“Esoteric Sh*t,” or Why I Love The “Canterbury Tales”

This post is goes out to AR and any other medievalists who might be reading, with love from another often esoteric part of the humanities. I mean, some people don’t even know what street Canada is on.

Way back in my McGill days, I enrolled in a course on Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales.”

Way back the other other day, while gallivanting about LA with a high school friend, I mentioned that I had taken lots of esoteric courses during my time at university, citing this Chaucer course as an example. My friend, a medievalist by trade and training, found this amusing enough to share on Facebook (if it was mildly dismissive of her career trajectory).

What I forgot to say at the time was that I, as a fellow super-nerd, loved that class. We had to memorize a portion of the text to recite in class, and I rented a knight’s costume to accompany my recitation. (Did I already mention: super. nerd.)

Fast forward a few years to a summer in Alaska, where a house party finds everyone else with an entertaining skill – dancing, reciting poems, playing instruments, telling jokes – and me at a bit of a loss, wondering what to share.

Turns out some of the Yalies (that’s code-speak for “Yale students,” as the uninitiated in a gathering of more than one Yalie will learn quickly) in attendance had had to memorize Chaucer in their undergrad, too, so a few of us managed to spout some of the “Canterbury Tales” on the spot. It was a collaborative effort to behold, and it promptly motivated me to write to Professor Fumo with belated but sincere gratitude: “When you had us memorize Chaucer for homework, you said it would be good for us, and I don’t think I believed you at the time – but you were right!”

(Dr. Kiely always said that Liberal Arts degrees were great for cocktail parties.)

Moral of the story: Anyone who thinks there aren’t real-world applications for Chaucer (or any variation on a Liberal Arts degree) hasn’t been to an Alaskan house party.

Of course, you should feel free to draw your own muddled conclusions!

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