Modern Chaucer: Street Talk and a Dance Beat

There's a new twist on using modern music to teach youngsters about old subjects. Canadian rapper Baba Brinkman has taken some of the works of Geoffrey Chaucer and set them to a beat. We hear a bit of his performances.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Warning: Lyrics in the following story contain adult themes, including but not limited to greed, prostitution, adultery, violence and naughty bits of the human body. They may offend some people, as they have for 600 years.

(Soundbite of song)

BABA BRINKMAN: (Rapping) Both awoke at first light, and their greed was refuted. They helped one another stand and get suited like brothers. And swords distributed, they fought till their guts were entangled in knots, getting ruptured and mangled, till it got where they stood up to their ankles in pools of their blood, and they ought to have been...

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Yes, it's the new millennium, and about time that Geoffrey Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales" were set to rap music. That selection was from "The Knight's Tale." In Middle English, it might have sounded something like this.

Unidentified Man: (Middle English spoken)

SIEGEL: That was before the great vowel shift, which, now that we think about it, might be a good name for a rap group, but that's beside the point. The act of retrofitting Chaucer fell to a Canadian named Baba Brinkman. Of course, he has CDs for sale on the Web; he's also touring the United Kingdom right now, performing his hip-hop versions of "The Pardoner's Tale" and "The Wife of Bath's Tale" and much more to schoolkids.

NORRIS: The thing is "The Canterbury Tales" are not only important works of literature. They're also lusty, scatological and, some would say, pornographic. So Brinkman was forced to clean them up for the classroom. But, still, the bawdy ballads cannot be easily disguised.

(Soundbite of song)

BABA BRINKMAN: (Rapping) The night was slate black as she raised a glass and displayed her backside and waited relaxed, as Absalom reached out his lips and gave it his best and proudly kissed the middle of her naked (censored). But something was weird. It tasted bad, eww, and had a beard of long, rough hairs. Ohh! Absalom's fears were given a nudge when Allyson(ph) giggled and slammed the window shut (laughs). He didn't blow up, but he did hold a grudge. When he realized (censored) was true...

SIEGEL: Now before you turn your nose up to this new version of Chaucer as popular music, bear in mind that in Chaucer's day, few people could read, and "The Canterbury Tales" were read aloud to an audience.

(Soundbite of song)

BABA BRINKMAN: (Rapping) The knight stared in disbelief at the smiling face of this tiny old granny of at least 98, whose eyes kept climbing his thighs in a slimy way. And he realized there was no line of escape. So he still tried to beg and barter and plead, and he offered the deed to his father's property and sobbed, `Take whatever you want, please. Impoverish me. Just let my body go free.' Please...

NORRIS: The rap "Canterbury Tales" from Canadian Baba Brinkman.

(Soundbite of song)

BABA BRINKMAN: (Rapping) `Oh, baby, you know, I'm an old lady, decades over 80. There's no way you can pay me enough. Now take me before I go crazy.' Eww. And since there was no debating, the knight refused to get too upset for fear he might lose his head. And that very same night the `I dos' were said, and with the queen's blessing, the two were wed and went straight to their bed and began undressing. But when his manly flesh felt those wrinkled hands caressing, the knight decided he just couldn't stand the rest, and he cried, `I can't handle this! It's scandalous! Get off me!' And his wife grinned with lips like an empty cave and asked, `Is this how all men behave on their wedding day, when their lives have been saved...'

NORRIS: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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