Comparative Study of Text and Context- Transformation Essay
“A transformation pays homage to the original text and reinvigorates the original ideas and values by creating a text that appeals to a new audience.” For many years, classic tales and texts have been transposed into contemporary forms in order to appeal to new audiences. Representative of this is the transformation of Chaucer’s ‘The Pardoners Tale,’ a poem composed in the 1300’s, arising from a theological society, into the modern film adaption, ‘A Simple Plan,’ appropriated by Sam Raimi to suit a modern audience of a secular society. Due to the contexts of the two texts differing greatly, there have been significant modifications of the original tale in the aspects of societal values, transforming the ideas from religious to secular. Despite this, the theme ‘Radix malorum est Cupiditas’- Greed is the root of all evils, remains universal to both texts. The two texts also explore the motivation behind certain human behaviours and consequences of poor decision making. Composed in fourteenth century England, Chaucer wrote a powerful poem with the intention to outline the corruption within society in that time period and to convey that Christians weren’t living up to expectations. The poem exposes the corruption of Christian values; successfully achieved through the use of the hypocritical pardoner who delivers an allegorical sermon, preaching about the evils of sins of which he admits to immersing himself in. This can be contrasted with the twentieth century film adaption, ‘A Simple Plan,’ set in the 1990’s of America, during the time of the depression of the farming sector. Raimi transformed the film with the intention of showing the corruption of the American Dream. The tagline, ‘Sometimes good people do evil things,’ effectively conveys his purpose; to outline the evils generated from greed. The Pardoners Tale follows the escapades of three naïve rioters on their quest to slay ‘Death,’ which unknowingly results in their own deaths. The tale is narrated by the corrupt character of the pardoner, whom preaches against avarice, a vice which he is guilty of himself. Intent with convincing his audience to buy false relics in exchange for pardons of their sins, he proclaims he cares nothing of their corrections, but is merely interested in the profit. The tale is conveyed effectively through the use of rhyming couplets, combined with rich descriptive language and metaphoric speech. ‘Elegantly shaped and slim, and girls selling fruits, Singers with harps, bawds and girls selling wafers.’ The repetition of the s creates smooth, soft sounds which develops a pleasant visual image; advertising their actions with great appeal. The use of different language techniques introduce power and meaning to Chaucer’s poetry. In the prologue, the reader is given insight into the irony of the pardoner himself in the passage from 423-434, where he familiarises his audience with his theme, contradicting this with his sole intention. “I preche of no thyng but for coveityse. Therefore my theme is yet and evere was, Radix malorum est Cupiditas.” His confession that he preaches for nothing but greed develops irony within the pardoner’s character and his hypocrisy is exemplified as he goes on to say that he preaches against avarice, the vice of which he is guilty of himself. A Simple Plan pays homage to the original tale, taking the integral elements and reviving the original tale, shaping it to entertain a modern audience....
References: to the Bible and religion are predominant in the tale and are shown almost immediately, not only in the tale itself but in the introduction, further developed in the prologue with the metaphor, ‘Thus spitte I out my venym under hewe, of hoolynesse, to semen hooly and trewe.’ The venom representing the danger of his words serves as a metaphoric reference to temptation and the Garden of Eden. ‘Of holiness, to seem holy and true,’ this statement again gives the reader insight into the character of the pardoner; suggesting that his words are as hollow as his values.
The Pardoners Tale is a sermon used to inform his audience about the sin of avarice. With the context of a theological society, the rioters are used merely as examples to represent evils and the effect of greed, to the extent that they remain unnamed and anonymous throughout the tale. The characters are two dimensional, distinguished only by the reference of one being younger than the two that plot against him. This is effective as the audience doesn’t develop sympathy for the characters and they become symbols rather than people, used purely to warn to pardoner’s audience against the vices of greed, swearing and drunkenness; behaviours which are exhibited by all characters.
Despite the shallow caricatures of the rioters, the character of the old man serves a significant purpose in the tale as he conveys the inevitable outcome of human existence: death. The three rioters fail to understand their morality and in search of the man death they find death of a different kind when the old man directs them to the florins of gold. “If you are so eager to find death, turn up this crooked way, For in that grove I lafte hym, by my fey, Under a tree, and there he wole abyde.” Again demonstrating Chaucer’s use of rhyme, this quotation foreshadows the prevailing events because although the rioters fail to understand at the time, the gold symbolises their death. This is ironic because on their quest for death, they unexpectedly meet their own deaths. Overcome by greed brought about by their lust for money, a sense of evil is evoked within the scoundrels, resulting in the sudden death to all three of them.
When transforming the original tale, Raimi disregarded the focus on religion and the belief that death meant either heaven or hell, in order to appeal to a modern audience of a secular society. As a result of this, Raimi develops the characters in depth, establishing a relationship between the characters and the audience. This is effective as the attachment holds the audience’s attention, keeping them sympathising with the characters, entertained from start to finish. Raimi positions the viewer to feel a sense of sympathy and almost pity towards Jacob by creating a character status; setting Hank above him. This is achieved not only through the depiction of Hank’s educated and employed character creating superiority over Jacobs ‘stupidity’ and unemployment but also through the use of filming techniques. Raimi positions the camera at angles that are demeaning to Jacob; picturing Hank above him in the frames. This creates a division between the two characters, showing that Hank has more power.
As the pardoner confessed earlier, he preaches with the intent of making a profit; by telling the tale of the drunken rioters in a tavern, he hopes to encourage people to give him money in exchange for absolution of their drinking. “Now, goode men, God forgive you your trespass, And ware yow fro the synne of avarice! Myn hooly pardoun may yow alle warice, So that ye offer nobles or sterlynges, Or ells silver broches, spoones, rynges.” This stanza is ironic as he has previously confessed that he has succumbed to avarice and preaches for nothing but greed. He sells false relics and his intention only to make a profit; he cares not for the correction of sin.
When considering the purpose of the tale the pardoner tells, it is deemed appropriate for the outcome to be the death of all three rioters as they were merely symbols of evil, exemplifying the effect of drunkenness among other vices. However the ending has been altered to suit the context of A Simple Plan; while the theme of death is still prominent in the film, Hank and Sarah are subjected to a different kind of death entirely, a living hell. Although from the outside it would appear that they are continuing with their everyday lives, they are forever alone with the memories of the murders- trapped in an eternal winter. Their misery is depicted right from the first words of the movie when Hank’s non-diegetic voice over speaks in past tense: “I remember my father telling me what it takes to be happy. Simple things really; a wife he loves, a decent job, friends and neighbours who like and respect him. I had all that. I was a happy man.” The emphasis on ‘had’ and ‘was’ insinuating that he no longer has those simple things, he is no longer happy.
The original text The Pardoners Tale has undergone a dramatic reinvigoration due to the context of the two texts; however in transforming the tale, A Simple Plan manages to adapt the fundamental components, maintaining the theme ‘greed is the root of all evil.’ Despite the change in ideologies, from religious to secular, Raimi shows that even after the years, greed remains the motivation behind corrupt human behaviours. This is demonstrated by the corruption of Christian values featured in The Pardoners Tale, compared to the corruption of the American Dream illustrated in A Simple Plan- two very different contexts, the same drive behind evil decisions; greed.
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