Chaucer's works are today widely studied and serve as models for current literature around the world. Chaucer holds a place of esteem as the earliest and one of the foremost writers in the English language.
©2005 Michael Drout; (P)2005 Recorded Books
Professor Drout is as entertaining in this course as ever, though I had wished to catch up on my middle english. However, the course was not about middle English, I am nonetheless happy about purchase.
This is the third of Professor Drout's lecture series I've listened to and I'm impressed once again. He gets to the heart of the matter and speaks clearly without "dumbing down" the subject.
Faced with mindless duty, when an audio book player slips into a rear pocket and mini buds pop into ears, old is made new again.
Geoffrey Chaucer is a master of ambiguity. Michael Drout, in the Modern Scholar series, offers an informative and laudatory appreciation of Chaucer as the Bard of the Middle Ages. Drout notes that Chaucer’s view of life is best revealed in The Canterbury Tales.
Drout offers high praise for Chaucer, suggesting The Canterbury Tales seeds centuries of fictional narratives; in part because of Chaucer’s prescient understanding of human nature but also because of life’s ambiguous truths. Drout considers Chaucer equal to William Shakespeare, the greatest poet and playwright of all time.
Though Drout does not suggest Chaucer endorses cultural’ transgressions, it appears Chaucer is ambiguous about his character’s opinions. Drout suggests Chaucer may have been repentant in The Parson’s Tale (the last of The Canterbury Tales that endorses religion of Chaucer’s era) because he is nearing the end of his life. In any case, it is clear that Chaucer is ahead of his time; earned his place in West Minster Abbey (the first poet to be buried there), and deserves his reputation as the Father of English Literature.
Drout gives his audience an excellent summary of Chaucer’s contribution to literature in these lectures; however, Chaucer is best represented by his own writing. Every listener/reader reaches their own opinion after experiencing Chaucer’s work; that is what makes The Canterbury Tales a classic.
I enjoyed this review of Chaucer's works. The series reviewed
The Book of the Duchess, the House of Fame, the Legend of Good Women and Troilus and Criseyde, and, of course, The Canterbury Tales. Dr. Drout also reviews Chaucer's translation of The Consolation of Philosophy and The Romance of the Rose. It's too bad The Book of the Lion didn't survive. This series enlightened me about how revolutionary the Canterbury Tales were. The use of a frame narrative allowed Chaucer to cloak his opinions and it allowed Chaucer the freedom to get inside the minds of the many different personalities of his time period in the 14th Century. The lecture sheds light on the historical events influencing Chaucer's writing, such as his involvement and survival of a lineage of royalty and the fact that his writings were read at court. Dr. Drout is also an expert in Middle English which further sheds light on understanding Chaucer. Dr. Drout's inclusion of the different literary theories including the feminist movement was informative. If you think literature starts with Shakespeare, this is a must listen.
I took a Chaucer course in grad school and listened to Dr. Drout's survey as a way of refreshing my memory in anticipation of teaching Chaucer this fall to my 10th grade English class.
1. Dr. Drout is an engaging communicator. His enjoyment of and expertise in Chaucer is self-evident. His presentation is much better in this course than in the Anglo-Saxon course. For example, Dr. Drout minimizes the amount of readings in the original language and strikes a nice balance between original and translation.
2. He keeps the summaries relatively brief, and, for the Canterbury Tales, offers suggestions for how the various tales speak to each other. Even though the course is full of spoilers for a new reader, it does not diminish the pleasure of reading Chaucer's works in their entirety.
3. The biographical sketch of Chaucer and argument for how his literary skills increase throughout his writing career is interesting4. Though I had a different goal in mind, I think this course would be somewhat useful as an introduction to a new reader of Chaucer.
Dr. Drout acknowledges late in the course that modern critical theories which center on "power" (feminism: power of men over women, marxism: power of bourgeoisie over proletariat, race-based theories: power of whites over minorites, and environmentalism: power of humans -- especially white males -- over the environment) have pretty much exhausted their ability to provide compelling insights into literature. I agree with him completely, though I think they ran out of creative steam almost as soon as they began.
Sadly, Dr. Drout makes extensive use of feminist interpretation in this course. It brought back unhappy memories of the feminist/marxist indoctrination camp I found myself in during grad school. The insights of feminist interpretation for Chaucer could have been acknowledged and shared in a few sentences. There are far more interesting ways to read Chaucer and it was a big disappointment that Dr. Drout chose to use this approach so frequently.
It is not the predictable and trite interpretations of feminists (nor the sexual-psychological-social interpretations of Foucault) that have given Chaucer his centuries long status as one of our greatest authors. Dr. Drout himself gives a rather eloquent tribute to Chaucer's genius at the end of the course, and what makes Chaucer great has nothing to do with the stale and condescending conclusions of political activists who use literary studies as a platform to convert students to their cause. There is a huge difference between reading Chaucer (or any other author) and using Chaucer.
"In Drout we Trust"
Michael Drout uses a literary critique of Geoffrey Chaucer's works as an excuse to talk about medieval life while also addressing the question of why Chaucer is rated so highly and what influences shaped his talent. As well as being a significant author, Chaucer had a dazzling rise under a sequence of Kings at a time of great turmoil in English history when it was difficult enough to make the transition from wine merchants' some to courtier and even harder to avoid assassination and torture as various factions rose and fell. Drout goes some way to explaining how Chaucer did it. He also brings the text to life by reading passages of Chaucer in middle English and contrasting them with passages of old English and modern version of the Canterbury Tales. I've always found it strangely fascinating to hear the unfamiliar tones of our own language as they were spoken by long dead ancestors.
Don't worry if you like history but aren't interested in literary criticism. Drout's incapable of being dull and effortlessly links the literature back to the experience of living a medieval life. Don't worry if you like history but feel this period to be pretty solidly covered in other publications. Drout has interesting things to say about the cultural life of the middle ages as well as the intricacies of Chaucer's progress through the hierarchy of the royal bureaucracy.
I've yet to listen to a dud from Prof Drout and this is another characteristically strong offering.
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