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Getting Medieval

Two meat pies, a dish of poached pears, trays of medieval gingerbread, and loaves of barley and rye bread were among the treats that Associate Professor of English Maud McInerney’s “Chaucer: Canterbury Tales” class enjoyed at an end-of-semester feast.

Most of the homemade food was part of a final project by Heather McMahon ’10, who was one of a number of students in the class who presented creative final projects in lieu of traditional research papers. McMahon wanted to explore the dishes that characters in the Canterbury Tales, which McInerney's students studied in the original Middle English, might have dined on. McMahon researched medieval recipes, then adjusted some for modern tastes. “I made an eel pie at home,” she said. “That one wasn’t so good.”

Professor McInerney explained to the class that forks weren’t invented until the sixteenth century, after Chaucer’s time. “Therefore, we have a lot of paper napkins,” she said.

As the food disappeared, other students presented their projects.

Jeannette Leopold ’13, who researched medieval theater, delivered a Middle-English monologue clad in a robe and a drawn-on beard. Hannah Hammel ’12,  in a hilarious riff on an infamous sex ed video that makes its rounds among Haverford customs groups each year, used her research on medieval sexuality to put together a visual tutorial on acceptable behavior for women of Chaucer’s time.

One student showed off a homemade Canterbury-inspired tapestry, complete with loom, warp, and weft, and another taught a brave group of classmates a few meters of an originally choreographed medieval dance.

As a Growth and  Structure of Cities minor, Eliza Reiss ’10 wanted to incorporate architecture into her final project. She researched the history of the Canterbury Cathedral, which is mentioned in the text, and built a complete scale model.

While several students wrote their own Tales, Laura Iwanyk ’12 gave hers a modern twist—she turned the tale of Sir Topas into a fully rhymed contemporary spoken word piece, which she performed for the class.

“At a medieval feast, you’d have interludes for music and performance,” said Professor McInerney. “Just like we’re having today.”

--Mara Miller '10

Students cross in front of Founders Hall.

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