Students present their modern adaptation of Chaucer at national conference
When Samantha Yates and Megan Mitchell decided to rewrite Chaucer’s “The Book of Duchess” into a modern tale of love, loss and grief as their project for their Medieval Visions & Visionaries course, neither imagined their creative adaptation would place them at the podium at a national conference.
Yet that’s exactly what happened. Their professor, Corey Wronski-Mayersak, was impressed and suggested they develop it further for presentation at the national Medieval and Early Modern Studies Conference. It was accepted, and Yates and Mitchell were among 81 students from 29 colleges and universities to present their work on Dec. 3 at Moravian College.
Their adaptation of Geoffrey Chaucer’s 14th-century, 1,334-line poem mirrors the original dream vision except it takes place in the 21st century and is told from the female perspective. In both, the dreamer falls asleep and dreams about love and loss, through which the characters in the dream deal with their grief, and that ultimately allows the dreamer to come to terms with their grief.
“Megan and I love ‘The Book of Duchess,’” says Yates, a senior English major from Shepherdstown, W. Va. “We thought it encompassed so many different emotions, from falling in love to dealing with loss, which made it an exciting challenge to rewrite in a modern context.”
For their project, the dreamer is a woman and features a love story from the woman’s perspective, and the male only gets one line. The adaptation has all the trappings of 21st century romance, including some posts to social media incorporated into the story. Their characters — Rose Chaucer, Blanche Lancaster — reflect, in name, characters from Chaucer’s time. In fact, the Duchess in Chaucer’s poem is named Blanche and in both versions, she is the character who dies.
Neither Yates nor Mitchell had previously presented at an academic conference.
“It was exciting to present and we had so much fun with the story,” says Mitchell, a sophomore from Berlin, Md., who loved dabbling in Chaucer and writing so far removed from her Accounting major. “Sam and I would get together to write and really got into it. We put ourselves into the roles, constantly asking ‘what would I say now about that.’”
Read excerpts of their work — and Chaucer’s original — in the stanzas below.
“Book of the Duchess” lines 939-947 (Blazon Scene) by Geoffrey Chaucer
But swich a fairnesse of a nekke
Had that swete that boon nor brekke
Nas ther noon sene, that missat.
Hit was whyt, smothe, streght, and flat,
Withouten hole; and canel-boon,
As by seeming, had she noon.
Hir throte, as I have now memoire,
Semed a round tour of yvoire,
Of good greetnesse, and noght to grete.
“The Diary of Blanche” Scene 5 (Blazon Scene) as re-written by McDaniel students Megan Mitchell and Samantha Yates:
Blanche: Oh would you just be quiet for two seconds and let me explain! (pause) Thank you. As I was saying, he is a great guy. He is smart, and funny, and talented, and not to mention brave. You even agreed to that before
Rose: We were joking-
Blanche: I have the floor! John is unlike any guy I have ever met. When I’m with him I am happier than I have ever been. He makes me feel so special. And I mean have you ever really looked at the guy! Once you get past all the off-putting black clothes, he is hot. (sigh) His shoulders? He is broad as a wall! And he is so tall! 6ft. 3in.
Rose: You measured?
Blanche: No! I’m just approximating. I have to tilt my head back really far to look into his eyes. Oh and his eyes! I could stare into them all day. They are the most wonderful, sparkly shade of emerald I have ever seen. Like a meadow in the spring time. Like the Aurora Borealis. Like… like… like a recycling bin!
Rose: Recycling bins are blue, Blanche. Blue!
Blanche: Not all of them! And his smile! It shines like-
Rose: (laughing) let me guess. Like the stars?
Blanche: Like the sun! His smile shines like the sun. Oh and when he smiles at me! (Sigh) I could bask in his smile forever and ever.