In my endeavour to focus Y12 on AO2, I recorded this today in a lesson. Please take a lesson – it was not pre-prepped and I make no apologies for the rough edges…
Tag Archives: #revise2017AS
A discussion of an essay submitted to consider the presentation of Januarie and May at a turning point in the poem.
The discussion is 35 minutes long and there is a slight corruption of the file at the end of the session. Plenty of interesting stuff here though.
The task: Explore the presentation of the character of May in lines 734-774. Be sure to comment on the typicality of Chaucer’s writing in the extract.
This is an extract from a student essay: I’d love some feedback and suggested marking comment.
This passage comes after it is revealed that Damyan is lusts after May and is one of the first times in which the character of May is properly developed by Chaucer and used as a bathetic, ironic tool within the fabliau and satirizing the common tales of courtly love.
The passage begins with the description of how Januries ‘taketh hire and kisseth ful ofte’. The use of ‘taketh’ is akin to how one may handle a possession and perhaps indicates to the reader that the displays of affection which Januarie show’s by ‘kisseth ful ofte’ is not requited and instead the quote portrays May as an unwilling submissive partner in the relationship reminiscent of the scene earlier in the tale in which she is described as ‘still as stoon’ during the consummation of their marriage and the fact that the garden which acts as an extension of the bedroom for Januarie is described as ‘walled with stoon’ demonstrates that May to an extent, is portrayed as a prisoner within the relationship and this image is recurrent in this passage with the possessive verb of ‘taketh’ which shows that May is handled as a possession. The submissive nature of May within the relationship is further explored within the passage through the use of ‘How that he wroghte, I dar not to yow telle , or whether hire thought it paradys or helle’ in reference to Januare’s love-making. The ‘how’ is stressed with the trochaic substitution and the sentence encourages the audience’s imagination to run wild whilst implicitly stating that the act which Januarie performed can be likened to rape. Furthermore the reference to May’s ‘paradys or helle’ forms a parallel phrase with the earlier statement in the passage in which Januarie describes how her clothes ‘dide hym encombraunce’ and how she obeyed with ‘be hire lief or looth’. As both of her thoughts are likely to be the latter in the parallel phrases, Chaucer emphasizes to the reader that May as a character is dominated by Januarie and his demonstrations of affection are not requited by May showing how she is perhaps unwillingly dominated.
Furthermore, the ironic nature of May’s character is explored in this passage as the satirical nature of the tale begins to unravel. The ironic nature of her character is illustrated by the epithet ‘faire fresshe May’ with the alliterative epithet presenting May as wonderful and ‘faire’ however this is ironically undercut by the fact that she later plans to cuckhold Januarie in the passage by having an affair with Damyan. Thus the epithet can be seen not only to be seen as the ironic undercut provided by the Merchant who is aware of what she shall do next but also representing her deception as Januarie certainly holds the opinion that she is ‘faire’ and ‘fresshe’ but perhaps in actual fact she is rotten. The ironic undercut is prevalent later in the passage as Chaucer describes how ‘pitee renneth soone in gentil herte!’ when she reads Damyan’s letter. This is ironic as ‘gentil’ refers to the virtuous actions of a noble woman commonly seen in courtly love however in the particular setting May is anything but noble as bathetically the letter is read and discarded whilst upon the toilet and her supposedly ‘gentil’ heart looks onto Damayan’s ‘lust suffise’. Irony is seen throughout the Merchant’s tale demonstrated by the prologue in which the merchant references women from the Bible in what appears to be a glowing appraisal of women however this is ironically undercut by the infamous actions these women such as ‘Eve’ and ‘Rebekka’ performed – often acts of deceit. In this passage we see May being showered with positives epithets and the praise of having a ‘gentil’ heart however this is undercut by the fact that her ‘gentil heart’ seeks lust and not the typical romantic love shown in a traditional courtly love tale. Whilst on the surface May is presented as ‘faire fresshe’ and having a ‘gentil’ heart in this passage, this passage is perhaps notable for the development of the ironic and satirical purpose of her character.
I like it a lot – plenty of AO2 emerging and a clear understanding of how iambic pentameter works in the trochaic substitution comment. Is there enough explicit ‘typicality’ here?
What of this one?
“IN LINES 943 – 999, HOW ARE THE CHARACTERS OF JANUARIE AND MAY REPRESENTED?”
Towards the end of the fabliau, the titular characters of Januarie and May can be seen to develop and change. It is the setting that aids their ever-changing representation, as well as events that have taken place before they enter the “gardyn.” The garden is successful in satirizing that of the Garden of Eden ironically, [considering the acts of debauchery and adultery that occur within it.is it ironic? It is a satire, so I would expect something of this kind. ] Despite the negative connotations of the irony of the garden, Januarie appears to show, maturity, pragmatism and affection towards May, and in contrast she betrays him with the “lechour in the tree,” Damyan.
At this point Januarie is as “blynd as a stoon,” and walks into the garden with May in “hand.” It can be argued that Januarie has been ‘metaphorically’blind throughout the whole poem, as he has not recognised the deceptive nature of May and Damyan. Januarie and May enter into, what is called, the “fresshe gardyn.” Considering “fresshe” is frequently tied to the character of May, the irony that Chaucer wishes to create is apparent, as only filthy acts of sexual corruption occur in the garden, at the hand of Januarie or Damyan, or later at the command of May. The idea also makes May assume the role of Eve, and insinuates that she could become impregnated in the garden, but is unclear who. This represents May as an important character, as she is the one who could continue Januarie’s line as he wishes her to, but due to the debauched nature of the garden, it is unclear how this will be achieved.
While Januarie displays a genuine affection for May in this passage, she can be viewed in the opposite, and therefore negative, light. Januarie initially wanted to marry to ensure that his acts of debauchery were not judged negatively, as they would have been permitted within the “bond” of marriage. However, by declaring that May is the “creature that I best love,” Januarie appears to have cast his old desires aside, and appreciates May’s presence as well as her beauty. Januarie would rather “dyen on a knyf” than “offende” his “deere wife.” The rhyme and iambic stress of the couplet emphasises his strong feelings for May, and makes it clear that he does have genuine affection for her, and doesn’t just view her as a sexual plaything. However, sexual undertones can still be detected with the use of “dyen,” which could be a reference to the orgasm, as well as “knyf,” which on their wedding night was used to label Januarie’s genitalia. This could be perfectly innocent and accidental, but does make the reader consider whether Januarie could ever fully purge his desires. This quote is also relevant to May, as it is she who will wield the ‘knife’ as she is about to stab Januarie in the back, as she is soon to betray him with Damyan up the pear tree. Their roles have appeared to change since their marriage, as it is now May who has the power to inflict such pain on Januarie. She does not escape the label of the adulteress because of this, unlike Januarie who can be seen to change and show his wife genuine affection. [Well written, though I would like you to be clearer about the atypical presentation of Januarie here.]
Januarie can also be seen to be thinking about the future of himself and his family. Januarie is seen to trust May so much that he “chartres a yow leste.” He makes her heir to his estate and promises that this will be complete “sonne reste.” The rhyme and iambic stress of the couplet emphasises the significance and the importance of this action. He asks that she kisses him to seal the “covenant,” and this also can be seen as a small act of affection. Although this seems to be a normal act between a husband and wife, as they share everything, Januarie could be seen to be attempting to buy the loyalty of May with his belongings and wealth. This could be one of the reasons she agreed to marry Januarie, and if Chaucer considered this idea, it inspires pity from the audience for Januarie, as he appears to be so desperate for companionship. He can be seen to be thinking of the future of his belongings and heritage here, as he has assigned them to May. This is just as Justinus warned. At the beginning of the fabliau Januarie noted that a positive feature of marriage is that it could result in an heir for himself, and when listing the reasons why May should be “trewe,” he mentions “myn heritage.” Januarie is also thinking about the future of his family line, and is hoping for a legitimate heir. He acknowledges that if May were unfaithful he would be raising an illegitimate child. [ I’d like to see a little more context emerging. The AO2 is excellent and well considered…]
Januarie is also represented as a mature and repentant character. He apologises to May if he seems “jalous,” and encourages her to take no notice of it. Januarie appears to realise that he does not want to lose May, as he is increasingly old and lonely. He later frankly tells her that her “beautee” is unparalleled to the “unlikely elde of me.” The contrast of “beautee” and “me” emphasises the difference in age and appearance of Januarie and May, and insinuates that Januarie does realise that he was wrong in marrying her. The rhyme and emphasis on “beautee” reminds the reader of what attracted May to Januarie, but it is now used in a different context, and not one that is concerned with sexual attraction but more her “compaignye.” This further emphasies the fact that Januarie doesn’t want to lose May, and that perhaps going blind has made him realise this even more, as without her he will have absolutely nothing. He appears to mature, which encourages sympathy for him from the audience, as just when he appears to be genuine, May proceeds to be more deceptive than ever.[ Contextual humour found in old/young marriage plots from drama back to 4C,BC]
While May is represented as a slowly maturing character, May is represented as the stereotypical conniving adulteress, perhaps because it was Eve who sinned and ate the forbidden fruit first. The Merchant was correct in saying that marriage causes “wepying,” in the prologue, but May’s “wepe” is seen in a much more deceptive light. She is aware that Damyan is present, and further wishes to deceive Januarie. The use of “benyngely” also hints at her deception, as the word is commonly used when she is thinking about Damyan. She notes that her “wyfhod” is like a “tender flour.” This is ironic, as flowers can be cut and destroyed, much like her “honour” and virtue. In a hyperbolic fashion, she claims that if she does “lak” virtue, Januarie should “strepe me and put me in a sak.” This rhyme emphasises her dishonour and lies, and insinuates that she should be thrown into a sack, as she does lack honour. Her declaration that she is no “wenche” is humourous for the audience, as they understand the dramatic irony behind Chaucer’s words. As Januarie is a poor judge of character, and responds well to flattery, as seen in his conversation with Placebo, Januarie believes the deceptions and lies of May. However, one could argue that it would be foolish for her to behave any other way, as she would not want to become a social outcast because of her adultery.
After insinuating that women are untrue and can be unfaithful, May is represented as offended, and takes considerable action in response. Januarie previously listed the reasons why May should be true to him, which could imply that he is aware of her adultery. May seems offended that he would even allude to such a thing, and claims that “men been evere untrewe.” As men have always been unfaithful, May argues that Januarie has “noon oother countenance,” or reason to accuse her. It would have been more serious for May to become pregnant by Damyan, as the baby would be illegitimate. However, if Januarie was adulterous and fathered a child, the baby would still have his blood, and therefore could be seen as legitimate. This is the reason why it was more serious for a woman to be adulterous, and it is this idea, coupled with Janurie’s desire for an heir that makes him list the reasons why she should be faithful to him, which clearly offends her, and could explain her next actions.
Immediately after this, May notices Damyan. She “saugh” him, and with a “cough” and “sygnes”
he understands that she wants him to get up the tree. May is represented here as a sexually corrupt character, as it is she who is commanding and orchestrating the affair. She is totally in control of Damyan, and takes advantage of Januarie’s vulnerability, which makes her seem even more cruel, especially as he has begun to show genuine affection for her. The speed in which she signals Damyan to get up the tree emphasises the desire that she “longeth” and has for him. The fact that the “fruyt” on the tree are pears also emphases her corruption, as they have the appearance of the scrotum. [Rather an abrupt statement which suggests yourt thoughts rather than an awareness of medieval plant lore.]
Januarie’s insinuation of her adultery could be the reason she speedily signals Damyan, as she may wish to get back at him for his assumptions, as well as the grievances she has also suffered with him, such as their wedding night. Whether this be true or not, it is clear that May is represented as an increasingly sexually corrupt and cruel character.
Both Januarie and May appear to develop in this passage, and can be seen to change in contrasting ways. Januarie’s growing maturity and acceptance of his own actions allow the reader to sympathise with him more, especially as May appears to be more deceptive than ever as she continues her adulterous affair.
TOOK AN ADDITIONAL 6.35 MINUTES
Following a comment by Martin Robinson in his excellent presentation at Research Ed: Language, I am going to engage students with some specific focus on the ‘Beat’ stage direction which appears throughout the text.
Students can be confused by a text which contains both the word ‘pause’ and the word ‘beat’ in stage directions. We need to explore what the play-write intends by the altogether stronger word.
Robinson was very clear: the BEAT suggests a pause of enough significance to show a shift in the prevailing atmosphere of any scene. Something is different, in other words, because of the beat. I thought I would look at a couple of sequences from the beginning of the play and in the lesson, ivite lower 6th boys to focus on 1 or 2 beats and explore the possible shifts.
This is the first meeting between Johnny and Ginger, his loyal sidekick. The atmosphere is still light – the previous scene has seen Johnny thwarting the jobsworths from the council imitating a dog -Shep- and generally establishing himself as the Lord of Misrule – filthy language and spectacular drinking habits. Ginger enters and asks about the detritus-strewn setting. For the audience this is the next humorous encounter, but after the initial sparring – 4 lines of stichmythia – something alters. The audience need to notice that Ginger has challenged the veracity of Johnny’s position and that Johnny does not like it.
At this stage not much comes of it, but the line ‘It was a gathering’ must be more significant than a simple exercise in telling the truth: it establishes several things:
- Johnny does not like being challenged directly
- Ginger is aggrieved and feels let down by Johnny
- Johnny does not expect to be further challenged and feels that his position of power is undermined.
He moves on and avoids confrontation by claiming a headache and his intrerrupted ‘Ginger-‘ at the foot of the page suggests something of a backing down and will lead to the Girls Aloud story and the establishing of the ‘sexual prowess’ myth.
A little later in the scene we read
Here the same thing happens again – Johnny is making his excuses and devising stories to aggrandise his behaviour and Ginger challenges him with the bald statement ‘that’s not the fracas I’m talking about’. Once again Johnny is on the back foot and Butterworth wants us to notice this as significant. As the scene moves on, it is Ginger who tells the tale and it is one that does not show Johnny as a ‘Hero’. Half way through there is another ‘beat’. This one establishes the humour of the scene – the ever more hyperbolic stories all leading to the fracas – but also draws attention to another element of Johnny’s character – Johnny as a feral being with the morals and responses not of society but of an animal. This is not just adulterous sex, but it is sex with the wife of a soldier away serving his country. We laugh, but we notice.
In the pair of pages above we read a typically fast-paced passage of stichomyhia ending in the beat as the Professor tries to get Johnny to simply say ‘Ginger’s a DJ’ to keep the peace. The passage has moved quickly with Ginger clearly desperate for Johnny to give him this affirmation. As the squabble breaks down to childish proportions, so the pace builds and the tension increases. The beat allows for a pause, but one which has weight. As we turn the page, Johnny remains silent and Ginger: ‘(points to Johnny) You’re a cunt. (points to the professor) You I like.’
This moment, though designed to produce laughter and signal Ginger’s defeat (Johnny may well have been saving this up after the challenges already discussed), is echoed at the end of the play: ‘Once a cunt, always a cunt’ says Ginger as he leaves the stage. Ginger is Johnny’s only loyal disciple, but here we see him emotionally respond to Johnny’s cruelty and use the taboo language as a weapon, rather as punctuation in banter. The audience laugh but will also recognise Ginger’s hurt. The second half of the quotation shows him restoring his equilibrium and coming back for more. This is significant and will not happen at the end of the play.
I have been putting together an introduction to Butterworth’s play. This is my draft complete copy. It is definitely work in progress, but I welcome feedback.
The play appears on the OCR set text list for AS and can be used, therefore for the coursework element at A level, yet there is no published material on the play and OCR have not produced one of their useful guides to give us a hint at what areas of a splendidly rich text they will be focused upon.
I hope some who read this will get in touch with suggestions and corrections… I am still working on it as you can see.
A list of essay titles for revision purposes. Whilst these are not really intended to follow the OCR outlines, I think that the ground covered in a sensible planning of each will leave little to chance…
- ‘What the fuck do you think an English forest is for?’ Explore the depiction of England as part of a pastoral narrative.
- Ginger needs Johnny, but Johnny also needs Ginger: Discuss
- Explore the depiction of youth as shown in the characters Davey and Lee.
- To what extent do you view Troy Whitworth to be the ‘villain’ of the play?
- ‘A fairy tale for the 21st Century’. To what extent do you agree with this idea of the play?
- Explore the role of music in the play
- From Blake to Gog and Magog. What is the role of Heritage in this play?
- The audience should pity Johnny. Do you agree?
- The audience should feel sympathy for Fawcett. Do you agree?
- Phaedra is as much a victim as Johnny is. To what extent do you agree with this view?
- Jerusalem is play which never loses its relevance. Do you think this is a fair comment?
- How is violence used in this play?
- Consider the theme of friendship in this play.
- Johnny is little more than a scallywag, he should not frighten us. To what extent do you find this to be a fair comment on the play?
- Choose two minor characters and explore the dramatic function of these characters in the play.
This seminar allowed 2 students to present their recent essays for OCR AS literature. Neither are perfect representations of the AOs, but this was the first time I have tried this as a support exercise with this group.
Not a perfect examination response, but I know that I would not have written with such assurance in the lower 6th. Take a bow Karan.
L783 (“This gentil May”)- 825 (“under a laurer alwey greene”)
Examine the use of setting in this extract and consider the typicality of the extract in terms of the whole tale.
In this extract Chaucer introduces us to Januarie’s grand idea of making a garden for him and May to be alone. The garden is filled with references to the Bible and nature as well as promiscuity and fertility. The setting used is symbolic, and creates a garden that seems to be littered with sin. At this point one must decide whether this is the Merchant simply telling the tale, or perhaps Chaucer giving his opinion on marriage, and the façade associated with its apparent holiness.
Considering Januarie’s garden is designed for the purpose of isolation so he and May can have sex, the repetitive sexual innuendoes and references should come as no surprise. The most obvious case of this is the “welle” in the garden the lies underneath a “laurer alwey grene”. Here, Chaucer uses the idea of a “welle” as a vagina, and a “laurer” as a phallic symbol. The purpose of this garden, therefore, is very clear. Furthermore, the iambic stress falls on “alwey” and emphasises the fact that this garden is not intended for holiness or love, but for lust. The line then crescendos to the “grene” tree, which once more emphasises the idea that this phallic symbol is always erect. In these two lines alone, Chaucer provides a very clear and precise indication as to what this garden was built for- pleasure and lust. One might also link this “fair” garden to the Garden of Eden, which was intended to be “hooly” but instead became sinful. If Januarie’s “gardyn” is accepted as a direct Biblical reference to Eden, then perhaps this could be Chaucer foreshadowing May’s deceit and sin, much like Eve committed sin in the Garden. We see something that is intended to be holy and pure become the opposite earlier in the Tale with the marriage ceremony of January and May. Their so-called “hooly” ceremony has such a build up before the event, only to last just seven lines.
We later see similar symbolism when Chaucer introduces the idea of a “wyket” and “clyket”. This reference to a key and keyhole is a clear sexual innuendo designed to once again emphasise the garden’s sin and irony. Furthermore, the words “wyket” and “clyket” are a heroic couplet, and are also arguably used to demonstrate Januarie’s obsession with sex, which is why the garden is so important to him. We see this when Chaucer uses exemplar when mentioning “Priapus”, the Roman God of garden and claims that January has made a better garden than Priapus could ever make. Januarie’s obsession with sex may also be shown with the reference of the famous French literature on courtly love, the “Romance of the Rose”, which teaches the reader about the Art of Love and how to please the “Rose” (a common symbol for the vagina). If Chaucer is implying Januarie has read this book, much like he has read “De Coittu” (translating to ‘About Sex’), perhaps it shows his insecurities with regards to his own sexual abilities and belief that this garden will somehow better his sexual performance. However, this reference may just be for ironic purposes or maybe Chaucer demonstrating auctoritas, as it is mentioned in a fabliau text that is designed to mock courtly love.
Chaucer also uses setting effectively when considering the time at which he introduces Januarie’s “fair… gardyn”. Before we are introduced to the idea of a garden, we see May write a “letter” to Damyan about her feelings towards him and then decides to “visite this Damyan”. The juxtaposition between May’s concern with Damyan, and Janurie’s concern with his “fresshe” May is quite ironic and makes it very clear that their marriage is slowly falling apart and is far from “paradys”. We then see Damyan rise “Up..the nexte” morning, with iambic stress falling on “Up” which make have sexual conations of an erection, thus showing his passion and “desyr” for May. Once again we see irony, as if we accept that the stress falls on “Up” to emphasise Damyan’s erection, it becomes even more apparent that Januaries has trouble with sex and must drink “ypocras, clarree and vernage” in order to enhance his sexual feeling and even with these enhancements, May still considers his performance “not worth a bene”. This setting and juxtaposition makes us empathise with Januarie to an extent, and feel sorry for his naivety.
In conclusion, the description of Januarie’s garden demonstrates complete irony between holiness and religion with regards to sin and promiscuity. Furthermore, the countless sexual references and innuendoes clearly show that the garden is a place of pleasure, lust and fertility and is, in truth, unholy. However, the garden also demonstrates something about Januarie’s character. Gardens come about naturally and are not “made” or built. This is arguably a metaphor for May and Januarie’s marriage- that it is not natural, but instead manufactured and fake. Personally, Januarie comes across as a man who doesn’t fully understand beauty, and believes that everything can be manufactured and built to fit his liking.