Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Courseblogging: Why I rather like teaching in the Bible Belt

Prioress's Tale and Second Nun's Tale today. Class was predictably icked out by the former, and were prepared to play along with me by at least pretending to find the latter intriguing. (I think it's one of the more underrated Canterbury Tales.) So I'm sketching out an argument about female speech in this tale: how the Roman prefect repeatedly stigmatizes St. Cecilia's speech as "rude," "wrongful," and "proud"; how the narrative voice describes her as speaking "boldely," with the implication that this is a good thing; how she's described on at least two occasions as "preching" and not merely "teching" (although she does both, really). And they're nodding along and tossing in some very good ideas along the way, building a character sketch of a Second Nun who is, in her gentle way, defending her own right to speak authoritatively about matters of faith.

Then I drop the "I, unworthy sone of Eve" bombshell -- intending to ask what difference it makes if, after all, Chaucer wrote this tale with a male narrator in mind. Only that's not where we end up.

"It reminds me of this woman preacher here in [Deep South State]," says one of my students unexpectedly. "She always calls herself 'Brother So-and-So.' It drives me nuts."

A couple of the other students nod. Apparently they, too, are familiar with Brother So-and-So.

"Oh," I say. "Um. Wow. Do you happen to know why she does that?"

"I guess because she associates being a preacher with being male."

Click. Something rearranges itself, and I start to wonder aloud what happens if, after all, this bit of gender-bending is not evidence of sloppy revision on Chaucer's part but a deliberate rhetorical choice on the Second Nun's part. I'm still not totally sure what to do with this, but I think it falls into the general category of Awesome If True. I like having students who can tell me about Brother So-and-So.


Renaissance Girl said...

And *I* like having students to whom I don't need to explain every reference to biblical text. Helpful, when you teach in our field.

Fretful Porpentine said...

Yes. That, too.

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

That is a really good thought.

And I am absolutely with you about 2NT. Cecelia spends the whole thing mouthing off to authority figures, and gets away with it because her god has the biggest . . . power.

Huh: my captcha is "oustere."

Hannah Kilpatrick said...

Oh, I do like that. Definitely food for thought. And I'm rather fond of that tale too, largely because I first read it when I was fresh from writing an essay on the power dynamics of speech in T&C, its effects on reality and (to a certain extent) the gender division there, so I was predisposed to think it was fascinating.

And my word verification is "aforsed".