues, tale-teller relationships, ways the tale might affect specific members of the pilgrim audience, tale position, interpretive problems (including manuscript variants), and other ways to explain Chaucer's authorial strategies. See me for help.

Timing and Tale Length:

        Try to limit yourself to roughly 20-30 minutes, especially if you are presenting with more than one other person. I have tried to break up the tales into roughly 1200-1500 lines of Middle English per week. The variety of tales, and their complexity, may make a long reading easy to describe or it may make a short reading difficult to describe. For instance, because all four books of the "Knight's Tale" come from the same source, once the first presenter has described the characters and basic plot, the three who follow have less to do with that material, and more time to spend on how the tale works. Conversely, the "Man of Law's Introduction" and "Epilogue" are short, but because they contain puzzling interpretive problems they will take some careful explanation. If you find yourself running out of time in oral rehearsal, cut all but the most important and interesting issues from the oral presentation, and leave them in your handout so you get credit for the work.

Some Possible Improvements on the Basic Presentation:

        Use the library's collection includes a wide variety of book-length sources on medieval history, economy, politics, customs, and other materials that might help us understand the lives of Chaucer's contemporaries.   Help us to understand what kind of economic and social situation this tale describes, what special details of medieval culture it depends upon knowing, and how the narrator might be using that presumed knowledge.

        Read some of the sources and analogues collected by W.F. Bryan and Germaine Dempster (826.2 C49Pb--on reserve for English 330).  How does Chaucer's version adapt, collaborate with or quarrel with the previous versions of the tale?  Does this reflect Chaucer's artistry directly, or should we read it as evidence of the teller-persona's character?  (For instance, the Man of Law seems to have added some particularly salacious details to his tale, or was it Chaucer, or was it in Chaucer's source?  What about those details and their context fits better with which explanation?)

        Find relevant scholarly Internet sources for the tale which help us understand the tale or Chaucer's culture, and contribute them to the growth of the English 330 web site for some extra credit as well as improving your presentation.