After an especially traumatic experience in senior year English class, I consider Chaucer inappropriate for high school and think he should be banned from the curriculum.
When our teacher, Mrs. Shubert, doled out reading assignments, I landed The Miller’s Tale to read as part of the lesson on The Canterbury Tales. A few months earlier I’d taken the Evelyn Wood speed reading course and saw no reason not to apply this newly acquired skill to Chaucer. Basically I sped-read the Miller’s Tale. I thought I had a firm handle on all those Middle English terms such as ‘wyf’ for wife and ‘heer’ for hair and ‘arse’ for ass, like a donkey is an ass.
During the class discussion when we were supposed to talk about our assigned reading, I raised my hand and announced my surprise and puzzlement that the female character, Alison, had shoved a donkey’s ass out the window when the infatuated nerd, Absalon, pleaded for a kiss. I wondered aloud to the whole class where that donkey came from since Alison and Nicolas were supposed to be getting it on in bed.
Instantaneously a smart aleck guy corrected me. “It was her ass she put out the window.”
Still convinced I knew better, I replied with great confidence, “It couldn’t be hers because he said it felt like a beard with hair on it.”
The moment the words left my mouth, I realized my mistake. The humiliation was immediate, like a blow to the body. Seriously, somebody should have warned me about Chaucer. In today’s world, I’d get to sue the teacher, the school district, Evelyn Wood and the book publisher for the permanent psychological scars to my self-esteem. But that wasn’t an option thirty years ago, nor was homeschooling, so I suffered through the snickers and snide comments for months.
Graduation helped, but to this day, just the sound of his name gives me the creeps.
- Weekend Miser: Canterbury Tales in Staten Island and Other Budget Fun (nytimes.com)
- Nectar of The Gods: Mead From Holy Island (trifter.com)