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Chaucer Live! How Performance Helps Realize the Many Chaucerian Voices in the Prologue of the Canterbury Tales



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The purpose of the paper is to clarify and elaborate on the theories and presentation of the performance of the General Prologue of the Canterbury Tales I gave on April 9th, 2015. Live performance is a valuable method of conveying Chaucer’s work to an audience as it allows an actor to present the many voices of Chaucer in a more liberated manner. I present my case in four sections. First, I discuss the theoretical concepts behind the performance, which includes the value of live performance over silent reading and oral recitation and how the performance should be viewed in an experimental context. I conclude that while oral recitation and silent reading are valuable, neither allows for the freedom to explore Chaucer’s many voices the way live performance does. At the same time, performance cannot replace research and thus performances like ours should be seen as experiments. Second, I discuss the historical context of the performance and how it was forged into a structural foundation. As well, I examine the manner in which the audience was involved. By using the date June 6th, 1389, we were able to create an interactive, visual means for the audience to engage with the voices. Third, I look at Chaucer’s meter, his spelling and the Middle English language in general and how these factors impacted both my rehearsal and final delivery. Ultimately, by committing to the language and Chaucer’s meter as faithfully as possible, I was able to provide a respectful and communicative relationship with the audience. Fourth, I look at three characters (Chaucer the Performer, Knight and Summoner) and how they were performed. I reveal how our performance demonstrates that each character uses many voices, not just one. Finally, I conclude by elaborating on the future of this project and how our performance has been valuable as a teaching tool as well as a means of presenting the work. Chaucer has many voices in the prologue, not just one, and true conveyance of them is most successfully achieved through live performance.



Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, Live Performance, Middle English



Master of Arts (M.A.)






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