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Essay on The Canterbury Tales

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By offering the reader the choice to read on or to find another tale, the narrator includes the reader in the narrative as someone who is either already disciplined, and so will choose another story, or included in the category of shame created for the Miller: “narrator and reader can choose to identify as subjects in process, performing at times contradictory public and private functions” (226). For Burger, this is a moment that reveals The Canterbury Tales’ work as the foundation of modern English:
The narrator's interjection echoes the queer performativity of the Miller and his tale by inserting the modernizing effects of textuality, thereby resisting the universalizing “now” of traditional medieval representations even as the moral tenor of his comments would appear to assert it. […] The narrator raises in its extremity the ability of the performative “Shame on you” to shut down interest and communication. But he does so only to stress the unlikelihood of such an event taking place in the way intended; indeed, the performance of “Shame on you” works as much to excite desire, to maintain interest in the Miller and his tale, to explore an “I” identifiable in and emerging from the shadows of that performative. (226-27)
The performance of “shame on you” that simultaneously shuts down communication and excites desire to engage in a process of subjection is a thread of this discussion, which we will now pick up as an examination of how medieval literature is disseminated and consumed. Tracing distributive and pedagogical practices to a consideration of how students are taught to identify with the liberal social order, as demonstrated in Mark McCutcheon’s and Dan Colson’s studies of the use of Shakespeare in English classrooms, I e...


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... with moral and religious ones?” More than just acknowledging “that a great deal of strategic manoeuvring went into the creation of a blueprint for social control in the guise of a humanistic program of enlightenment,” these questions open the possibility of “distinguish[ing] between strategy as unmediated assertion of authority and strategy as mediated response to situational imperatives” (“Masks of Conquest”). In plainer terms, this specification means we can study in Middle English literature the ambiguous and imaginary foundations of the liberal social order to see whether it arose whole, unified, and uncontested, or, as Viswanathan writes of British imperialism, “whether that position itself was a fragile one that it was the role of educational decisions to fortify, given the challenge posed by historical contingency and confrontation” (“Masks of Conquest”).



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