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Conferences & lectures

Medieval Character Generation: Sock Puppets, Catfish, Templates, and Rhetorical Reasoning in Chaucer

Date & time
Wednesday, March 27, 2024
4 p.m. – 6 p.m.

Jonathan Newman, Clif and Gail Smart Professor of English, Missouri State University


This event is free




Stephen Yeager


J.W. McConnell Building
1400 De Maisonneuve Blvd. W.
Room 322

Wheel chair accessible


Woodcut by William Morris, from the Kelmscott Chaucer Woodcut by William Morris, from the Kelmscott Chaucer

This talk embarks on an explorative journey linking the medieval methods of character creation, as exemplified in Geoffrey Chaucer's works and particularly the Legend of Good Women, with contemporary media and narrative techniques. The presentation will dissect the nuanced relationship between rhetorical education and the development of vibrant characters in medieval literature, viewing Chaucer not as an isolated genius but as a part of a larger medieval tradition. We will delve into the ways in which medieval authors, much like modern scriptwriters and content creators, explore the tension between the character types and personsae found in rhetorical 'templates' and the particularity of lived experience to craft compelling narratives. This exploration will draw parallels between the narrative strategies of the past and present, highlighting how medieval techniques of character generation resonate in today's media landscape, from television scripting to social media storytelling.

The discussion will intertwine the rhetorical scholarship of James J. Murphy and Marjorie Curry Woods with insights from contemporary media studies, providing a unique perspective on how narrative forms and character development have transformed and persisted across the centuries. By examining a variety of medieval educational disciplines, including rhetoric, canon law, ars dictaminis, and poetic composition, the talk will illuminate the sophisticated methods used by medieval authors to construct narratives that still captivate us today. In doing so, it aims to offer a fresh understanding of narrative creation that bridges the historical and the modern, revealing the enduring legacy of medieval storytelling in contemporary media.

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