I did extremely well in my Ph.D. graduate courses at Kent State University, Kent, Ohio (1968-1971). But during one of my Renaissance classes, I received a public, unexpected, and scathing critique from my mentor, Dr. Landry. Up to that point, I had been his lauded protégé.
In preparation for an oral report, I had devoted many enlightening hours finding verbal and thematic connections between Shakespeare’s play Troilus and Cressida and Chaucer’s narrative Troilus and Criseyde.
While reading in class the results of my research, I felt very confidant. Much of my talk involved comparative quotes from Shakespeare (modern English) and Chaucer (medieval English). When I finished on what I thought was a triumphant note, Dr. Landry had only one comment, and it was damning: “That is the worst Chaucerian pronunciation I have ever heard.” I was taken aback and abashed. After the other students had presented their reports before and after mine, Dr. Landry benignly nodded. But he had felt compelled to single me out for my unwittingly horrendous pronunciation. What a fall from grace!
It turned out that my grade didn’t suffer because of my faux pas. And in subsequent encounters in class and in his office, Dr. Landry resumed being as cordial to me as he had always been. Neither one of us ever referred to my pronunciation fiasco.
Dr. Landry looked more like a butcher than an academician. That day in class, I may have slaughtered Chaucer’s language; meanwhile, Dr. Landry with as much aplomb butchered my performance. And so it goes.