Monday, February 3, 2014

Not Based on a True Story

Truth claims in literature and film are often thought to add gravity and therefore value to the story. Both Sidney in An Apology for Poetry and Chaucer in The Miller’s Tale, however, avoid this convention. This does not detract from the effectiveness of their arguments, but rather, the value of their arguments hinge upon the claim of possible inaccuracy and untruth.
The Miller, by most social conventions, is not worthy of trust. His story would most likely not have been taken seriously following the Knight’s story, but he goes even further to lower his companions’ expectations by informing them of his drunkenness. Like the Miller, the story that follows is, on the surface, both ridiculous and entertaining. The sexuality and comedy of the story distracts from any commentary that the story may actually be making, thus protecting the Miller. In the story, all of the men are painted as fools, while Alisoun comes out unscathed yet still trapped in the clearly dysfunctional patriarchy. It is far more difficult to notice such subversive content when the listener is being faced with images of kissed “arses.”

Sidney, in defending poetry against Plato’s argument that it should be banned, must claim that poetry does not strive for truth at all. Thus, it cannot be perpetuating lies. Instead, poetry serves as a more beautiful and approachable form for philosophical musings. By stating that poetry does not make any definitive or factual assertion, Sidney protects poetry from Plato’s attack. Though it seems counterintuitive, both the Miller and Sidney use untruth claims in order to protect their truthful arguments.

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