Digital Recording of Parallel Performances for Presentations
Printed and manuscript texts use virgules (/) or, later, quotation marks ("") to indicate shifts in voice, changing the text's source from the narrator to another character, for instance. Without the full range of modern punctuation, like question marks and exclamation points, indications of how the text should sound only can be derived from the author's verbal cues. For instance, "Miranda said snakes" communicates a far more ambiguous message than the modern fully-pointed text like "Miranda suddenly shouted, 'Snakes'!." Compare a Medieval text which tells you that a detective told a suspect "You're good. You're very good," with a fully dramatized Humphrey Bogart reading the script which says "'You're good. You're very good,' [repeated, mockingly]." Without those aural/oral cues, texts sound "flat" or "uninteresting" because we cannot perceive irony, ambiguity, paradox, understatement ("litotes"), or humor, precisely the techniques that the New Critics taught us were poets' favorite means of packing complex meaning into great literature. After the spread of texts produced by moveable type printing (c. 1450-1600), the multiplication of readers of all levels of ability and texts of many new types caused printers to increase the frequency of "pointing" (punctuation) in the text, and to standardize the use of others (e.g., ; : "" etc.). Modern musical notation after roughly 1700 was far more heavily "pointed" for performance, and now it often indicates the performance of a passage's speed (tempo) and intended emotional effects with a range of words above the staff bearing the musical notes, like "andante maestoso" for "at a walking pace, majestically," or "allegro agitato" for "quickly and restlessly." Medieval music manuscripts, like medieval spoken-word texts, carry no such interpretive guides--singers/readers were expected to bring the performance alive by their own interpretive insights.
Living poets could provide exemplary interpretive strategies for their audiences. During Chaucer's lifetime, for example, people who heard him perform the Canterbury Tales "live" would have experienced a number of the tales' potential performance styles, much like a famous popular music performer might elect to transform an old hit by playing it "up-tempo" to draw out a work's capacity for excitement or amusement, or using acoustic instruments in place of electric, perhaps to give the work a more "earnest" or "spare" sound. Chaucer's narrator, "Chaucer-the-Pilgrim," is especially vulnerable to such performance "tweaks," but every one of his other pilgrim-narrators can be performed in a variety of ways. These parallel passage performances will be experiments in "performing Middle English," but because they will be pre-recorded, you will have the chance to practice and re-record them until you get your best alternate versions of the Middle English, with a written explanation of what the two (or more) versions can show us about what the text might mean.
For each of your in-class Middle English presentations, you must pick at least one passage, usually the shorter the better, in which you can see such an opportunity for us to hear the text in at least two ways. Then use some form of digital voice recorder to record your performance of the same passage in ways which dramatize the differences you believe possible. Upload your parallel recordings to GoucherLearn with a brief note explaining the interpretive approach of each one.
There you will see two demonstration performances from Chaucer's balade, "Gentilesse" (RC 654) with a sample explanation of their interpretive significance. I will use to demonstrate the system in class on the first seminar meeting. Highlighting one performance and scrolling down will let you see the "Play" button along with an explanation of what the performer was trying to achieve. After playing each one, we can discuss what aspects of the performance were intended to transmit the speaker's emotional register to the audience, and how successful it was, as well as how it might be improved or performed in other ways.
I will give your presentation credit simply for a good-faith attempt to do it when I evaluate the tale presentation, but you will not be penalized if things go wrong, only for neglecting to attempt it. If you do an exceptionally good job, I will give you extra credit on your course participation grade, and of course, it might easily lead you to topics for the short or long papers. Those papers can include links to sound files as part of their primary source documentation, and if you will send the papers to me as attached Word files, I can open and read them online so that I can activate the sound files directly, without having to type them into a browser.