Week 1: Tuesday
Reading Middle English: The Chaucer poem, though short, may be difficult for you, because poetry inverts syntax and uses playful figurative language. Take it slow and read it sentence-by-sentence. Try to write a prose, Modern English paraphrase of what Chaucer is saying. Is this poem conservative or revolutionary, playful or serious, religious or political? Then try to read the poem aloud to yourself, paying attention to the long vowels and the drama of the poem's statements. Note that it is not a transparently obvious set of sentences, but rather a challenge to traditional medieval beliefs about blood-inheritance and hereditary nobility that might seriously disturb many hearers, and not just the nobles. Everyone was invested in the system those beliefs supported. What happens when blood-inheritance can no longer guarantee "gentil" behavior?
The will is less difficult to understand once you get used to what kind of document it is. Click here for some brief assistance. Your main problems, at first, will arise mainly because it is spelled oddly and because it refers to household objects by unfamiliar names. Click here for help puzzling out the spelling. Then look up un-glossed words in the Oxford English Dictionary at the Library Web Site. What is Robert Corn "worth"? Using this guide to English currency, add up Corn's bequests and figure out how much liquid capital (vs. moveable and unmoveable goods) he had at the time of his death. (Remember to note that he has divided his estate in two.) Corn mentions his debts he owes and those owed to him, both of which probably would have been recorded on a "tally stick."
Performing Middle English: Once we have a good idea what we think Chaucer and Corn mean in Modern English, we will practice performing out loud, in Middle English, some of what they said in Middle English. If you have not already done so, click here to go to Larry D. Benson's Harvard Chaucer Seminar site for help understanding how to pronounce Middle English vowels and consonants. You need to start as soon as possible to teach your ear to hear the "music" of Middle English, and to teach your mouth and diaphragm to "sing" it. For most students, the transition period is roughly three weeks. If you encounter difficult passages, read them out loud twice, the first time paying attention to your Middle English vowels and consonants and the second time listening to what the words are saying. These works were meant to be read out loud, and it's still the best way to understand them. (Students often report dreaming in Middle English by mid-semester--hang on to your hats!)
Translating/Glossing/Interpreting/Analyzing Non-Modern-English Literature: Finally, we will discuss Marie's passage about poets' deliberately writing obscurely. and we will compare the two translations below it. If your French is not too sharp, use a dictionary for some of the key words. You should be able to tell at least which lines or clauses in the translations correspond with which lines in Marie's verse. Which is the "better" translation? Why? What gets lost in each of the translations and what gets found (i.e., added)? How is the translation like the kind of "gloss" that seeks to explain, tame, illuminate, embellish, or otherwise contribute to the utterance it translates? What dangers beset students who rely solely upon translations? What uses can we make of translations while avoiding those dangers? Click on the blue hyperlink in the line about the ancients "very obscure expressions" and examine what you see there. That, too, is a "translation" of Marie's composition by a scribe who moves it from spoken French into written and illuminated French letters. How has that changed what we experience when we "read" Marie? How might reading aloud gloss or vocally "illuminate" our silent reading of such literature?