Wellesley College Hosts Hip-Hop Reinvention of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales

For immediate release:
Oct. 25, 2006
Arlie Corday

WELLESLEY, Mass. -- “The Rap Canterbury Tales” will be presented Friday, Nov. 3, at 4:30 pm in Jewett Auditorium on the Wellesley College campus by hip-hop artist and medieval scholar Baba Brinkman.

The event resurrects Chaucer’s 14th-century masterpiece in the form of a lyrical battle: The Pardoner, The Miller, The Wife of Bath and Chaucer himself all compete for the storytelling crown. Combining virtuoso hip-hop rhymes and hilarious punchlines with stunning music and a powerful storytelling voice, Brinkman brings The Canterbury Tales to life.

“The Canterbury Tales are a good candidate for rap performance for several reasons,” notes Kathryn Lynch, Wellesley College professor of English. “First off, the tales come from a period when poetry was largely orally performed (like rap). The sound of the poetry is an important part of an audience’s experience of it. Second, the tales themselves are part of a contest in which the pilgrims are participating, and frequently trying to take revenge on each other through their art. My (limited) understanding of rap is that it is also competitive, contested verse, and that it is self-consciously imitative (like Chaucer’s verse).”

Brinkman will also hold a workshop for students, which Lynch hopes will provide insight into both rap and Chaucer. “I think it will be interesting to consider with students both the similarities and differences between Chaucer’s medieval poetry and modern rap,” she said. “Chaucer’s poetry has its existence on the page; it has been canonized and become an important source of poetic tradition; it is not simply oral. And it aspires to be high poetry, not simply popular. I will be interested to learn from the students, who presumably know more about rap and hip-hop culture than I do, whether they think Baba Brinkman’s adaptation of it to the Canterbury structure has changed it in any way – either improved or distorted it.”

The event is sponsored by Wellesley’s English Department and is free and open to the public. For more information, call 781-283-2575.

Wellesley College has been a leader in the education of women for more than 130 years. The College's 500-acre campus near Boston is home to 2,300 undergraduate students from all 50 states and 65 countries.