UVic Torch -- Spring 2003
Spring 2003,
Volume 24, Number 1

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MC Chaucer MC Chaucer

English grad student Baba Brinkman perfoms his rap version of Chaucer's "Knight's Tale."


GO AHEAD AND MAKE A DIRECT LITERARY LINK BETWEEN THE FIRST major poet of the English language, Geoffrey Chaucer, and rapper Eminem. As English master’s student Baba Brinkman sees it: “They’re both wizards with words.”

Catch Brinkman on stage and you might be convinced too. With his rapid-fire polysyllabic rhymes and full-on dramatic intensity (he gets into it, folks)—Brinkman brings to life Chaucer’s 600 year-old poetry. His mission: to create more public appreciation of Chaucer’s work.

Brinkman (babasword.com) has rap adaptations of two of Chaucer’s poems from the Canterbury Tales—the chivalrous “Knight’s Tale” (complete with plastic sword) and the bawdy, drunken “Miller’s Tale.” He has reduced the 2,000-line “Knight’s Tale” to 400 lines of rhyme (e.g.: “Arcite’s happiness exploded/In him, and he rose and showed it/As above his foe he gloated…”). A tale that might take four hours to read is, in Brinkman’s hands, a 20-minute rap. No notes either—it’s all in his head.

“As far as I’m concerned, Chaucer was the rapper of Medieval England,” Brinkman recently explained to students at Rockheights Middle School in Esquimalt. Just as Chaucer took earlier Italian poetry by Boccaccio and translated it to the language of the people, Brinkman sees a parallel with today’s rappers and hip hop artists who use street language to articulate experience. Then there’s the whole premise of the Canterbury Tales, where 29 pilgrims try to out-do each other with their story-telling skills on the pilgrimage to Canterbury. The contest was similar, says Brinkman, to a group of MCs passing the mic to prove who can unleash the best rhymes (check the movie Eight Mile).

Professors have told him their undergrads do better on Chaucer tests after they’ve seen Brinkman’s act. And the kids at Rockheights seemed to like it too. “That’s hilarious,” a young guy said afterwards to a classmate. Medieval poetry? Hilarious? Brinkman’s clearly onto something. After graduating this spring, he hopes to build his act, add more Tales, and round it out with beats and music. Worde up.


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