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Wilhelmina W.
Writing Tutor for 5 years, English Teacher
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Writing
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Question:

Is The Canterbury Tales an expression of Chaucer's own views or is it a purely satirical critique of those views?

Wilhelmina W.
Answer:

Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales uses the context of a pilgrimage to place a group of morally flawed pilgrims in conversation with one another; in fact, the pilgrimage quickly becomes secondary to the contest the pilgrims contrive to tell the tale of “most sentence and solaas.” In terms of this competition, the pilgrims are determined to out-do one another; much of the literature available on The Canterbury Tales focuses on the pointed relationship between the pilgrims and their tales, which often explicitly exist to refute the tale of another pilgrim. The succession of competitive “quieting” that take place within The Knight’s Tale, The Miller’s Tale, and The Reeve’s Tale set a momentum of social conflict that carries on throughout the remainder of The Canterbury Tales. Within the context of competition, even one for producing ‘sentence and solas,’ conflict in the form of social posturing becomes a necessary factor in progression of the plot. In The Canterbury Tales, the pilgrims’ pointedly manipulative social dynamic is the driving force behind each tale due to the framing of the text as a competition. The Canterbury Tales is framed as a competition to “telleth in this caas tales of best sentence and moost solaas” (Chaucer 797), or a tale that both instructs the pilgrims in a moral sense and makes them feel satisfied emotionally, placing each pilgrim’s success in the hands of a contentious audience—themselves. The pilgrims’ overall moral turpitude is introduced through their prioritization of the Host’s competition above the devout self-reflection excepted to take place during a pilgrimage: “For trewely, confort ne myrthe is noon to ride by the weye doumb as a stoon; and therefore wol I maken yow disport, as I seyde erst, and doon yow som confort” (Chaucer 773). The text further affirms their moral failures through their interpretation of the Hosts’s challenge; although he specifies that the winning tale should be of both “sentence and solaas,” a majority of the praise that takes place within the prologues to each tale is allotted to tales directed at pleasing the audience, while a majority of the criticism takes place in regard to tales that share a serious moral. This first becomes evident when The Knight’s Tale and The Miller’s Tale, both thoroughly enjoyed by the audience, are followed by a moral diatribe by the Reeve. This monologue is explicitly rejected by the company and the Host, who proclaims “What amounteth al this wit? What shul we speke alday of hooly writ?” before imploring the Reeve to stop preaching and bgin entertaining the group (Chaucer 3901). “It becomes increasingly obvious that the tales which [the Host] is genuinely eager to hear contain, in his view, “solaas” only,” an observation that is enforced not only through his comments after each tale but through his initial proposition of the competition as a source for “confort ne myrthe,” two aspects that easily fall within the category of “solaas” (Leitch 10). Chaucer uses this priority of solaas over sentence to portray that the pilgrims are inherently flawed in order to use them as teaching tools for the audience, and it is within this flawed moral setting that the pilgrims now must navigate being both judge and jury for a competition. This position lends itself to exploitation. Due to the firmly established moral decay of the pilgrims at hand, they have no choice but to use their power as audience to sabotage their fellow competitors through social maneuvering; ultimately, this sabotage and creation of conflict powers the forward momentum of The Canterbury Tales as a whole. Conflict is at the heart of all storytelling, and all discourse can be loosely defined as “a field of conflict between the empowered and the suppressed,” but The Canterbury Tales is unique in its direct framing of the tales as a competition, making social posturing for power and conflict unnaturally prominent and pronounced (Power 414). The Host’s challenge created a context where it is the storyteller’s “duty to take into account the interests, tastes, and levels of attention of his audience” (Leitch 6). The pilgrims not only recognize the impetus competition places upon the audience, but pander frequently to that impetus through direct appeals to the reader as well as other pilgrims throughout their tales: “Now, sire, and eft, sire” (Chucer 3271); “ye lords” (Chaucer 4515); “goode men” (Chaucer 904) to name only a few instances of direct engagement with the pilgrims as audience (Leitch 6). This awareness of the importance of audience opinion when telling a tale implies the same awareness when the teller of the tale becomes an audience member. When the pilgrims come into direct conversation with one another during the prologues of each tale, their confusions and conflicts with one another “change the social dynamic the moment they are uttered” (Power 414). The pilgrims rely on this conversation to bring the “sentence and solaas” of each tale into question; in short, their aim is to make the other pilgrims look bad in order to advance themselves. “The sense of urgency pervading the Canterbury tales, then, can be traced to a simple desire to get on with the game;” this urgency exaggerates and defines the pilgrims’ social manipulation even further (Leitch 8). This manipulation manifests itself in many forms, chiefly through the pilgrims’ direct responses to each tale. “Performative misinterpretation” is one key method the pilgrims implement in order to maintain appearances of sociability while also behaving in a directly derogatory way; “these misinterpretations… often have the immediate effect of aiding the speaker in improving his control over the social situation in which the speech occurs” (Power 415). Misinterpretation ranges from drunken interruption of the order of tales, as committed during The Miller’s Prologue in order to disrupt praise of The Knight’s Tale, to subtle misunderstandings of a text’s meaning, such as when the reeve mistakes “the Miller’s intent to be the defamation of women” and this mistake “deflects the Miller’s thrust away from himself by suggesting as a context the popular scapegoating of women” (Power 415). Performative misinterpretation as a method of social contention “often I he occasion for development of important characters and narrative situations” (Power 415). With the primary textual moment of te pilgrimage now overshadowed by a contest based on audience reception, purposeful audience misinterpretation is prioritized as the main backdrop for overall narrative development. “There is a literary artistry in the successive turns a text may be given by deliberate and [socially] consequential misreading” (Power 418). These turns create a unified rhythm and momentum to guide The Canterbury Tales despite dozens of narrators and perspectives. Thus, the pilgrims’ lack of sociability with one another in favor of winning a contest ironically acts as a unifying force in The Canterbury Tales. The social pandering of misinterpretation is indirectly reinforced through the ubiquitous act of using a tale to respond to and refute another pilgrim’s tale. Although not a direct social engagement, the act of “requiting” tales with one another expresses the manipulative social dynamic. In fact, many of the tales could not exist outside of the artificially constructed viciousness of the Host’s competition for audience delight. The Reeve’s Tale is the first tale that was explicitly told to discount the “sentence and solaas” of another tale (the Miller’s), but The Miller’s Tale practices this social damnation retroactively. Only because the Reeve interprets The Miller’s Tale about a foolish carpenter to be a threat to his social standing does he craft a tale in return about a foolish Miller. On a less interpersonal level, but still well within the bounds of sociability, the low-brow morals of The Miller’s Tale could easily be considered to be a refutation of the high-brow morals of The Knight’s Tale; the entire order and succession of the tales is based on each pilgrim attempting to socially navigate to a place of respect in the eyes of the audience. The refutation tactic’s presence in two of the first three tales—The Knight’s Tale is rendered unable to refute a tale due to its place as the first tale told on the pilgrimage—dictates the relationship between all future tales and their tellers. These three tales a benchmarks for what is and is not appropriate for the Host’s competition, and perhaps more importantly they prove the success that can be found through passive aggressive social pandering. What The Canterbury Tales lacks in moral guidance, having largely abandoned sentence for solaas, is redeemed through a social rhythm of refutation and interpersonal conflict. “The core of the thematic tension of the Canterbury tales: the conflict between pleasure and edification” exists within the social microcosm of a competition based largely on the popularity of a tale, forcing our deeply flawed narrators to take part in aggressive social pandering in order to advance both themselves and the narrative as a whole (Leitch 5). The intial flurry of refutation and misinterpretation evidenced in the first three tales, The Knight’s Tale, The Miller’s Tale, and The Reeve’s Tale create the social momentum needed to inspire tale after tale, all told by pilgrims looking at advance their social situation within the bounds of the competition or within society at large. The moral failures of the pilgrims and the Host remove the possibility for a fair and unbiased competition based solely on the value of the tales; Chaucer’s frequent suggestions that the tales he is relating are unsavory to the reader ensure that The Canterbury Tales are not a moral polemic but instead a stage to expose the social workings of a variety of social stances within a competition.

English
TutorMe
Question:

Is The Canterbury Tales an expression of Chaucer's own views, or a purely satirical critique of his narrators? Explain why.

Wilhelmina W.
Answer:

Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales uses the context of a pilgrimage to place a group of morally flawed pilgrims in conversation with one another; in fact, the pilgrimage quickly becomes secondary to the contest the pilgrims contrive to tell the tale of “most sentence and solaas.” In terms of this competition, the pilgrims are determined to out-do one another; much of the literature available on The Canterbury Tales focuses on the pointed relationship between the pilgrims and their tales, which often explicitly exist to refute the tale of another pilgrim. The succession of competitive “quieting” that take place within The Knight’s Tale, The Miller’s Tale, and The Reeve’s Tale set a momentum of social conflict that carries on throughout the remainder of The Canterbury Tales. Within the context of competition, even one for producing ‘sentence and solas,’ conflict in the form of social posturing becomes a necessary factor in progression of the plot. In The Canterbury Tales, the pilgrims’ pointedly manipulative social dynamic is the driving force behind each tale due to the framing of the text as a competition. The Canterbury Tales is framed as a competition to “telleth in this caas tales of best sentence and moost solaas” (Chaucer 797), or a tale that both instructs the pilgrims in a moral sense and makes them feel satisfied emotionally, placing each pilgrim’s success in the hands of a contentious audience—themselves. The pilgrims’ overall moral turpitude is introduced through their prioritization of the Host’s competition above the devout self-reflection excepted to take place during a pilgrimage: “For trewely, confort ne myrthe is noon to ride by the weye doumb as a stoon; and therefore wol I maken yow disport, as I seyde erst, and doon yow som confort” (Chaucer 773). The text further affirms their moral failures through their interpretation of the Hosts’s challenge; although he specifies that the winning tale should be of both “sentence and solaas,” a majority of the praise that takes place within the prologues to each tale is allotted to tales directed at pleasing the audience, while a majority of the criticism takes place in regard to tales that share a serious moral. This first becomes evident when The Knight’s Tale and The Miller’s Tale, both thoroughly enjoyed by the audience, are followed by a moral diatribe by the Reeve. This monologue is explicitly rejected by the company and the Host, who proclaims “What amounteth al this wit? What shul we speke alday of hooly writ?” before imploring the Reeve to stop preaching and bgin entertaining the group (Chaucer 3901). “It becomes increasingly obvious that the tales which [the Host] is genuinely eager to hear contain, in his view, “solaas” only,” an observation that is enforced not only through his comments after each tale but through his initial proposition of the competition as a source for “confort ne myrthe,” two aspects that easily fall within the category of “solaas” (Leitch 10). Chaucer uses this priority of solaas over sentence to portray that the pilgrims are inherently flawed in order to use them as teaching tools for the audience, and it is within this flawed moral setting that the pilgrims now must navigate being both judge and jury for a competition. This position lends itself to exploitation. Due to the firmly established moral decay of the pilgrims at hand, they have no choice but to use their power as audience to sabotage their fellow competitors through social maneuvering; ultimately, this sabotage and creation of conflict powers the forward momentum of The Canterbury Tales as a whole. Conflict is at the heart of all storytelling, and all discourse can be loosely defined as “a field of conflict between the empowered and the suppressed,” but The Canterbury Tales is unique in its direct framing of the tales as a competition, making social posturing for power and conflict unnaturally prominent and pronounced (Power 414). The Host’s challenge created a context where it is the storyteller’s “duty to take into account the interests, tastes, and levels of attention of his audience” (Leitch 6). The pilgrims not only recognize the impetus competition places upon the audience, but pander frequently to that impetus through direct appeals to the reader as well as other pilgrims throughout their tales: “Now, sire, and eft, sire” (Chucer 3271); “ye lords” (Chaucer 4515); “goode men” (Chaucer 904) to name only a few instances of direct engagement with the pilgrims as audience (Leitch 6). This awareness of the importance of audience opinion when telling a tale implies the same awareness when the teller of the tale becomes an audience member. When the pilgrims come into direct conversation with one another during the prologues of each tale, their confusions and conflicts with one another “change the social dynamic the moment they are uttered” (Power 414). The pilgrims rely on this conversation to bring the “sentence and solaas” of each tale into question; in short, their aim is to make the other pilgrims look bad in order to advance themselves. “The sense of urgency pervading the Canterbury tales, then, can be traced to a simple desire to get on with the game;” this urgency exaggerates and defines the pilgrims’ social manipulation even further (Leitch 8). This manipulation manifests itself in many forms, chiefly through the pilgrims’ direct responses to each tale. “Performative misinterpretation” is one key method the pilgrims implement in order to maintain appearances of sociability while also behaving in a directly derogatory way; “these misinterpretations… often have the immediate effect of aiding the speaker in improving his control over the social situation in which the speech occurs” (Power 415). Misinterpretation ranges from drunken interruption of the order of tales, as committed during The Miller’s Prologue in order to disrupt praise of The Knight’s Tale, to subtle misunderstandings of a text’s meaning, such as when the reeve mistakes “the Miller’s intent to be the defamation of women” and this mistake “deflects the Miller’s thrust away from himself by suggesting as a context the popular scapegoating of women” (Power 415). Performative misinterpretation as a method of social contention “often I he occasion for development of important characters and narrative situations” (Power 415). With the primary textual moment of te pilgrimage now overshadowed by a contest based on audience reception, purposeful audience misinterpretation is prioritized as the main backdrop for overall narrative development. “There is a literary artistry in the successive turns a text may be given by deliberate and [socially] consequential misreading” (Power 418). These turns create a unified rhythm and momentum to guide The Canterbury Tales despite dozens of narrators and perspectives. Thus, the pilgrims’ lack of sociability with one another in favor of winning a contest ironically acts as a unifying force in The Canterbury Tales. The social pandering of misinterpretation is indirectly reinforced through the ubiquitous act of using a tale to respond to and refute another pilgrim’s tale. Although not a direct social engagement, the act of “requiting” tales with one another expresses the manipulative social dynamic. In fact, many of the tales could not exist outside of the artificially constructed viciousness of the Host’s competition for audience delight. The Reeve’s Tale is the first tale that was explicitly told to discount the “sentence and solaas” of another tale (the Miller’s), but The Miller’s Tale practices this social damnation retroactively. Only because the Reeve interprets The Miller’s Tale about a foolish carpenter to be a threat to his social standing does he craft a tale in return about a foolish Miller. On a less interpersonal level, but still well within the bounds of sociability, the low-brow morals of The Miller’s Tale could easily be considered to be a refutation of the high-brow morals of The Knight’s Tale; the entire order and succession of the tales is based on each pilgrim attempting to socially navigate to a place of respect in the eyes of the audience. The refutation tactic’s presence in two of the first three tales—The Knight’s Tale is rendered unable to refute a tale due to its place as the first tale told on the pilgrimage—dictates the relationship between all future tales and their tellers. These three tales a benchmarks for what is and is not appropriate for the Host’s competition, and perhaps more importantly they prove the success that can be found through passive aggressive social pandering. What The Canterbury Tales lacks in moral guidance, having largely abandoned sentence for solaas, is redeemed through a social rhythm of refutation and interpersonal conflict. “The core of the thematic tension of the Canterbury tales: the conflict between pleasure and edification” exists within the social microcosm of a competition based largely on the popularity of a tale, forcing our deeply flawed narrators to take part in aggressive social pandering in order to advance both themselves and the narrative as a whole (Leitch 5). The intial flurry of refutation and misinterpretation evidenced in the first three tales, The Knight’s Tale, The Miller’s Tale, and The Reeve’s Tale create the social momentum needed to inspire tale after tale, all told by pilgrims looking at advance their social situation within the bounds of the competition or within society at large. The moral failures of the pilgrims and the Host remove the possibility for a fair and unbiased competition based solely on the value of the tales; Chaucer’s frequent suggestions that the tales he is relating are unsavory to the reader ensure that The Canterbury Tales are not a moral polemic but instead a stage to expose the social workings of a variety of social stances within a competition.

Art History
TutorMe
Question:

How do the visual elements of Romaine Brooks' artwork express her personal ideology of gender and sexuality?

Wilhelmina W.
Answer:

Romaine Brooks (1874-1970) spent the bulk of her formative young adult years tirelessly working to prove her worth among men. One of the first female students at several different art colleges to draw from live male nudes, Brooks encountered sexism and sexual harassment that drove her from academy to academy, the taunting and threats failing to discourage her budding artistic skills. Her paintings, dark, gloomy, and monotone, share a fixation on the androgynous, undoubtedly a result of the way Brooks and her peers presented themselves personally. Brooks’ personal life bleeds into her artwork in non-so-subtle ways; her subject of choice, more often than not, was women she had been to bed with. These ephemeral, androgynous figures represent both what Brooks lusts after and what she desires to be; at the same time, none of her portraits exist within a context of desire, relying on ambiguity to lend a sense of autonomy to the subject. The enchanting result is works that nonchalantly present gender and sexuality not as a normative ideal to live up to but simply a facet of the natural world. Although communities formed around these wealthy women who loved women, the discussions these communities engaged in were limited to the non-gendered and non-sexual at the behest of a societal idea that expressing sexuality as identity was little more than a fad. Brooks’ portraits of her lover Ida Rubenstein express an insular lesbian subjectivity; deemed a side effect of the blustery interwar years of socioeconomic change, the newly visible sector of elite queer women enabled Brooks to portray androgyny as a valid expression. Her works aggressively assert the validity and natural condition of androgynous bodies, and by extension lesbian forms of expression; however, the surreal theatrics involved in expressing this through both her artwork and political presence, along with the disconnection between elite lesbian culture and populist ideals, ultimately softened the impact of the work at the time.

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