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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 July 2005, 07:31 GMT 08:31 UK
Chaucer's tales become rap songs
By Justin Parkinson
BBC News website education reporter

Baba wants young people to move on to the original works
A rap artist has translated some of the best known works of poet Geoffrey Chaucer into hip-hop to make them appeal to schoolchildren.

Canadian Baba Brinkman wants modern teenagers to warm to the 14th-century Canterbury Tales.

He is to tour English schools with his versions of the Pardoner's Tale, Miller's Tale and Wife of Bath's Tale.

Some of Chaucer's original bawdier language had to be "toned down" for his young audience.

Miller light

Baba told the BBC News website: "All the themes of rap music are there in the tales: jealousy, anger, greed, lust.

"The Miller's Tale in particular contains a lot of references to genitalia and body humour. Some of it had to be censored to make it suitable for children."

Baba had the idea of converting Chaucer into rap when he was doing a masters' degree on the poet in the late 1990s.

Cover of Baba's Chaucer version
Chaucer was an innovator in his use of English

He said: "I tried to keep the rap versions as close as possible to the original, so I went through the tales line-by-line.

"It was a painstaking process to convert Chaucer into a rhyme scheme that young people would like."

The tales have been condensed for performance, but with the aim of maintaining their original sense.

For instance, the phrase "goone towards that village" translates to "hit the streets".

Getting it down

Baba said: "My work is really part of a tradition because Chaucer took his tales from classical literature and put them into the English used in his day. It was an original thing to do.

"The Knight's Tale came from a 10,000-line story from Boccaccio, which Chaucer brought down to 2,000. The rap version takes it to 400 lines.

"I don't want to replace Chaucer's version, which is wonderful, but it should help young people to see how vibrant his stories are and make them more interested."

His visits to classes of 15 and 16-year-olds are part of a Cambridge University project to encourage children to love literature.

Research associate Sarah James said: "Sometimes children find Chaucer's language hard to understand as it's 600 years old.

"Rap is a wonderful way to get through that and hooking them into the stories. Hopefully it will inspire some of them to go further and read the original texts."

Baba's motives might not be very far removed from Chaucer's.

Ms James said: "We know, from several illustrated medieval manuscripts, that Chaucer's works were read aloud for entertainment.

"Most people in those days could not read and even those who could would have found books very expensive.

"Baba is fantastic at conveying the sense of poetry and storytelling."

Chaucer, who lived from around 1340 to 1400, was also a courtier and diplomat.

Six of his tales were adapted into modern-day TV versions for the BBC's Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in 2003.

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