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Tolkien Studies: An Annual Scholarly Review, Volume V by

[Editors’ note: In August 1938, Tolkien took part in the Oxford “Summer Diversions” organized by John Masefield and Nevill Coghill. He impersonated Chaucer and recited, from memory, “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale.” In the following year, on 28 July 1939, Tolkien returned with a similar performance of a slightly abridged version of “The Reeve’s Tale.” For this occasion a pamphlet was issued, containing Tolkien’s prefatory remarks and his version of “The Reeve’s Tale.” Although prepared for a general audience, it nevertheless was compiled with Tolkien’s usual care and skill, and Tolkien Studies is pleased to reprint the text of this rare pamphlet as a companion to his scholarly essay on the same subject. Tolkien later noted that “The recitation [in] 1939 of Reeve’s Tale was swamped by war and though successful was not noticed.”]

The Reeve’s Tale

Version Prepared for Recitation at the ‘Summer Diversions’

 

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Tolkien Studies: An Annual Scholarly Review, Volume V by

Author: , Date: June 6, 2019

,Views: 18

Language: eng

Format: azw3

Publisher: West Virginia University Press

Published: 2008-05-31T16:00:00+00:00
[Editors’ note: In August 1938, Tolkien took part in the Oxford “Summer Diversions” organized by John Masefield and Nevill Coghill. He impersonated Chaucer and recited, from memory, “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale.” In the following year, on 28 July 1939, Tolkien returned with a similar performance of a slightly abridged version of “The Reeve’s Tale.” For this occasion a pamphlet was issued, containing Tolkien’s prefatory remarks and his version of “The Reeve’s Tale.” Although prepared for a general audience, it nevertheless was compiled with Tolkien’s usual care and skill, and Tolkien Studies is pleased to reprint the text of this rare pamphlet as a companion to his scholarly essay on the same subject. Tolkien later noted that “The recitation [in] 1939 of Reeve’s Tale was swamped by war and though successful was not noticed.”]

The Reeve’s Tale

Version Prepared for Recitation at the ‘Summer Diversions’

Oxford: 1939

J.R.R. Tolkien

Among Chaucer’s pilgrims was a reeve, Oswold of Baldeswell in Norfolk. The miller had told a story to the discredit of an Osney carpenter and Oxford clerks, and Oswold, who practised the craft of carpentry, was offended. In this tale he has his revenge, matching the miller’s story with one to the discredit of a Trumpington miller and clerks of Cambridge.

The story is comic enough even out of this setting, but it fits the supposed narrator unusually well. Nonetheless, ‘broad’ as it is, it probably fits the actual author, Chaucer himself, well enough to justify the representation of him as telling it in person. Apart from its merits as a comic tale of ‘lewed folk,’ this piece has a special interest. Chaucer seems to have taken unusual pains with it. He gave new life to the fabliau, the plot of which he borrowed, with the English local colour that he devised; and he introduced the new joke of comic dialect. This does not seem to have been attempted in English literature before Chaucer, and has seldom been more success­ful since.

Even in the usual printed texts of Chaucer the northern dialectal character of the speeches of Alain and John is plain. But a comparison of various manuscripts seems to show that actually Chaucer himself went further: the clerks’ talk, as he wrote it, was probably very nearly correct and pure northern dialect, derived (as usual with Chaucer) from books as well as from observation. A remarkable feat at the time. But Chaucer was evidently interested in such things, and had given considerable thought to the linguistic situation in his day. It may be observed that he presents us with an East­-Anglian reeve, who is amusing southern, and largely London, folk with imitations of northern speech brought southward by the attraction of the universities. This is a picture in little of the origins of literary and London English. East-Anglia played an important part in transmitting to the capital northerly features of language—such as ill, their and the inflexion in brings, which are in this tale used as dialectalisms, but have since become familiar. The East-Anglian reeve is a

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