I have an ex-boyfriend that likes to make fun of the fact that I read and enjoy reading (one reason he’s an ex…). People automatically assume that enjoying reading, especially classics, and writing make me a boring person. If I had a quarter for every time I was judged for being a Writing, Literature and Publishing major… well, I would at least be able to buy a new pair of expensive heels. Personally, I don’t get it… maybe it stems from ignorance. People rarely like to give books a chance (or if they do it’s because the Kindle is just so much freakin’ fun to use and you look so cool with it) and among my generation, you might as well be a leper if you advertise your love for classic literature. But people are also often wrong… Seriously folks, classic literature is FUN.
Take for example a cornerstone of British poetry– Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. Once you get past all the Germanic Middle-English (awesome side-by-side translation can be found here), what you have at the heart of the story is some really funny, dirty and vulgar shit.
I remember reading a translation when I was in middle school and catching on to some of the dirty jokes, but not too many. Now that my mind has matured (read: now that I go to college and people love to talk about sex 24/7), I get a lot more of these jokes (and it makes me feel pretty smart!). I recently read The Miller’s Tale, which is told from the perspective of a a low-class mill worker who is very damn drunk and prefaces his story by blaming it on the alcohol (cue Jamie Foxx song). The story is what stuffy literary scholars call a fabliau–this basically means short, funny, satirical and, often, freakin’ vulgar.
So here’s what happens… there’s this old guy named John and he’s a carpenter. Stupidly enough, he’s married this hot young chick named Alison. And this hot young chick knows she’s hot. John takes on a boarder to live in his house–a young student named Nicholas. Naturally, Nicholas notices that Alison is hot and together, they scheme to trick John into believing there is a flood coming so they can be left alone to get it on. Things get complicated when a Church clerk by the name of Absolon also professes his love for Alison by singing sweet sonnets to her outside her window. But Alison is just too hot for him (and too infatuated with Nicholas, who we presume must be good in bed in that case) so she turns him away, humiliating him. One night, he comes to her window again out of pure desperation (take note men, don’t do this…) and begs for a kiss. Alison seemingly gives in but as Absolon draws closer to the window, she sticks her bare ass out and he kisses her… well…. you know.
The funniest thing is that Chaucer actually uses the C U Next Tuesday word… just in Germanic Middle-English… but we all know what he really meant. The guy is really quite hilarious.
So, of course, Absolon is a little creeped out by the fact that he kissed something hairy… and he figures it out and gets quite pissed. A fabliau always has an element of revenge and Absolon is forced to get even. He retrieves a hot poker (like the thing you poke a fire with) and proceeds to burn Alison’s private parts with it. However, when he comes back to the window, Nicholas is the one to stick his bum out and fart on Absolon… but then he get hot metal poked into his bum. So he’s screaming in pain, desperate for water and the husband, thinking the flood has come, wakes up. Finally he puts together all the pieces. Fin.
Chaucer truly has a sense of humor and a very crude one at that. Moreover, there’s a lot of poking fun at religion and religious piety… that’s always slightly amusing! In the end, the moral of the Miller’s Tale is that old men shouldn’t marry hot, young things. Seriously…
Many classic authors do actually have a great sense of crude humor. Shakespeare is known for having cross-dressers in his plays. Homer features many scenes of orgies in his epic poems. And the fun doesn’t stop there! Just because someone took the time to write it down centuries ago doesn’t mean is has to be dry. Everyone should pick up a classic once in a while… you’ll be surprised at what you find.