Posts Tagged ‘Chaucer’

Women in the Middle Ages

by   |  09.10.09  |  221- Middle Ages

    Margery Kempe and the Wife of Bath are far from typical women for their time; however, to understand how each stands apart from the assumptions and expectations about gender most medieval readers brought with them we need to learn something about the life of representative women, highborn and lowborn, living in the world or withdrawn from it.

    Spend 15-20 minutes reading about Medieval Women at the interactive site hosted by McMaster University. As you follow the travels of young Christine, you will learn about the opportunities and barriers that women encountered in the Nunnery and the World. Take notes on anything that might inform our reading of the “Wife of Bath's Tale”, including details on work, education, marriage, or the life-cycle of women, before class.

    Medieval Women Interactive

    (If you have audio or video problems, you'll find a Site Map of the main content with links to specific topics.)

The Televangelists Tale

by   |  09.09.09  |  221- Middle Ages

    At the end of the Pardoner's portrait in the “General Prologue,” Chaucer calls him a “noble ecclesiaste.” Whatever else readers think of him, most surely recognize the personality of an impressive churchman or preacher. The Pardoner's actual “Tale” ends like any good sermon with the rioters’ fate underscoring the main text: “the love of money is the root of all evil.” But neither the sermon nor the tale is over. Listen to the following reading of the Pardoner's final words and how it presents the clergy.

    Pardoner's Closing Invitation – read by Dr. Bill Rankin, English professor

    The Pardoner is a timeless character. In our day he would certainly have been a televangelist. Consider the following short profile from Wikipedia on a leading proponent of the “health and wealth” gospel and see if the pitch sounds familiar:

      Robert Tilton regularly taught that poverty was a result of sin. Tilton's ministry revolved around the practice of making “vows,” financial commitments to Tilton's ministry. When a person made a vow to Tilton (Tilton's preferred “vow,” stressed frequently during his broadcasts, was $1,000), Tilton preached that God would recognize the vow and reward the donor with vast material riches . . .

      One of Tilton's most frequent sermon topics was the Biblical story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath (I Kings 17:8-16). In the story, Elijah comes to a widow who is almost out of food and asks her to prepare him a meal. She replies that she has only enough food for one last meal for herself and her son. Elijah asks her to prepare him a meal first and then promises that God will not let her food be exhausted. In faith she does so, and her food supply indeed does not run out. Tilton regularly used this story in the context of asking viewers to send money to his ministry.

    For more on the Pardoner's successful successors, consider the following sites, both biased and blessed:

    Benny Hinn on Wikipedia and in his own words

    Reverend Ike on Wikipedia and on his own website

    Robert Tilton on Wikipedia and in his own marketing

Life and Death in Christian Europe

by   |  09.05.09  |  221- Middle Ages

    Through a period defined by social and political change, the Church provided a surprising continuity to the religious and cultural life of medieval Europe. It was the “catholic” or universal Church which set the shared calendar that established feast and fast days. It was the Church that authorized a shared liturgy spoken in a shared language “Latin” in cathedrals, monasteries, and parish churches from the Mediterranean to the North Sea.

    For most men and women, whether highborn aristocrats or of the laboring majority, it was the local church that unified their lives as well. The life-cycle of Christian Europe was organized by holy sacraments administered in the church, from their baptism to their confirmation, from their marriage to the christenings and weddings of their children, until finally they received extreme unction or last rites and were buried on the grounds of the church facing east to await a common resurrection.

Life and Death in Dartford Exercise

    A day’s ride from London, the pilgrims’ first stop would have been the small town of Dartford. This village represents an interesting crossroads in Britain’s history as not only a hostelry for travelers but also as the reputed home of Wat Tyler, the leader of the 1381 Peasant’s Revolt. Take a moment to read the following summary of Wat Tyler’s Revolt. What does this conflict, which lead to the murder of another Archbishop of Canterbury, say about the relationship between the authorities–church and state–and the commoners?

    Before class, spend 15-20 minutes learning about life and death in medieval Dartford. Your research will focus on the “Population and the People” articles on the Dartford Town Archive (especially those on the lives of the Rich, the Poor, and Pilgrims). As you read, take note of interesting details including typical life expectancy and factors influencing quality of life for both rich and poor. What details surprise you? How do you account for such high infant mortality or low life expectancy numbers? Bring details and observations to class this week or use them as the foundation for your own Blog Post #1.

    Medieval Dartford

    (Once you’ve finished, you might compare life expectancy in medieval Dartford with recent statistics for the US or the UK from the World Factbook. What parts of the world today have figures closer to medieval Dartford’s and why?)

Medieval Hierarchies

by   |  09.03.09  |  221- Middle Ages

    The High Middle Ages was a period governed by hierarchies. Living in times of political instability, violent epidemics, and wars at home and abroad, medieval men and women sought certainty and order. Through hierarchies, medieval scholars were able to organize the “known world” into a comprehensible system where everyone or everything had its place. The most familiar of these hierarchies is known as the Great Chain of Being.

    In passages like Psalm 8, medieval readers found a divinely ordered universe:

      O Lord, our Lord,
      how majestic is your name in all the earth! . . .
      When I consider your heavens,
      the work of your fingers,
      the moon and the stars,
      which you have set in place,
      what is man that you are mindful of him,
      the son of man that you care for him?
      You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
      and crowned him with glory and honor.
      You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
      you put everything under his feet:
      all flocks and herds,
      and the beasts of the field,
      the birds of the air,
      and the fish of the sea,
      all that swim the paths of the seas.
      O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! (NIV)

    This view of our “Middle Station,” placed “a little lower than the heavenly beings” and above the rest of creation suggested to the medieval mind a world with a place for everything and everything in its place. They took the Psalmist’s bare outline with similar systems found in Aristotle and elaborated them into a Great Chain of all life, connecting the earth firmly to the heavens. Each rank or level was represented by a link of that chain beginning with the Vegetable and then the Animal world and rising from the human orders to the Angels until you reached God.

    Great Chain of Being

    The desire for order systematized such a hierarchy further by distinguishing between noble animals like the eagle and brute beasts such as the ox. Some, like Pope Gregory I, went further to see hierarchy in heaven itself: “We know on the authority of Scripture that there are nine orders of angels, viz., Angels, Archangels, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Dominions, Throne, Cherubim, and Seraphim.” Therefore, hierarchies appeared to be a part of God’s nature, and since they were founded upon the authority of scripture and classical learning they were seen–like the metaphoric chain itself–to be fixed and immutable.

    Another familiar hierarchy divided medieval society into Three Estates. This social hierarchy also illustrates certain tensions already apparent in the Middle Ages. For an overview of the basic degrees, read the “Medieval Estates and Orders” article at Norton Topics Online. Since Chaucer uses the estates to order his “General Prologue,” you will want to be familiar with this framework.

    Medieval Estates and Orders

    In Chaucer’s “General Prologue,” we start to sense problems or tensions inherent in social models like the medieval estates. Has God placed secular authority (Kings, Princes, and Nobles) above or below sacred authority (Popes, Archbishops, and Bishops)? Are these positions truly fixed, or can they allow for movement between stations? Where do merchants who neither fight nor labor fit into the system? As we’ll see, by the end of the Middle Ages, familiar hierarchies and symbols of order began to give way to new ways of seeing the world.

    For an interesting glimpse of this tension, watch the opening 10 minutes of “The Monk,” one of a series of Monty-Pythonesque documentaries put together by ex-Python Terry Jones. In this episode of the BBC’s Medieval Lives, he describes some of the early excesses in the medieval church as well as early reforms by monks like St. Benedict.

    Terry Jones’ “The Monk”