and 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.  But beyond that, indications of how the text should sound must be derived from the author's verbal cues, like "Miranda suddenly shouted, 'Snakes!'" or "'I said, ask your wife,' Rick repeated insinuatingly."  Modern musical notation 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 notation, like medieval 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 Chaucer," 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 the program called Audioboo to record a performance of the same passage in ways which dramatize the differences you believe possible.  To prepare the recording, you can use with your own computer or one of the laboratory computers.  Go to CTLT to use their specialized recording room, but plan ahead for that option.  CTLT also can help you get used to using the Audioboo software interface, but you should be able to make your own test recordings within the first five minutes or so of logging into the system.

        Because this is an experiment in teaching Chaucer, 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.  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.

Click here for a demonstration of two ways to perform a passage from "Knight's Tale."