Thursday, July 28, 2005

BBC NEWS | UK | Education | Chaucer's tales become rap songs

Um...*clears throat*. Right...okay... *Shakes head*

Before I sold out to become a law student, I wanted to be a b-boy (break dancer in the more common vernacular) or a rapper or a DJ. Yes, shocking as it may seem, I don't listen to Classical music unless there's rap involved. I don't pretend that I have a whole lot of street cred but on its intellectual traditions and on it's history, I probably know more about Hip Hop culture than most others, and yes, contrary to what some people think, it's more than gangsta' rap or Bling-Blings.

We do know that Hip Hop culture as a whole (involving rap, DJing, break dance and graffiti) has made tremendous strides in crossing and breaching cultural barriers and nationalities, both subsuming and being subsumed by musical traditions (and fashions), traditional or otherwise. In a sense, hip hop is remarkably similar to jazz in both its origins, spread and use of originality (or lack thereof).

And considering that the origins of rap (Old school) was borne in the tumultuous era of the 1960's civil rights movement, where rap was spoken words (often political messages and stories) said by a DJ over music, I don't personally think it's inconceivable that Chaucer could be transformed into a form of rap especially since the Canterbury tales have their own rhyme scheme incorporated into the stories. Admittedly, the rhyme scheme only works in 14th century English. Very painful to read and understand (in places it doesn't even look like the English we know).

Furthermore, given that the entire notion of studying literature which involves past authors and playwrights is premised upon the immutableness of human nature, then the incapacity of the original to be translated into modern form would be a damning indictment of that original premise.

Which is why I really do admire Shakespeare, for certain of his plays still retain remarkable realism even today. I watched the 'MTV' version of Romeo and Juliet and was utterly blown away by the sheer stylism and the manner in which ye olde English actually made telligible sense spoken out loud. Of course, having Claire Danes didn't hurt the play visually.

What is truely interesting about this article and the entire endeavor however, is the part which talks about having to tone down Chaucer for kiddy consumption. Anyone who has done Chaucer's tales would know that it could rival anyway sexual comedy shown today on our screens, both in terms of innuendos as well as sheer crude humour and inane plot devices. I still remember attending a local production that assuredly deserved its N16 rating (and remembering marveling at the sheer innocence of some of my classmates).

I think in a manner of speaking, it rips the heart out of Chaucer. The ribald humour was intentional and crucial in fact to the entire sequence of stories. These were stories told by pilgrims and the irony of cause was that it got more and more explicit and sexual as they neared their religious end point. But at the same time, these were very accurate portrayals of the type of people and stories and mannerism that we would have seen in would time. So while I can understand why the desire to tone it down as it were exists, nevertheless, such a form of censorship insults not only the original author but also the listeners/readers. After all, I'm pretty sure your teenagers nowadays have heard and watched a lot worse and are none the worse for wear.

Jane Austen set in the streets anyone? Peace.


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