Chaucer and the Medieval Pilgrimage

Saint Cecilia

I thought I’d sample the title of my forthcoming reading at the British Museum. I’m excited about it because my poems will be placed in context – there’ll be readings of the original Middle English, translations and historical perspective. What inspires me most, though, is the chance to read some new pieces. I haven’t been idle (except the past two blissful weeks of family holiday). I’ve been working on versions of The Pardoner’s Tale and The Second Nun’s Tale.

Everyone talks about the Pardoner’s Tale as being one of the most sophisticated due to the complex relationship between teller and tale; the characterisation of the Pardoner himself; and the dramatic context in which he attempts to sell fake pardons to his fellow pilgrims having revealed to them all his trade secrets. I studied it for A level almost 30 years ago: I loved it then but I love it even more now. I’d forgotten just how fully realised the character is. It wasn’t difficult translating him into the 21st century – he never died in the first place; the challenge was to do something different. Apparently you can still obtain pardons through the catholic church though you’re not allowed to pay for them with hard cash. But I decided not to go down the pardon route. It’s still in progress but I hope my interpretation works…

As for the Second Nun’s Tale, I can’t say the original will ever be a favourite, though the tale contains some strong detail which I’ve used in my version. I knew very little about Saint Cecilia but was fascinated with her obstinate refusal to die. After three unsuccessful attempts to behead her, the executioner gives up. (There was a law that only allowed three swings of the axe).  Against, my will – because my default seems to be film noir, I found myself rewriting it with a noir setting. I’ve kept the christian content but played around with it somewhat. At the moment it’s raw, first draft stage, an intense two hours after a week of living and breathing the tale.

So there you have it. I’m immersed in the narratives. I need to have them polished a week before the reading so I can do them justice in the flesh as well as on the page. And after that, continuing with the gory note, I hope to do justice to The Physician’s Tale

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