English students get medieval for V-Day

The English department revived an old tradition Monday when it invited the student body — and their significant others — to a reading of Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Miller’s Tale” for Valentine’s Day.

After almost nine years, English professor Ian Cornelius organized a new iteration of the reading, which peaked in popularity during the 1980s and 1990s. About 35 undergraduates, graduate students, and professors dined on grapes and coffee in the second floor rotunda in Linsly-Chittenden Hall before launching into readings of Chaucer and love poetry from Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman and other writers.

“I felt like it was time,” Cornelius said of his decision to resurrect the reading, adding that he solicited some of the graduate and undergraduate readers at the event from his fall and spring semester courses this year.

Before launching into “The Miller’s Tale,” four professors and students stepped forward to present their own romantic selections.

Gabriel Bloomfield ’11 said he was asked to read a love poem, but added that “it somehow turned into an erotic poem.” His energetic reading of John Donne’s “To His Mistress Going to Bed” drew laughter from the audience.

After Bloomfield’s recitation, Cornelius, who is currently teaching a course called “Chaucer and Desire,” introduced “The Miller’s Tale.” Ten volunteers read the poem, from Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales,” which follows four lovers — an unfaithful wife, a lecherous student, a dimwitted landlord, and a lustful priest — through their liaisons. All 10 readers used Middle English translations of the poem and spoke in Middle English accents.

“At some point between Chaucer and Shakespeare, English went through some dramatic changes,” said reader Joe Stodalnik GRD ’16. “I apologize if my accent sounded Italian, but you must understand — I had to rhyme ‘tome’ with ‘cinnamon.’”

English professor emeritus Traugott Lawler, an expert on Middle English, said the performers’ accents were acceptable, but praised the return of the event after its almost decade-long hiatus. At the height of the event’s popularity, Lawler said, English 125 students were “semi-required” to attend the readings after beginning their study of Chaucer in the fall.

Cornelius organized the event with the help of students on the English Major Advisory Committee, including Katie Munyan ’11, who said the event was a good way to spend the afternoon.

Graduate students in attendance said they enjoyed the less romantic poetry. Stodalnik said the cynical selection “lampoon the romance that Valentine’s Day celebrates.”

“I think that there’s a healthy dose of irony in events like these,” said Shannon Beddingfield GRD ’16.

At previous Valentine’s Day readings, Lawler said, professors recited “The Reeve’s Tale” and “The Knights Tale” in addition to “The Miller’s Tale.”

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