Final Papers in Progress, Spring 2001
From: Winkler, Keith
Sent: Thursday, April 19, 2001 10:44 PM
To: Sanders, Arnie
Subject: chaucer seminar paper
I wanted to run this paper idea by you, because I'm not sure how good it is...You suggested that a possibility for the final paper would be to expand on the first paper to include other tales. I thought that I could take the idea that I posited in my first paper's conclusion -- that Chaucer is satirizing the Knight through the Knight's condemnation of fate, despite the fact that fate made him a noble -- and extend it to the Monk and the Squire, both noble characters as well.
I would say that the Monk, like the Knight, is being satirized because he fails to realize something about himself. While the Monk gleefully describes the fall of the powerful, he is forgetting the fact that he is much more well off than a great majority of his fellow countrymen. (The only problem with this is the fact that the Monk is not 'powerful' in the sense that his elder brother is. But that could be why he fails to realize his power; he is powerful in that he has the freedom to do whatever he wants, not even having to work.)
The final part of my paper would deal with Chaucer's satire of the Squire. One point at which Chaucer could be potentially satirizing the Squire when the Squire praise Cambyuskan and the court as valiant, etc. and then all he shows of them is their drunkenness and frivolity. By not realizing the irony in this contradiction, he is essentially ignoring his own frivolity; the Squire is just like these people, in that he is supposedly training to be a warrior when in reality he is focusing his time on the arts and on sleeping with women.
All three of these characters fail to understand themselves and their places in society; it seems to me that Chaucer could be using these characters to satirize the nobility, and perhaps question their right to rule. Also, all of these characters share the inactiveness that I showed Chaucer to be condemning through the Knight's Tale: the Monk favors inactivity in his delight in blind fate, and the Squire praises the lazy, frivolous court of Cambyuskan. This could be another reason why Chaucer is questioning their right to rule.
From: Sanders, Arnie
Sent: Friday, April 20, 2001 11:18 AM
To: Winkler, Keith
Subject: RE: chaucer seminar paper
This has real promise. I like the constellation of Knight-Monk-Squire. Take a look at the alternate MS orders before you set in to writing much more. Other patterns may emerge that are relevant to what you're trying to describe. Remember that, to a medieval reader/writer, these people are a matrix of inter-relationships which must be consulted if one is to reach a correct understanding (the "commun profit"). The juxtapositions of these tales with their potential neighbors may help you to find the binary antitheses to the issues you see raised in the tales and give you a more complete picture of their significance.
Generally, it would help if you would think about your theory and method as you go. Keep reminding yourself what you are presuming about the rules of evidence and interpretation.
Re: the Monk's presumed older brother, remember to put him in your theoretical context. You've used Structuralism's binary oppositions to posit his existence since an irreverent, vigorous, young and wealthy Monk is an anomoly without an older brother who has displaced him from the estate but who may be paying him to stay away. The Monk's tale's implied inactivity re: fate seems somewhat at odds with the Knight's tale's attitude (see below), but it's demonstrable in itself. However, his GP portrait (like the Knight's) suggests ceaseless activity of a sort. Can you analyze the type of activity in your exploration of GC's critique of nobility?
Re: the Knight, you didn't exactly argue he condemned fate--Theseus says we should "tak it well that we may nat eschue" or embrace vigorously, willingly those things we must endure (Malory's "I shall take the adventure that God sends"). As I recall, it was something you thought the tale's structure implied--so maybe you're starting to deconstruct its ideology?
Re: the Squire, he praises a kind of activity (dancing, feasting, etc.) that you are trying to distinguish from another kind of activity. On what grounds do you assert the priority of that other kind? Go political power vs. the appearance of power?
In all instances, you may have a problem of detecting tone. Could Chaucer be merely ironic rather than satirical? The former would imply a kind of Horatian acceptance ("yeah, they're like that sometimes, but it's natural that they should be") whereas the latter, as you appear to use it, seems more Juvenalian in its stern criticism of a dangerous state of affairs. Can you offer us some keywords, crucial passages, etc. so we could check this out?--a.