January 27, 2004

Is Chaucer ready for the 21st Century?

Is Chaucer ready for the 21st Century?
He’d better be. Technology today is trying to unite the original Canterbury Tales, with original translation, to today’s society. The project, known as The Canterbury Tales Project, plans to attempt this. This project plans to recreate Chaucer’s original Canterbury Tales, in Middle English, and place it on CD Roms and the Internet. This will help scholars and others with any research.

The Canterbury Tales Project (The CTP)
The CTP has two major aims. Their first aim is to find out, as closely as they can, what Chaucer actually wrote. The second aim is to arrive at a history of the whole textual tradition.

With the first aim, they begin with a large and complex textual tradition: establish a narrative history of the textual tradition. This entails collecting every manuscript ever created. Once they have a clear sense of the order that the manuscripts were written, they can see which ones appear to be the closet to the original. This will then in turn help to filter out Chaucer’s own text from the manuscripts.

The second aim incorporates an evolutionary biology called PAUP. This is an acronym for the impressive-sounding Phylogenetic Analysis using Parsimony. This analysis takes the mass of regularised words in each manuscript, which gives an indication of the manuscripts that share similar patterns of regularised words and the manuscripts that have significant deviations.

The manuscripts can be best shown in a tree diagram. The two well known manuscripts are the Ellesmere (El) and the Hengwrt (Hg). These two manuscripts are found at the base of the tree which indicates that they are the closest manuscripts to Chaucer’s original. The manuscripts that follow then go from how close they are to the above stated manuscripts.
Now as for the regularized words, they are what the The CTP look for to find similarities. In The General Prologue, the first line reads, “When that Auevell wt his shoures soote,” according to the Oxford. Now of all the manuscripts, 34 of them use this line. Since this sentence appears in 34, the words that create it become regularized. Once a word is regularized, its subtly realigned to reflect its presence in a larger family or words. With this in mind, there are 7,000 words in The General Prologue, produced around 16,000 regularized variants.

What does it all mean?
Scholars believe that Chaucer meant most of what we do have of the Canterbury Tales to assume the order of the Ellesmere order and look at how the Ellesmere does the following:
Junctures, headlinks, and abrupt beginnings much as we have
This story of a pilgrimage has some textual implications:
We recall a whole book with beginning and end.
We see a highly structured, symmetrical whole.
The idea of a whole implicates ideas of order and time, of
Creator and created, of eternity and change ideas recalled
through the opening images.
This whole with its cosmic implications is expressed
paradoxically as unfolding in time, in a state.

The tales told in the Canterbury Tales, concern the world in time and its ways, as relevant to at least 3 domains of life:
The public, the domestic, and the private.

Posted by Rachel Howard at January 27, 2004 02:37 PM

Your little nexus of blog entries on this topic is a nice mixture of general information and specific examples. Well done! I look forward to your presentation tomorrow.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at January 27, 2004 06:42 PM

Are you aware of the Canterbury Tales fun that is going on at the British Library? They've scanned the Caxton manuscript, and it's free online! (Not that you can easily read it or anything...) http://prodigi.bl.uk/treasures/caxton/search.asp

Posted by: Julie at January 27, 2004 11:37 PM
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