Is Chaucer Relevant

The University of Leicester is planning to “decolonize” their English Literature Department by ending the study of Chaucer and other great poets of Medival English and replacing them with new and up-to-date modules on race and sexuality. According to this article in the Sydney Morning Herald:

The University of Leicester will stop teaching the great English medieval poet and author Geoffrey Chaucer in favour of modules on race and sexuality, according to new proposals.

Management told the English department that courses on canonical works would be dropped in favour of modules that “students expect” as part of plans now under consultation.

Foundational texts such as The Canterbury Tales and the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf would no longer be taught, under proposals to scrap medieval literature. Instead, the English faculty will be refocused to drop centuries of the literary canon and deliver a “decolonised” curriculum devoted to diversity.

Academics now facing redundancy were told via email: “The aim of our proposals [is] to offer a suite of undergraduate degrees that provide modules which students expect of an English degree.”

New modules described as “excitingly innovative” would cover: “A chronological literary history, a selection of modules on race, ethnicity, sexuality and diversity, a decolonised curriculum, and new employability modules.”

Professors were told that, to facilitate change, management planned to stop all English language courses, cease medieval literature, and reduce early modern literature offerings.

Despite Chaucer’s position as “the father of English literature”, he will no longer be taught if plans currently under consultation go ahead.

They would end all teaching on texts central to the development of the English language, including the Dark Age epic poem Beowulf, as well as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

This brings up the question of whether we ought to continue to teach these Medieval and Early Modern literary works or whether we ought to eliminate them in favor of newer, more diverse selections. Are these texts still relevant to our modern age, or should they be forgotten as relics of a darker, less tolerant past? Is it more important to study our own history and heritage or a selection of modules on race, ethnicity and the rest of that woke crap? Who is Geoffrey Chaucer anyway, and why should we read him six hundred years after his death?

                                                                         Geoffrey Chaucer

If you remember Chaucer at all from your English classes, you know him as the author of the Canterbury Tales, the one that begins with

When April with its sweet smelling showers

Has pierced the drought of March to the root

and then tells the story of a diverse group of pilgrims to Canterbury who decide to tell each other stories to make the long journey pass by more quickly Chaucer wrote and did a lot more than the Canterbury Tales, however. He was quite an interesting man. Born sometime in the 1340s, we don’t know exactly when; Chaucer was a Member of Parliament and close personal friend of King EdwardIII’s son John of Gaunt. Chaucer held a number of government posts, under the patronage of the royal family, including comptroller of the customs for the port of London, and clerk of the King’s works. King Edward III and his grandson King Richard II entrusted Chaucer

                                               King Edward III

When Chaucer was captured by the French during the Hundred Year’s War, King Edward III paid his ransom out of his own pocket, a measure of how greatly the king valued Chaucer.

Today, Chaucer is known more for his literary endeavors than his services to the King of England. Most educated people know about The Canterbury Tales, but he wrote a whole lot more. Chaucer translated Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy from Latin and wrote a treatise on the astrolabe for his son. His works of poetry include the epic poem Troilus and Criseyde, and of course, the Canterbury Tales, a work he began late in life and never actually finished before his death in 1400.
So that is who Chaucer was. Why should we study him? Well, Geoffrey Chaucer lived and wrote during a pivotal moment in the history of the English Language and Literature. Before Chaucer’s time, English wasn’t considered to be a very prestigious language. Latin was the international language of the Church, scholarship, and diplomacy. If you had anything important to say, you said it in Latin. Since the Norman Conquest of 1066, the aristocrats and anyone of importance in England spoke Norman French. England was a sort of colony of Normandy and English was the language you spoke to the servants or to the peasants to remind them to pay their taxes. The Angevin kings of England were more concerned with their lands on the continent and seldom visited England except to get money to finance their wars and crusades.

The Kings of England spent more time in France than England

This situation began to change about a century before Chaucer’s time, when King John, of Magna Carta fame, managed to lose all of his territory in France. After that, the kings and aristocracy of England began to identify more and more as English rather than Norman and the Normans and the Anglo-Saxons became melded into one English people. English started to become the language of everyday life among the nobility. The process only accelerated with the coming of the Hundred Year’s War. Wars always encourage patriotism and this war was no exception.
English was still not a literary language, however. This had to wait until the later 1300s when Chaucer and other poets, under the patronage of the king, began to what in what is now called Middle English. These poets helped to establish the dialect spoken around London as the form of standard English and developed much of the vocabulary and devices used in English poetry. Geoffrey Chaucer was the greatest of these Middle English poets. His influence cannot be underestimated. Chaucer was, in many ways, the father of English literature, rescuing the English language from the negligence the language had endured after the Norman Conquest. The revival of English as a literary language would likely have occurred without Chaucer, but the history of English literature would be much poorer without him.
Needless to say, My answer to this question is an unambiguous yes. Chaucer is still relevant to the present day and we should still read and study his works. Chaucer’s works have endured for over six hundred years. I doubt very much if any of these modules “on race, ethnicity, sexuality, and diversity” will be read in six decades. If you want to understand the history and development of the English language and literature, you have to study the greatest masters of the English language, including Geoffrey Chaucer and the unknown writer of Beowulf. A university course that does not include these great writers is not teaching English literature. That university is defrauding its students, promising them an educated but delivering only woke fluff; politically correct nonsense that cannot stand the test of time. The woke universities that go this route ought to be shut down for academic fraud and the students’ tuition and other expenses should be paid back to them so they can get a real education.

Moby Dick

I have been reading Herman Melville‘s classic whale tale lately. Actually I have been listening to the audio book created by Librivox. If you are not familiar with Librivox, it is a library of digital recordings of books read by volunteers. All of the books read are in the public domain and are provided for free. I have thought about volunteering myself, but I imagine that all of the good books are taken by now, and anyway, I don’t have the time.

But, getting back to Moby Dick. I am only about half way through it and I find the story to be exciting. Unfortunately, Melville interrupts the action with long discourses on various aspects of whaling. The information he provides in interesting but it is a little tedious and distracting. I noticed that Victor Hugo did the same sort of thing with Les Miserables. I wonder if that is a regular feature of nineteenth century literature.

I actually don’t think that Captain Ahab is that crazy to want to hunt down and take revenge on the white whale that chewed his leg off. I have sometimes wished that I could hunt and kill every deer in North America for the damage they have done to various cars over the years. It might seem irrational to want revenge against animals acting on instinct, but I am convinced the deer are acting with a malicious purpose. What other explanation could there be for the way they jump out in front of my car.

English: Illustration from an early edition of...
English: Illustration from an early edition of Moby-Dick (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All the same, I think I am going to have to side with the whale. Considering that Captain Ahab was trying to kill the whale, and had already killed many other whales, perhaps even Moby Dick’s companions, I would say that the whale was acting in self defense. Besides, while I do not usually get overly sentimental about animals or nature, I do not think that I would be willing to kill an animal as majestic and powerful as a whale.

By the way, Kahn in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, quotes from Moby Dick as he hunts down Kirk. They changed the locations that Khan names to sound more “science fictionish” but the last words are the same. I imagine that the intent was to present Khan as man obsessed with vengeance, just as Ahab was.



Dante Alghieri’s Divine Comedy is one of the great classics of world literature, and a personal favorite of mine. Unfortunately, unless the reader is familiar with the Bible, Christian theology, classical mythology, and medieval Italian politics, he is going to miss many of the allusions in this great poem. Of course, it is possible to enjoy reading the Divine Comedy without knowing very much about all the people Dante encounters but it is so much better if you have a guide with you, as Dante had Virgil.

The Complete DanteWorlds by Guy P. Raffa is the perfect guide to the Divine Comedy. In this adaptation of his website, Raffa takes the reader through each section of Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, explaining who every person or creature Dante encounters is and every allusion made in his poem. He clarifies some of the more obscure points in the poem and generally greatly enriches the experience of reading Dante. Don’t go to Hell without it!



Reading Poe

Edgar Allan Poe is one of the best known autho...
Image via Wikipedia

I like to listen to audiobooks while I drive and lately I have been listening to a complete collection of Edgar Allan Poe‘s short stories. I have to say that I am starting to get just a little creeped out. I think I am going to have to alternate, listening to a story, then something else since a little of Poe goes a long way.

On the other hand, it’s too bad that I am not a wine drinker. The last story I listened to was The Cask of Amontillado and I wonder if amontillado is good enough to risk being walled up in a tomb.

Grief Counseling for Muggles, Good Grief

From the Washington Times. I liked the Harry Potter books well enough. Perhaps they are not quite in the same league as Shakespeare, but they are entertaining. I liked the movies too and have seen all of them at least once. Somehow, though, I don’t think I will require the services of a grief counselor after the last movie is released.

Fear not, Hogwarts junkies.

Yes, the release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2” marks the end of a cinematic era — eight films, 10 years, $6 billion and counting in worldwide ticket sales.

But that doesn’t mean your fantasy fix is about to vanish like an invisibility cloak.

Take it from the Trekkies and the ‘Star Wars’ nerds; they’ve been there.

The writer of the article provides several ways to cope with the impending loss, including conventions, fanfic, and generally following the examples of Star Trek and Star Wars fans.

Case in point? In “Potter,” the fictional students of the fictional Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry play a fictional game called quidditch, in which wizards fly around on broomsticks and toss balls through hoops. On actual American college campuses, actual students play a version of the game in which they toss balls through hoops and run around with broomsticks between their legs. Alas, nobody flies. All of which would seem stranger if “Star Wars” hadn’t already inspired a real-life Jedi religion, the way the Klingons of “Star Trek,” a race of warrior aliens, have inspired the creation of a viable language.

“They spoke Klingon on the show ‘Frasier,’” Mr. Frazetti said. “Shakespeare and the Bible have been translated into it. There’s an actual Klingon language institute in Pennsylvania.”

Or, we could act like grown-ups for a change. I mean, come on people, there is a real world out there.


By the way, Laura Ingraham has this gem from her new book, “Of Thee I Zing

Unless you’ve been contacted by the film’s casting director, there is no reason for you ever to come to a movie in costume. We don’t think you’re cute. We don’t think you’re artistic. We do think you’re a nerd. And the moment you leave the protective company of the other crazy people at the cineplex, you look like a complete idiot. The robe and the wand are not working for you.

Oh, and the last time I checked, Harry Potter was not 300 pounds, 40, or balding.

Quite so.

Lucifer’s Kingdom

Gustave Doré, Depiction of Satan, the antagoni...
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Saul Alinsky has become somewhat notorious for dedicating  his book “Rules for Radicals” to the “first radical” Lucifer. The dedication reads,

Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgement to the very first radical: from whom all our legends, mythology, and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins – or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom-Lucifer.

Alinsky was wrong. Lucifer did not gain a kingdom. Hell is not Lucifer’s kingdom, it is his prison.

The popular conception of the Devil, which Alinsky seems to share, is shaped by John Milton’s portrayal of him in his classic epic poem “Paradise Lost“. At first glance, Lucifer appears to be noble and heroic. He has been beaten but has not given up. In the opening of the poem,  Lucifer and his angels are recovering from their lost battle and exile into Hell. Lucifer surveys his new home and gives a speech which is probably the most quoted part of Paradise Lost.

    “Is this the region, this the soil, the clime,”
Said then the lost Arch Angel, “this the seat
That we must change for Heav’n, this mournful gloom
For that celestial light? Be it so, since hee
Who now is Sov’ran can dispose and bid
What shall be right: farthest from him is best
Whom reason hath equall’d, force hath made supreme
Above his equals. Farewell happy fields
Where joy for ever dwells: Hail horrors, hail
Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell
Receive thy new possessor: One who brings
A mind not to be chang’d by place or time.
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what should I be, all but less than hee
Whom Thunder hath made greater? Here at least
We shall be free; th’Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign seure, and in my choice
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n

Many readers believe that Milton has cast Lucifer as a romantic hero, a rebel who does not given up even when all seems to be lost but instead, makes the best of his circumstances. Milton seems to be on the Devil’s side.

In fact, Milton is more clever than that. Lucifer’s speech is bravado. Because he will not acknowledge God as his Creator and Lord, Lucifer loses everything, even his own self in his pursuit of vengeance. His comment about the mind making a Heaven or Hell means more than he intends. The mind may make its Heaven or Hell, but Heaven or Hell makes the mind, as Milton shows when Lucifer enters Paradise to tempt Adam and Eve.

Haply so ‘scaped his mortal snare; for now
Satan, now first inflam’d with rage, came down,
The Tempter ere th’Accuser of mankind
To Wreak on innocent frail Man his loss
Of that first battle, and his flight to Hell:
Yet not rejoicing in his speed, though bold,
Far off and fearless, nor with cause to boast,
Begins his dire attempt, which nigh the birth
Now rolling boils in his tumultuous breast,
And like a devilish engine back recoils
Upon himself; horror and doubt distract
His troubl’d thoughts, and from the bottom stir
The Hell within him, for within him Hell
He brings, and round about him, nor from Hell
One step more than from himself can fly
By change of place

Lucifer realizes this and despairs

which way shall I fly?
Infinite wrath and infinite despair?
Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell;
And in the lowest deep a lower deep
Still threat’ning to devour me opens wide,
To which the Hell I suffer seems a Heav’n.

He considers giving up and asking for pardon, but he cannot do it. His hatred and pride will not allow him to submit. Even if God forgives him, Lucifer knows he will rebel again.

But say could repent and could obtain
By Act of Grace my former state; how soon
Would heighth recall high thoughts, how soon unsay
What feign’d submission swore: ease would recant
Vows made in pain, as violent and void
For never can true reconcilement grow
Where wounds of deadly hate have pierc’d so deep:
Which would but lead me to a worse relapse,
And heavier fall: so should I purchase dear
Short intermission bought with double smart.
This knows my punisher; therefore as far
From granting hee, as I from begging peace:
All hope excluded thus, behold instead
Of us out-cast, exil’d, his new delight
Mankind created and for him this World.
So farewell hope, and with hope farewell fear,
Farewell remorse: all good to me is lost;
Evil be thou my Good; by thee at least
Divided Empire with Heav’n’ss King I hold
By thee, and more than half perhaps will reign
As Man erelong, and this new World shall know

Lucifer is successful at tempting Adam and Eve, but in the end he fails. He and all his demons are changed into serpents. But even  worse is the transformation that Lucifer has caused to himself. From being Lucifer, the bright Morning Star, he has become Satan, the Enemy of God and man, the Devil, the Liar. From being the greatest of the Arch Angels he has devolved into a being consumed with hatred and pride. Hardly a model for the successful rebel.

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