Friday, July 15, 2011

Prodding the pryking

There are a couple more things to prod about the pryking. A "tradition" sees Thopas, only as a peculiar fellow who gallops about the countryside and wears himself out with spurring his horse. Double entendre is not acknowledged. If it were, Thopas would rival the Miller's Tale--not in provoking belly laughs, but certainly in bawdy content.
     The single-level interpretation is solidly ingrained. A little story will demonstrate how solidly. I once had the opportunity at a Chaucer conference to ask a group of academics about a possible double meaning. Forty or more professors and grad students filled the room. I suddenly realize what a golden opportunity I had. Raising my hand, I inquired, if the dominant activity in the Tale of Thopas was pricking, then why is the story not considered risqué? The room was silent. Several seconds passed before an older man at the back volunteered, "I don't believe pricking had a sexual connotation at that time." No more was forthcoming. Another topic was taken up.
     Evidence, however, says otherwise. Beryl Rowland, in her extensive work on animal symbolism finds horse-riding and equine images expressing sexual activity as far back as Aristotle and the Bible. The Middle English Dictionary, in one of its many definitions of priken (to prick) specifies "to have sexual intercourse." That foregoing information is merely a segue to Chaucer's own portrayal in the Reeve's Tale. A student schemes to share a bed with the wife of his host. Before the night is over, they have a merry time, and, in Chaucer's own words, "He priketh hard and depe." Is interpretation necessary?

1 comment:

  1. A friend emailed me to say:
    Ah, Chaucer and his pricking . . . the comment about the guy in the audience made me laugh --talk about denying the obvious!
    Later, Mari Anne

    The sad thing about the man who spoke up is that there is little doubt he taught Chaucer to impressionable students. They're impressionable because they will be expected to remember/repeat what they were taught.
    Among the many grad students in the room that day, there was silence. Not even a snicker over a naughty image. If grads publicly align themselves with a controversial, non-traditional view, it would be noted. To flaunt non-traditional leanings could jeopardize their degree!
    Sounds harsh? Perhaps, but it has a ring of truth.