In a paper of approximately 750 words (3 pages, double-spaced, 10 -12 point font), respond to one of the following prompts. My page limits are minimums not maximums so you can write more than 3 pages without any penalty. The topics below are pretty dense and it would not surprise me if many of you find you need four pages rather than three to fully complete your analysis.
This paper is due to Canvas on Friday February 28 by 11:59pm. You may request an extension of 3-4 days by emailing me no later than the morning of the 28th. Please indicate in your email which date you plan to hand in the paper and your paper will then be due on that day by 11:59pm. You do not need to give me a specific reason for a later due date, you just need to make the request for a specific date by email. There are no penalties for handing in your paper late as long as you request the later due date by the 28th. Any papers which arrive late without a request made on email will be graded down for lateness. I will not be locking the assignment on Canvas so you will be able to submit your papers after the 28th with no problems.
PROMPTS (pick one)
1. The highest-ranking pilgrim of the group of tale-tellers, the Knight, tells a tale about two knights who fall in love with a young noblewoman. His tale, which is set in ancient times and follows the conventions of a courtly romance, demonstrates his education and reinforces his aristocratic status and values. We could say that the Knight is building cultural capital by appealing to the more noble and educated members of the pilgrimage. But then the Miller, who is from a lower class, interrupts him by declaring he can “quit” (match) the Knight’s tale and proceeds to tell a fabliau (a bawdy tale) about John, a carpenter, Alison, his wife, and two clerks who are in love with her. In this paper, develop a thesis exploring how the Miller’s tale matches or even surpasses the Knight’s tale and what this suggests about Chaucer’s views on class and social hierarchy. While the Miller is not trying to re-brand himself as noble, is he criticizing the Knight’s assumptions about story-telling and class superiority? Can a fabliau compete with a courtly romance (the Knight’s style of story)?
2. Analyze two of Chaucer’s women characters as a way of examining how he shows women competing with men for power and influence. Given the disadvantages women faced in the Middle Ages (very little access to education or jobs, frequently prevented from owning or inheriting property), how do Chaucer’s female characters manage to get ahead in the world? How do they use techniques that can be associated with successful business practices even if their modes of competing with men are not the norm today? Why do you think Chaucer does not condemn his women characters even when they are unscrupulous? Be sure to quote specific passages from two tales to support your ideas (this can include the Wife of Bath’s Prologue).
3. Look at the Wife of Bath in her prologue and tale. She defines herself as a professional wife and seems to take pride in how well she is able to shake down her first three husbands. But by husband #5 she sounds very different on the topic of marriage. This topic asks you to consider how the Wife moves from a business model based on maximum profits without regard for the happiness of her “workers” (husbands 1-3) to a different, more ethical business model based on shared resources along with mutual cooperation and respect. Keep in mind that husband #5 also needs to learn some lessons in respect for his partner. The book he constantly reads to her promotes a view of all women as evil and dangerous, and he uses this book as a way of controlling her. By doing so, he ignores the fact that she has given him all her land and money (not perhaps her best business decision). It is only after their fight over his book that he, too, changes. Once they negotiate an agreement that allows for mutual respect and autonomy (along with burning his book), all seems different. Is there an ethical lesson for Business majors in this?
4. According to any moral standard of judgment, the Pardoner is hypocritical, corrupt, and totally sleazy. However, Chaucer’s depiction of him does not explicitly ask us to condemn him. His sermon and tale are among the best-told stories on the pilgrimage and he is clearly very good at what he does, namely, cheat people out of their money by making them fear damnation for greed and other assorted sins. In this respect, the Pardoner portrays himself as a successful businessman with an almost foolproof pitch based on provoking guilt and shame in his audience which then moves them to give him money in order to avoid damnation. Yet the Pardoner also acknowledges two things: first, that greed is his own personal sin and second, that some people actually feel true repentance for their sins when they hear him preach. But it turns out that the Pardoner is also religious. As he finishes his story he tells the pilgrims “That’s how I preach, sirs, where I go./ May Christ, who is our soul’s physician,/Forgive your sins and grant remission (forgiveness)” (top of p. 264). For a moment here the Pardoner acknowledges the possibility of true forgiveness and redemption. He gestures to an ethical universe ruled by Christ and from which he himself seems to be excluded because he remains committed to his career of swindling people through sermons and false relics. Following these lines, the Pardoner then asks the pilgrims to give him money in exchange for pardons. He even picks the Host as the one who should go first “for he’s the deepest steeped in sin” (line 608). Yet since the Pardoner has already exposed his own corruption and greed to the pilgrims, he can hardly expect them to give him money now. So what is he really asking for? Analyze this ending scene (starting at the top of page 264) and explain how it functions to connect the Pardoner’s own dishonest practices with a larger social world that allows such dishonesty to thrive and multiply not only in the Pardoner but in other pilgrims and even the institution of the medieval Church. Another way to put this would be to look at how the last page and a half of the story as the place where the Pardoner’s monetizing of salvation forces us to consider how he is part of a larger world in the Canterbury Tales where everything seems for sale.
5. Pick one or two stories which feature the circulation of a non-monetary form of currency. Such currency could be in the form of honor, or sex, or status, or even the act of story-telling and such things are also accompanied by the circulation of actual money in some tales. Women also circulate as a kind of currency in some of the tales and it isn’t always through sex (think of Emilia in the Knight’s Tale and her role in Theseus’ desire to control Arcite and Palamon). Explain what we learn from such forms of circulation. If the circulation of money is the model for these other forms of currency, what is being bought and sold? What is Chaucer telling us about his own society if both people and abstract values are exchanged like money? Is Chaucer suggesting that the early stage capitalism we see in many of these stories tend to infect how a culture views itself? This is a big question and please resist the temptation to generalize. Stay focused on the story or stories you choose and the specific messages they have about currency and exchange in a non-monetary arena. And if you write on more than one story, you have to connect them logically. It can’t be some random choice—you should be developing an idea that applies to both tales. Some examples that might work for this topic: The 100 francs and the Merchant’s wife circulating between the Merchant and Don John; Dorigen circulating between Arveragus and Aurelius as part of a larger discourse on honor and status in which men’s honor depends on the exchange of a woman (though not necessarily via sex). The Reeve and the Summoner as tale-tellers determined to use their stories to attack another pilgrim’s profession/identity (the two are often the same thing in Chaucer). There are many other possibilities. I’m happy to make more suggestions if you email me.
6. A topic that you develop yourself and describe in an email to me. If the prompts above are not quite what you want to write about, come up with a short paragraph explaining what pilgrim/tale you want to focus on. You can also adapt some of the ideas I’ve suggested above to other tales and pilgrims. Or, you could look at how one of the pilgrims projects their own identity and values into their tale. If you’d like to work on this kind of topic, I want you to email me with a description of whom you plan to focus on and what your main point is going to be.
SOME ADVICE FOR WRITING PAPERS ON LITERATURE
Do not waste time with a general introduction, instead start with your argument or main idea. For example, you could say something like this: “In this paper I will discuss how the Wife of Bath’s conception of marriage is based on mutual respect.” Then analyze her description of her 5 marriages focusing on details that seem significant for the points you want to make. Keep in mind that your paper should present an interpretation of a tale or cluster of tales. This means you’ll be making an assertion about a specific tale or character in a tale using the prompt you’ve chosen as a guide for arriving at your interpretation. Assertions are statements which present a hypothesis about the meaning behind a particular tale or character. Because it’s a hypothesis you’ll need evidence to back up your assertion. In a paper like this, your data is the story itself so you’ll need to use brief quotations to back up your ideas. You also want to make sure that parts of the story do not contradict the point you’re making. One strategy that can be useful in dealing with stories that present more than one point of view is to present an interpretation that seems convincing but turns out not to be on further investigation. For example, you could say that the Wife of Bath’s description of her first 3 marriages leads us to think that she sees marriage only in terms of fighting with her husbands so that she can squeeze more money out of them. However, her description of her fifth marriage suggests a very different idea of marriage. Though it also involves a fight, the Wife’s description of her marriage to Jenkin eventually presents a marriage grounded in compromise, love, and respect. This philosophy is also backed up by the ending of her actual tale. This idea is your thesis or main hypothesis and you’ll need to look over her prologue and the ending of her tale in order to come up with evidence for your ideas. Remember that a thesis cannot be just a description of something that all readers would agree about. It needs to be a statement that has the potential for debate or disagreement. The key element here is that you have to be confident that the evidence for your thesis is strong enough to overcome the disagreement. So it’s always a good idea to subject your thesis to some testing. Try to think of counter-arguments for your idea and look for evidence for them. If you find passages that contradict your thesis, then it may be time to do some rethinking.
If you’re feeling confused about any of this, please email me a short description of what you plan to write on and what your main idea is. I’ll be able to tell you very quickly whether you have a workable thesis or not and that can save you a lot of trouble! (firstname.lastname@example.org)
GENERAL GUIDELINES FOR PAPERS FOR THIS CLASS
Chaucer describes spring as the time when people like to go on pilgrimages:
“Then people think of holy pilgrimages/ Pilgrims dream of setting foot in far off/ lands, or
worship at distant shrines” (11-13).
[Note the parentheses with the line numbers and the period come after the quotation marks.]
Be sure you show line breaks by using a slash at the end of each line as you see above. Or if you’re quoting more than 3 lines at a time, go ahead and indent your quotation 10 spaces and type the lines as they appear on the page. It should look like this:
“Good fortune smiles on each one here
To ride with me, a pardoner,
Who can absolve you as we go.
Death strikes us when it will, you know!” (603-606)
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