A Glimpse of Nastiness in Chaucer’s Work

In my last post, I presented a riddle (I thought for sure my dad would say something considering he was the one who read the description on Google for me but no, nothing):

I am the eye that weeps the most when best pleased.

What am I?

Anyone who knew could comment and I promised to reveal the answer in my next post.

As promised, the answer is… A vagina.

Or I suppose you could say a penis considering one of its names is “One-Eyed Willy.” I would’ve accepted that answer as well.

What do you win? Nothing except the knowledge that people being nasty these days isn’t new at all. This kind of nastiness dates back till probably forever.

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Ever heard of Geoffrey Chaucer? The Canterbury Tales? Chaucer is one of those authors who are taught in school (high school and college) alongside Shakespeare and such. His work is so old that his English doesn’t even look like English anymore. Many people will look at Chaucer’s work and say it’s written in Old English but that’s not the case as professors will tell you. It’s actually written in Middle English and is just different enough for most people to need a translation when reading.

How is a vagina nasty? It’s not. But it’s a subject matter that can be deemed “nasty.” Crude. Vulgar. Rude.

Most people think that classic literature is boring because the subject matter has nothing to do with the interests of today and because it’s taught in school and anything taught in school is boring. And because the language is different.

Well, language differences aside, if you sit down to actually read this “boring” literature, you may be shocked at what you find.

The Miller’s Tale in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is filled with crude matter. Get a translated version, it’s easier to read. Then you can read about sex and crude jokes. Don’t believe me? Here’s my own translated and paraphrased version of the end of the tale:

Absolon stood under the window outside the carpenter’s house and called out to Allison, the carpenter’s wife, to come to the window. He says he loves her, but she calls him a fool and says she loves a man who’s better than him and to leave her alone so she can sleep. He mourns that she will not love him and begs her for a kiss before he leaves. She asks if he’ll go away if she gives him a kiss. He says he will so she tells him to get ready, but in a quiet voice says to Nicholas (her lover who’s with her in the room) that she’ll do something to make him laugh.

Absolon, in the meantime, is thinking that the kiss will lead to sex. Allison opened the window and told him to hurry before the neighbors saw him. She stuck out her naked butt and, it being too dark for Absolon to see clearly, he kissed it. He pulled back at once because he felt it was rough and hairy and knew women didn’t have beards.

Inside, Nicholas and Allison talked and laughed about it. Absolon heard every word and his love for Allison was replaced by hatred. He went to a smithy’s and got a red-hot poker with which he returned to the carpenter’s house and once more called for Allison. He claimed he had a gold ring for her if she would only come again to the window and kiss him. But Nicholas had gotten up to pee and went instead to the window, thinking to try the joke himself and have Absolon kiss his butt too.

He stuck his butt out of the window but it was still too dark for Absolon to see so he asked her to speak so he knew where she was. At this, Nicholas let out a thundering fart that blinded Absolon but he was still ready with his hot iron and struck Nicholas’ butt with it. Skin came off where the poker hit him and Nicholas screamed for water and help.

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There’s, of course, more to it than what I’ve written but I’m not going to tell the entire story of The Miller’s Tale. Go read it for yourself!

Especially interesting is the original language at the very end:

“And Absolon hath kiss’d her nether eye;

And Nicholas is scalded in the tout.”

Her “nether eye.” Hm. I’m actually on the fence on whether or not I’m amused with that way of describing it. I’m actually trying to figure out if Chaucer was referring to Allison’s vagina or her butt hole. Maybe the beard was the pubic hair? Maybe she had a hairy butt? There are hairy butts out there after all. The original lines were,

“Dark was the night as pitch or as the coal,

And at the window she put out her hole,

And Absolon him fell ne bet ne werse,

But with his mouth he kiss’d her naked erse

Full savourly. When he was ware of this,

Aback he start, and thought it was amiss;

For well he wist a woman hath no beard.”

And “tout” I’m also not sure about. The copy I have says it means “breech” but is that another way of saying “butt” for what lies under your “breeches” or “pants?” Or are they referring to the butt hole? To have the butt hole burned…Ouch! That seems way worse than the butt cheeks.

huh

This makes me remember my Chaucer class in college. The professor was a bit…eccentric but in a good way, not in a crazy way. He taught us how to read Middle English and even tested us on our pronunciation and fluency. Some of Chaucer’s work was interesting, some wasn’t. Just like everything in life. After a while, the novelty of reading Middle English wore off and my brain began to hurt like in all my classes. While I majored in English, my concentration was NOT in literature for I am inept when it comes to analyzing it and I get bored rather quickly.

I’m sure if I put hours of thought into this quandary and actually looked up information that professionals have slaved for years to accrue, I’d know what I was talking about. But I don’t have hours of internet time to look that sort of stuff up so I suppose I’m presenting it because it was on my mind and thought it might give you something different to think about and perhaps look into.

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About Katie St. John-Shin

I believe in living life and not letting it pass you by. I mean, come on, if you really want to do something but don't have the courage to do it so you let the opportunity disappear, you may regret it for the rest of your life. How can you know what you're capable of unless you go for it? Like every writer, I naturally plan on becoming a world-famous writer. I love reading, writing, fitness, coffee, watching my favorite movies/shows, listening to music, and trying new things even if they're sometimes terrifying. I'm a stay-at-home mom, a writer, and a POP Pilates instructor. I didn't think I'd succeed at that last one but I did it! I confronted my fears, dealt with things I didn't want to deal with, and completed the training! POP Pilates classes are coming soon to mid-Nebraska!
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