Medieval Modernist and Post-Modernist Cite Some Variations Essay

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Medieval, Modernist and Post-Modernist

Cite some variations in the Loathly Lady fabula across the three tales in your Reader. Focus on the conditions by which the lady is either beautiful or ugly, and the actions of the knight/king/"hero"

The Loathly Lady motif was a common device in medieval literature, typified by the presence of a wise but unsightly old hag who is transformed into a beautiful maiden by the contextualizing narrative's resolution. Our Reader refers to The Wife of Bath's Tale, The Tale of Florent and The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle as works in which this motif is particularly essential but in which slight variations can be observed. Indeed, these variations generally relate to the emphasis on the immediate issues of femininity or on the symbolic matters relating to sovereignty and nobility.

To this end, in The Wife of Bath's Tale, the old hag that the knight meets on his travels has given some clue as to her mystical orientation. Upon the knight's first arrival to their place of meeting, he spies 24 young maidens frolicking in a clearing. It is appropriate than, that the emphasis in Chaucer's work seems to be the mystique of the female, with the question concerning that which a woman truly wants driving the denouement. This is distinct from the emphasis in Florent and Gawain, whose primary interest appears to be the reinforcement of that which is good and chivalrous in knighthood. Indeed, the misdeed of rape which precedes the knight's quest in Bath's Tale differs considerably in nature from the questions of land ownership that drive the other two tales. According to our Reader, "the difference between Chaucer's redaction and John Gower's contemporaneous version suggests that Chaucer is more interested in the gender role destabilization of the vehicle, the allegorical motif, than in the issues of kingship that lie at the core of most loathly lady tales. In the Tale of Florent Gower's focus is on his protagonist's ideal behavior as offering a model of knightly excellence" (p. 81-82) And consistent with characterizations of Arthur and Gawain in other installments of the Arthurian legend, Gawain takes also as its raison d'etre the idealization of noble behavior and sovereignty of land.

2. The Wife of Bath's Tale is considered by some critics to indicate that Chaucer may have been a feminist. Why might they believe this? Do you agree? Remember to cite evidence from the text or some other source.

Here, some continuity from the previous question is appropriate. Chaucer's The Wife of Bath's Tale differs from other 'loathly lady' tales in its apparent symbolic focus. While details such as the emphasis on physical beauty as the idealization of femininity cause us to doubt Chaucer's feminist orientation, there are myriad other implications that suggest this to be a highly gender-egalitarian work for the late 14th century.

Particularly compelling to this argument is the ultimate ambition of the hag, which is to demonstrate the female attribute desiring personal freedom of choice. This notion, couched in discussions of sovereignty, is ultimately realized by a resolution in which the hag presents the night with a choice. When asked to choose between a hideous and faithful wife or a beautiful and promiscuous one, the knight tells the hag that the decision must instead be hers to make. This true recognition and understanding of the female need for sovereignty drives the Chaucer story to its happy conclusion. It is thus that, as our reader asserts, "Chaucer's foregrounding of gender exploits the shapeshifting loathly lady motif as a vehicle for examining the sphere of heterosexual power contestation." (p. 82) Here, the knight is instructed to give the power of decision to his unsightly but betroghted, and in doing so, is ultimately rewarded. That this reward comes in spite of his earlier misdeeds suggest the relative standards dictating femininity in Chaucer's time. Nonetheless, and particularly relative to other variations on the loathly lady motif, Chaucer's is a work of some gender-relational progressiveness.

3.Hahn's essay (see critical reader) on The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle identifies the motif of the loathly lady, but arguesit has a different purpose than asserting the feminine. What does he think the function of the story is?

The particular connection to themes of femininity in Chaucer's work owes to the writer's elevation of themes relating to womanhood, beauty and femininity. Despite the fact that a similar element of female duplicity is used to carry the narrative in The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle, there is a clear divergence here in the texts more symbolic use of the transforming hag. Here, the hag is instead a respresentation of land sovereignty, ownership and excellence in nobility. Where the challenge facing Chaucer's knight is instigated by his violation of a woman, Arthur's challenge is elicited by Gawain's violation of a tract of land instead.

Thus, even as the focus of the proceedings turns to a quest regarding femininity and to Gawain's marriage to the loathly lady, the matters of sovereignty and nobility are the dominant forces. Beyond the fact that the notion of sovereignty is explicitly invoked by the hag herself (a feature common to Chaucer's telling), Gawain's actions in relation to the hag have more to do with his nobility and loyalty to Arthur than to any feelings regarding female entitlement. As Hahn points out, "Sir Gawain's reputation as a chivalric hero rides to a large extent on his talent for 'luf talkyng'. . . And courtesy towards women, though according to Ragnelle, these in turn are motivated by his fealty to the king." (p. 18) In this regard, the matters of sovereignty come to represent far more explicitly those issues relating to land ownership and knighthood than to any prioritization of gender equality.

Questions for part B:

2. How can you identify Modernist texts?

Perhaps the best way to identify a Modernist text is to examine its sense of consciousness, or lack thereof. This is because there is no unifying style or approach that distinguishes the Modernist orientation. In fact, this is a genre that is best characterized as resisting the familiar forms and functions of the works that preceded it. For its most prominent practitioners, the modernist identity would be conveyed in the themes and images of disquiet, guilt and inner-turmoil. Increasingly, with the modernity implicated by industrialization and ever-more horrific warfare, literature would come to reflect a sense of eroding humanity and growing emotional isolation.

These are the themes and sensibilities that seem most to inhabit the Modernist texts, and with an increasing air of resistance to old ways of using language. So argues our Reader on the subject of modernist poet T.S. Eliot's iconic The Waste Land. Here, we are told, "if we attempt to make The Waste Land conform to Imagism or Impressionism, we miss its strategy and miss its accomplishment. Eliot wrenched his poetry from the self-sufficiency of the single image and the single narrating consciousness. The principle of order in The Waste Land depends on a plurality of consciousnesses, an ever-increasing series of points-of-view, which struggle towards an emergent unity and then continue to struggle past that unity." (p. 18) In rather abstract critical terms, what we are told here is that Eliot's work represents the modernist struggle of man to reconcile the various conflicting impulses that inform simultaneous survival in the industrial world and retention of the ever-more relegated human spirit.

3. Is post-modernism an extension or refutation of Modernism?

At the risk of being overly pedantic on this subject, post-modernism is in many ways both an extension and a refutation of modernism. Indeed, to the latter point, post-modernism draws heavily on certain values of its immediate precursor. Particular among them, post-modern literature is concerned with even further deconstructing the laws of convention governing prose and poetry. Thus, many of the structural, grammatical and diction-based parameters defining that which could be classified as literature were pushed even further off their pedestal by such deviations as Beat Poetry and Absurdism.

However, where modernism still obeyed some of the conventions of storytelling such as linear continuity and advancement toward resolution, post-modernism had verily dispensed with the idea of comprising an edible package for its audience. In line with the perception that reconciliation of divergent impulses is impossible in a materialistic and post-modern society, the literature of this movement carries the distinct characteristics of often depriving the reader of literary reconciliation. Indeed, in the absurdist and surrealistic works representative of the genre, authors have instead sought to challenge audiences with distorted reflections of themselves, contextualizing these reflections in a world inhospitable to convenient endings and happy resolutions.

4. What is 'Beat' poetry ?

The Beat Poetry movement is of particular importance in the post-modern literary tradition for blurring the lines between that which had historically been deemed high and low-brow cultures. While classical literary traditions rested on the mantle of well-heeled academic discourse, the Beat poetry sought to use this in convergence with the language of the streets.…[continue]

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