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Discussion - Canterbury Tales > Week 5 - The Monk's Tale

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message 1: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Harry Bailey is taking a more active role now -- not only stopping Chaucer's telling of Sir Thopas, but praising the tale of Melibee, and now making some, uh, let's just say quite personal and perhaps not entirely appropriate comments about the Monk. But the Monk comes now and will give us some examples of tragedies in past history as a warning not to trust in "blynd prosperitee." Here's our friend Boethius again!

It's more sixteen tales than one, some of them worthy of discussion. I only skimmed it in preparation for posting the thread, so will have to go back and read it in more detail before having anything possibly meaningful to say. In the meantime, anybody who has any thoughts, feel free to start a substantive discussion of any of his episodes, or the overall theme of tragedy which he intends to expound.


message 2: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer Lavoie | 33 comments Of all the tales, this is one of my favorites. I'm not sure if it's because there are so many shorter tales in one, or if it's because I taught this tale right before teaching Dante's Inferno, and was able to draw some comparison's to some of the tales.

For instance the tale of Count Ugolino of Pisa. He is in Inferno with Bishop Ruggieri. The Monk even mentions Dante at the end of this tale.

But I think the most interesting one of the lot is about Alexander because in this one the Monk expresses sorrow at the loss of him, which he did not with the others.


message 3: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments This "tale" seems to me to be inserted primarily to emphasize Chaucer's belief in Boethius. Episode after episode push the Boethian concept of the wheel of fortune, that the higher you rise, the further you can -- and almost inevitably will -- fall.


message 4: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer Lavoie | 33 comments Everyman wrote: "This "tale" seems to me to be inserted primarily to emphasize Chaucer's belief in Boethius. Episode after episode push the Boethian concept of the wheel of fortune, that the higher you rise, the f..."

I keep seeing Boethius mentioned. I have not read him before, and I think I need to in order to keep up with the conversations. :)


message 5: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Jennifer wrote: "I keep seeing Boethius mentioned. I have not read him before, and I think I need to in order to keep up with the conversations. :) "

Several people have said the same thing. We have never voted as a group to read him, but I think perhaps I will arbitrarily decide to stick him in at some point (perhaps after Moby Dick since that's already scheduled). He's very useful to know about for reading a lot of classic literature, since he was very influential. The Consolation of Philosophy isn't that long, about 120 pages in my translation, but that's too long for a standard Interim Read, but may be good for a special three week reading.

Basically, Boethius wrote this from prison. He was from a very high level Roman family, was a senator and consul while still young, but was imprisoned for suspicion of treason and eventually executed. He had a strong interest in Greek philosophy, and while in prison (or perhaps house arrest) wrote the Consolation of Philosophy as a dialogue between himself and Philosophy. The basic theme of the Consolation, as I understand it (I have skimmed parts of it but have never read it all) is that of the Wheel of Fortune, that there is, as Plato claimed, a higher good, but that mankind is caught on a wheel of fortune where one's fortunes rise and fall really outside of one's control.

But we really should read it here as a group when we get a chance to.


message 6: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4617 comments I think this is another failed tale, along with Sir Thopas and Melibee. The Knight objects to the sadness of the tales, but I think it's the repetition and groundlessness of the tales that presents the real problem. Telling one tragedy after another is obviously not good form, but the fact that there is nothing linking one to the next is a bigger problem. This is why the Canterbury Tales are offered as a frame narrative. Otherwise they might sound as disconnected as the Monk's tale.


message 7: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer Lavoie | 33 comments Thomas wrote: "I think this is another failed tale, along with Sir Thopas and Melibee. The Knight objects to the sadness of the tales, but I think it's the repetition and groundlessness of the tales that presents..."

I found that there was a bit of a connection, at least in the notes I have in the book. I don't have the book with me right now, but if I call correctly, he focuses on biblical themes, then historical themes. I thought that served the connection between them. Particularly interesting for me was the tale of Zenobia, because she was held in such high esteem for a woman. I found her tale fascinating.


message 8: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4617 comments Jennifer wrote: "I found that there was a bit of a connection, at least in the notes I have in the book. I don't have the book with me right now, but if I call correctly, he focuses on biblical themes, then historical themes. I thought that served the connection between them"

I agree that there is a thematic connection, but it lacks a narrative one. Basically, there is no cohesive plot, which is a serious weakness in the tale. It may not be as serious as Sir Thopas's jingly doggerel that says nothing meaningful, or Melibee's meaningful but boring prose, but all the same I think it's a structural flaw that Chaucer intends us to notice.

I liked the tale of Zenobia as well. It's easy to see at this point how there can be feminist (as well as anti-feminist) schools of Chaucerian criticism.


message 9: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Thomas wrote: I agree that there is a thematic connection, but it lacks a narrative one. Basically, there is no cohesive plot, which is a serious weakness in the tale. It may not be as serious as Sir Thopas's jingly doggerel that says nothing meaningful, or Melibee's meaningful but boring prose, but all the same I think it's a structural flaw that Chaucer intends us to notice.

It's a sermon without a point, unless, as Eman suggests, the point is that the wheel of fortune is ever turning.


message 10: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK In his Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England (recommended!) Ian Mortimer says 'The Wheel of Fortune is a common metaphor in medieval England. Fortune herself turns a great wheel on which kings, clergymen, burghers and peasants all find themselves lifted up to great heights only to fall soon after their moments of glory'.

The Rose Windows of medieval cathedrals are based on the Wheel of Fortune. There are a number of really beautiful ones in Italy, like this one at Matera, built in the 13C:-

http://www.gotterdammerung.org/photo/...

A painting of a 13th Century Wheel of Fortune has been found in Rochester Cathedral, which is quite near to Canterbury:-

http://www.flickr.com/photos/garyshie...


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