Geoffrey Chaucer and Lee Bright Make Strange Bedfellows

This summer I’m compiling a “Reader” for the British Literature survey I teach. We figure since we have a millennium-and-a-half of material in the public domain, why not compile our own texts and give them to students “for keeps” so they can annotate passages and eventually carry the books with them to college (if any be so foolish as to major in English).

My man G. Chaucer by far is the most time-consuming to download and format because of footnotes and marginal glosses, but I’ve had fun adding archaic words to my vocabulary, and I’ve started including some Chaucerian locutions in casual conversations.

For example, “How was Chico Feo, Ned?”

“Great. Greg was there, but he was really drunk.”

“Fordrunken, was he?”

Here’s another: Shamefastness. Any idea of what that might mean?[1]

Lee Bright as Bottom

Lee Bright as Bottom

Anyway, I took a break yesterday to take in a bit of the televised flag debate, and, of course, the stealer of the show — the thef of the feste – was Lee Bright, whose surname strikes me as inapt, given as a thinker he seems so [forgive me] inept.  I suspect poor Lee is all too familiar with sardonic puns on his name, and only a churl like I-and-I would stoop to such.

Chaucer might say of Senator Bright, “He [knows] not Cato, for his wit [is] rude,” or to put it much more crudely, we might borrow Thersistes’s description of Agamemnon from Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida: Bright “has not so much brain as ear-wax.”

It appears that Bright’s education is limited to Dorman High School, from which he received a diploma in 1988, but this lack of learning didn’t disqualify him from serving on the school board or being on the Board of Visitors at the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary or from thinking he knows what a high school biology curriculum ought to look like. Not that a college degree insures success or demonstrates intellectual curiosity.  Yeats and Faulkner lacked one, and George W Bush sported two, one from Yale, the other from Harvard.  Nantheless, as Chaucer might say, based on yesterday’s speech, Bright makes W look like Cicero.

Although the speech was supposed to address whether the Confederate flag should continue to fly on the State House grounds, it ended up an inchoate rant, a poisonous, disjointed catalogue of disparate issues expressed in hopelessly entangled syntax.   He began by saying he heard President Obama singing “a religious hymn” then bemoaned in an emotion-choked voice that he had seen the White House “lit in the abomination colors.”  He urged the “Church to rise up.”  Claimed that our nation was founded on “Judeo-Christian principles” and “was under assault by men in black robes who were not elected by you.” He then sputtered that he “would like to see the folks working as, in the positions of dealing with, the marriage certificates not to have to betray their faith or compromise their faith in order to subject themselves to the tyranny of five judges.” He admitted that the Governor had called the special session to deal with “the flag that sits out front” but urged the body instead “to deal with the national sin that we face today.”

“And to sanctify deviant behavior from five judges,” he continued, but left the phrases airborne (and me wondering just what deviant behavior the judges had been engaging in) to shift to the exhortation that “it’s time we made our stand in church.”  Then in a voice choked with emotion, in a sort of half sob he said, “We can rally together and talk about a flag all we want, but the Devil is taking over this land, and we’re not stopping him.”  Then he warned, “If the state’s got to get out of the business of marriage, then let’s get out of the business of marriage because we cannot succumb to what’s being done to the future of this nation.” He offered a concession by admitting that Christ has taught us to “love the homosexual” but that he also “teaches us to stand in the gap against sin” and that “we cannot respect this sin in South Carolina.” He ended the oration by describing the government of the United States of America “a tyrannical government.”

Perhaps some might agree with John, the cuckolded carpenter and champion of anti-intellectualism in the “Miller’s Tale”:

Yea, blessèd be always a lewèd man

That nought but only his beliefè can.[2]

But do we really want him representing us?

[1] Shyness.

[2] ”Blessed is the illiterate man who knows (can) nothing but his belief [in God].”

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