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So here are the first eighteen lines of Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, and I know that this
probably looks funny to you. This is written in Middle English, and I wouldn't make you
read it yourself for this class, but I wanted you to see it so you'd have an idea of the
language spoken by the common people during Chaucer's time. It looks a lot like our own
English, but I know there are words that you won't recognise.What I think is interesting
about this is that Chaucer writes this series of tales sort of as a frame tale. The storyline
is that all these people have gotten together, and they're going to go on a pilgrimage to
Canterbury. It was something that people did, and he talks about that they did it in the
spring. This opening set of lines reflects perfectly the Great Chain of Being that people
then believed in. Chaucer gets radical later on, but in this, his opening, maybe the stuff
that the authorities would look at first? Who knows. In this, he's very traditional.
He starts with nature. Nature is sort of at the bottom of the totem pole, and gradually
starts... this works its way up. Not because nature is weak; he doesn't think that, but
it's just one of those background things to the world. So, simple, April. This is April,
the month, just like you're used to.. Showers, like spring showers. These things are at the
root of things. Let me read you what this says, this first step on the Great Chain of
Being: Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droughte of Marche hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour, Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
I'm going to stop here. This is flower, like a daisy or a rose; he's moving up a step in
this Great Chain of Being, from the things that are not living, the April showers - which
are very sweet, by the way, soote is sweet. These have pierced the drought of March all
the way down to the root, the roote, and this water has bathed every vein of those flowers
in such liquor, such wonderful liquid, of which absolutely engendered or created is
the flower. Moving up. Here we have one more little unliving
thing; Zephirus, the east wind, comes in softly: Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth The tendre croppes,
Suddenly here come our crops, so our plants are growing.
and the yonge sonne Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
Spring is really coming. This is an astrological reference. The sun is halfway through the
Ram; it's really getting into spring. And then here come the birds. They're another
step up. We have the plants, so inanimate, doesn't really move life forms, another step
up to the smale fowles, the little birdies: And smale foweles maken melodye,
Can you just hear them? "Tweet, tweet. Tweet, tweet"
That slepen al the nyght with open ye, They sleep all night with their eyes open.
You know why? Because: So priketh hem Nature in hir corages,
And that means nature has been poking them so much in their hearts that they're so excited
that they sleep all night with their eyes open. They don't really sleep. They're too
excited. So when Nature's all excited, suddenly we move a big step up this Chain of Being.
People get excited, too. FIrst of all, just regular people. Folk:
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages, Our regular folk want to get out and do something.
And what's the safe way, what's a socially acceptable thing to do to get out and play
in the springtime? A pilgrimage. Absolutely. And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
Some more of these people. We're looking for strange lands, some adventure, but again,
socially acceptable adventure. To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
Things that are known in all these other, sundry, or varied lands.
And specially, from every shires ende Especially, from the backside of beyond, places
like where I'm from. The ends of the shires, or the counties of England.
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende, They go to Canterbury, especially from all
the little places and the little shires of England, all these pilgrims are going to go
to Canterbury. It's a big deal, a big pilgrimage. And why? One more step up the Chain of Being.
Better than regular people, obviously, the saints, the martyrs, right? They're going
to go to seek: The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
Because he's helped them when they were sick: That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.


Prologue to The Canterbury Tales

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Chia-Yin Huang 2016 年 12 月 7 日 に公開
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