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The Canterbury Tales (Penguin Classics) by…

The Canterbury Tales (Penguin Classics) (edition 2003)

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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13,726121153 (3.73)492
Title:The Canterbury Tales (Penguin Classics)
Authors:Geoffrey Chaucer
Info:Penguin Classics (2003), Edition: Revised, Paperback, 528 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

  1. 102
    Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (Othemts)
  2. 60
    Walking to Canterbury : A modern journey through Chaucer's medieval England by Jerry Ellis (amyblue)
  3. 50
    The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio (thecoroner)
  4. 40
    Piers Plowman by William Langland (myshelves)
    myshelves: Some similar themes are covered, especially with regard to religious issues.
  5. 40
    The Mercy Seller by Brenda Rickman Vantrease (myshelves)
    myshelves: The Mercy Seller, a novel about the religious ferment in the early 15th century, features a Pardoner who is not happy about the portrayal of the Pardoner in The Canterbury Tales.
  6. 10
    The Canterbury Tales by Seymour Chwast (kxlly)
  7. 10
    Tales of Count Lucanor by Don Juan Manuel (caflores)
  8. 11
    Life in the Medieval University by Robert Rait (KayCliff)

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I was interested in a modern, maximally-readable, unabridged translation of the Canterbury Tales. In reviewing various translations, I found that the vast majority were abridged. Even some that claim to be unabridged often omit or summarize at least slightly. (For example, Nevill Coghill's 1951 translation abridges The Parson's Tale.) I examined relatively complete translations by D. Laing Purves (1876), Nevill Coghill (1951), R. M. Lumiansky (1960), David Wright (1985), and Burton Raffel (2008).

The 2008 translation by Raffel was my clear favorite. Raffel goes farther than the other translators in modernizing Chaucer's language, yet the poetry retains beauty, flow, and often rhyme. Also, it is completely unabridged. If you want to read the complete text of the Canterbury Tales with the greatest ease and fluidity, Raffel's translation is the one to pick. The others provide various compromises between reading Chaucer's original (with annotations to help with the difficult words) and Raffel, with Wright being second-closest to modern language, and Coghill my third-favorite.

The remainder of this review concerns the tales themselves and is primarily a review of Chaucer rather than of the translation.
  jrissman | Mar 24, 2015 |
Peter Ackroyd has undertaken a re-writing of The Canterbury Tales in modern English prose. He has made these stories accessible to the modern reader, thereby giving us a glimpse of life in medieval times -- morals, beliefs, customs and occupations. Some of the stories were great; others less engaging. But I'm glad to have been able to get a taste of the Canterbury Tales. ( )
  LynnB | Jan 15, 2015 |
'The Canterbury Tales'
By Alexander Theroux
L.A. Times
November 16, 2008

Chaucer himself was a translator, people forget, his most important work along those lines being "The Romance of the Rose" and Boethius' "The Consolation of Philosophy." Some of the tales that appear in "The Canterbury Tales" he wrote in his youth, but others were, in fact, translations that he made anew later on. So Burton Raffel, a self-identified poet and professor emeritus of English at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, is therefore in good company. In his surprisingly brief "Translator's Foreword" for this new translation, he cites no more than the eight opening lines of the famous "Prologue" --

"Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote

The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,

And bathed every veyne in swich licour

Of which vertu engendred is the flour;

Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth

Inspired hath in every holt and heeth

The tendre croppes and the yonge sonne

Hath in the Ram his half cours yronne"

-- to give his reasons for a new version: "There are unfamiliar words, and the metrics . . . are not at all clear." He goes on to say, "Englishmen as late as the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries could not follow Chaucer's metrics. . . . Still, native speakers of English, as recently as the first half of the twentieth century, were not particularly uncomfortable with Chaucer's difficulties. Time has, however, continued to move on. . . . As is always the case, what was is now no more." He alludes to "Chaucer's difficulties." A very real question must be asked: Are the difficulties Chaucer's or Raffel's?

Translating Chaucer's masterpiece is a herculean feat, needless to say. It is a work, 24 tales in all, that constitutes almost all of the literary forms that make up medieval literature: parodies, exempla, pious sermons, literary confessions, stately romances, saints' legends, lubricious anecdotes, you name it. Generally, it is "Estates satire," as well -- types. "The Franklin's Tale" is a Breton lai. "The Miller's Tale," that smutty story, is a fabliau. "The Nun's Priest's Tale" is a beast fable. The Parson offers an austerely orthodox treatise on penance. Two tales are in prose: "The Parson's Tale" and the "Tale of Melibee," which is full of legal jargon. "The Monk's Tale" expresses scorn for disrespectful and unruly commoners. Chaucer runs the gamut. There are many Chaucers: funny, gloomy, pious, political, gross. There is the learned Chaucer, the feminist Chaucer, the social Chaucer, the religious Chaucer, the rhetorical Chaucer, the Chaucer who attempts little more than trying to titillate the groundling mind with nothing but farce, foolishness and fart jokes.

He could do many voices. His own native dialect was that of metropolitan London, where he was born, educated and lived most of his life. (Granted, it was a small city at the time, only about 40,000 people.) Although much of 14th century England was a cultural satellite of France (French had been the official language of the English government since 1066), Chaucer was surely sparked by the vernacular with all of its rich, comic possibilities. Victories over the French at Crécy (1346) and Poitiers (1356) had raised the status of the native tongue. Bilingual from childhood, he picked up Latin training as a courtier and court diplomat and chose to write in English. "And for there is so great diversite / In Englissh and in writing of oure tongue, / So prey I to God that non miswrite thee / Ne the mysmetre for defaute of tongue," he declared in "Troilus and Criseyde." A wide diversity of language could be found then throughout England, where dialects often differed from county to county. A reader of Chaucer will encounter idioms, prayers, jingles, puns, tall tales, harangues, narratives, a few inflectional survivals from Old English, words no longer used, slang. It was for such multifariousness that he became "the firste fyndere of our faire language."

"The Canterbury Tales" is a delightful fiction, of course. (A "Canterbury tale" in Middle English slang is a "lie"!) The frame of the poem is a pilgrimage that consists of 30 pilgrims (29 plus the poet), each of them a recognizable 14th century type, taking the 60-mile trip from London's Tabard Inn to the tomb of St. Thomas à Becket at the Canterbury cathedral with each to tell four tales "to shorten the way." The telling becomes a competition, with one Harry Bailey, the Tabard proprietor, acting as host and guide. Chaucer projected 120 tales; only 24 constitute the entire work, and two of these remain unfinished.

"I have tried to give as much of the effect of Chaucer's poetry as I could," Raffel states, explaining as if confounded that in his translation the sound of the original poetry is unreproducible. We are told we are being given a "translation from" rather an "edition of" the poem, meaning simply that he is using the accepted order of the classic from the standard F.N. Robinson edition of Chaucer's poems. (Chaucer neither prepared a full, consecutive grouping of the full, final poem.) When Raffel confesses that he cannot integrate Chaucer's syntax with his own modern version, it is understandable. Although Chaucer's syntax in the original, untranslated, is very much like our own, for a translator to try to save or salvage parts in an otherwise translated sentence would of course cause problems.

Remarkably, Chaucerian English is quite accessible to the modern reader (often downright simple) and in other places asks merely for determination to read it. The language is realistic and oddly modern. It "demonstrates," as John Gardner noted, rather than "explores," and the openness and freshness of imagery has never failed to appeal to the popular and vulgar audience for whom the tales were composed. Take "The Summoner's Tale." How difficult is it to understand the following passage in the original?

"Now thanne, put in thyn hand doun by my bak,"

Seyde this man, "and grope wel bihynde.

Bynethe my buttok there shaltow fynde

A thing that I have hyd in pryvetee."

"A!" thoghte this frère, "that shal go with me!"

And doun his hand he launcheth to the clifte,

In hope for to fynde there a yifte.

And whan this sike man felte this frère

About his tuwel grope there and here,

Amydde his hand he leet the frère a fart.

Ther nys no capul, drawynge in a cart,

That myghte have lete a fart of swich a soun.

(Look up capul (cart-horse) and tuwel (hole), and it could be a modern schoolboy telling a snappy whopper to his friend!

Raffel's is a reductive translation, if it is an accessible one. When he characterizes his undertaking by stating that "Comprehension by modern readers is the key," we suspect right off that we are being served up a dumbed-down version. He renames many familiar characters. There is no reason a person would any more know what a "Steward" does than a Reeve, although here the former replaces the latter. The occupation of manciple is changed into "Provisioner." Cui bono? Chaucer's Pardoner becomes by transubstantiation the "Pardon-Peddler," but may not one ask if a reader knows what a pardon is, would he not therefore know what a Pardoner does? What is clarified by denominating the Canon a "Cleric" or the Yeoman a "Magician," and what is gained by the leavening alteration? When Raffel arbitrarily leaves the names Squire and Summoner in the text, moreover, should one assume that (a) these particular two are modern professions and that (b) one is familiar with them? Choices, alterations seem subjective. When we are told, as indeed Raffel rather cavalierly tells us, that "virtually no one, today, understands what a 'canon' is, or what he does, or even where he does it, and much the same may be said of a 'yeoman,' " should one therefore conclude that new translations should now be required, say, of Charles Dickens' "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" and Dr. Seuss' fable "The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins" in which, respectively, a canon and a yeomen happen to appear? I must say, I was repeatedly struck by how cheap and vulgarized the paraphrased work of magnificent poetry can be.

Consider several comparisons between the original poem and this translation. The Reeve in his tale, recounting the story of a pompous miller, describes that man in part:

"A joly poppere baar he in his pouche;

Ther was no man, for peril, dorste hym touched.

A Sheffeld thwitel baar he in his hose.

Round was his face, and camus was his nose;

As agile as an ape was his skulle."

Raffel's "Steward" says,

"And in his pouch he carried a fine little dagger.

No one bothered him, for fear of danger.

His long stockings were long, and held a Sheffield knife.

His face was round, his nose was stubby and wide.

His skull was bald, as naked as any ape."

The translation is wordier, flatter, less succinct, dependent on clichés, comparatively imprecise and even redundant. Crispness has been sacrificed for clarity. (It should also be pointed out that Raffel doesn't follow the standard Chaucerian line-numbering, beginning every tale with line 1, making it almost impossible to compare his translation with the original.)

I found the same problem throughout the revised and paraphrased poem, bold poetry giving way to compromised narrative. In "The Wife of Bath's Prologue," the randy narrator confesses:

"Gat-toothed I was, and that bicam me weel;

I hadde the prente of seinte Venus seel.

As help me God! I was a lusty oon

And faire, and riche, and yong, and wel bigon;

And trewely, as myne housbondes tolde me,

I hadde the beste quoniam myghte be.

For certes, I am al Venerien

In feelynge"

This becomes in Raffel's translation:

"My teeth were wide apart, which is a sign

Of Venus, and I bore her birthmark on my body.

So help me God! But surely I was lusty,

Pretty, rich, and very well situated.

And truly, as my new husband often stated

My crotch was just as perfect as that part can be.

I'm truly born of Venus, most certainly,

In all my feelings"

Preference matters, of course. I myself have a hard time imagining any reader who is interested in Chaucer in the first place having trouble reading the original lines. It is personal taste to gauge whether flavor is lost.

Flavor is everything in Chaucer. Words, images, passages. Beyond all else, his flavor must be kept in any translation. The poem, which is found prevailingly in pentameter couplets, needs that continuing bounce or beat for its rude, narrative value. As a college student, but even in high school, I read "The Canterbury Tales" in the original Middle English in Robinson's edition. All sorts of editions (abridged and unabridged) are available. There are prose format translations for easy readings. There are interlinear versions. There are duncical translations that turn the poem into a different entity altogether.

Surely no one can doubt that this splendid work should ideally be read in Chaucer's own words, even if it means occasionally glancing at a marginal gloss or a footnote. "Glosynge is a glorious thing," the Friar tells in "The Summoner's Tale." It is undeniable that such odd Middle English words like "hende" and "joly" refuse translation. Strange words proliferate: gypon, lixt, cloutes, lymytour, artow, mooder, kiken. (I say: look them up!) Chaucerian variants can also confuse. As A.C. Cawley points out in his well-annotated Everyman edition of the tales, one can dredge up something like 10 variants in the work for the word "horse" alone: ambler, hackney, caple, dexter, palfry, rouncy, stot and more. Theological terms can be arcane, as well. There is no end of feudal terms and topical allusions. It is Cawley who also sagaciously observes in turn that "glosses and paraphrases can be just as harmful as a modernized version of the whole, if they are allowed to take precedence over the original." He advises that where footnotes or marginal notes are not needed, they should be ignored. I personally love footnotes simply because I yearn to know. When I was teaching, I tried to assure my students that the day they started reading rather ignoring scholarly paraphernalia was the day they were becoming what a good student should be.

I commend Raffel for his ambition to get folks to read and understand this complex poem. But the problem is that, in so doing, while giving readers access to the mysteries, he ironically robs those mysteries of their beauty. The genius of this magnificent poem is precisely in its original words. The fault is not in the concept of the undertaking but rather in the nature of it. Translating Chaucer is hazardously compromising at best. Technical words become ordinary. Puns can lose their significance. Rhymes are lost. Colors fade. Substitution can seem like a violation. There is a rough equity to a degree, but it is what critic George Steiner refers to as "radical equity."

Chaucer is the crown, the full flower, of English medieval verse. As Ezra Pound declared in "ABC of Reading," "Anyone who is too lazy to master the comparatively small glossary necessary to understand Chaucer deserves to be shut out from the reading of good books forever."

The Secret of The Canterbury Tales
By Adam Kirsch
December 29, 2008

A confirmed sadist could find many things to enjoy in the pages of The Canterbury Tales. As Chaucer's pilgrims take turns telling stories to while away the hours on their long walk to the shrine of St. Thomas a Becket, they shy away from no variety of physical violation or psychological torture. In "The Miller's Tale," a man is rectally impaled with a red-hot poker. In "The Clerk's Tale," a husband tests his wife's obedience by pretending to murder their two children. In "The Reeve's Tale," a pair of students rapes a man's wife and daughter in order to humiliate him.

Why is it, then, that the actual experience of reading The Canterbury Tales is not at all painful? Why has it struck six centuries of readers as, in fact, the humane masterpiece of English literature—the book that seems to embrace more of the world, and affirm more of human nature, than any other? The answer lies in the disjunction between the men and women who populate Chaucer's poem and the stories that they tell. In their tales, the pilgrims reflect the assumptions of a medieval world that manages to appear, at the same time, inhumane in its love of comic brutality and sanctimonious in the way it elevates piety, humility, and (especially female) chastity into the highest virtues. Who would want to live as austerely as Chaucer's Pardoner demands from the pulpit?

O gluttony, the height of wickedness!
O primal cause of mankind's utter fall!
O first and original sin that damned us all
Till Christ redeemed us with his own dear blood! ...
O stomach! O belly! O stinking bag of jelly,
Filled with dung, and reeking with corruption!

Yet by the time the reader reaches these lines from "The Pardoner's Tale"—as rendered, here, by Burton Raffel, in his new translation of Chaucer from Middle to Modern English—she has already learned not to trust a word this character says. For in real life, the Pardoner—or, as Raffel derisively calls him, the "Pardon-Peddler"—is himself a first-class glutton, not to mention a lecher and a con artist. "I want good money, good clothes and cheese and wheat/… I like to water my throat with wine,/ And have a frisky wench in every town," the Pardoner brags in the prologue that precedes his tale. He is so brazen that the reader has to laugh, especially when he reveals the trick that always gets people to pay for the privilege of genuflecting before his faked relics. He announces to the congregation that "Anyone in sitting in church, cozy and warm,/ Guilty of several sins so awful he/ Dares not, for shame, confess and pray for mercy," is strictly forbidden to make an offering. After that, of course, no one wants to be seen holding back.

"In real life," I wrote, the Pardoner is not what he seems in his tale—yet of course there is no "in real life" when it comes to the pilgrims, who are all Chaucer's inventions. Indeed, the pilgrims are far more Chaucer's inventions than the stories they tell, which are usually recycled from other medieval tale collections. Yet it is precisely by building this second level, this metafiction, into his fiction that Chaucer renders it so powerfully realistic. Because we see the pilgrims telling stories, they gain the trust we place in storytellers, who, by definition, are more real than their tales.

And it is in the gap between the tellers and the tales that Chaucer's humanity is able to flourish. The Clerk might offer up Griselda, the wife who is unswervingly loyal despite her husband's cruelty, as a model of Christian patience: "A woman having been incredibly patient/ To a mortal man, how very much more we ought/ To take in good part whatever God has sent us,/ For rightfully he tests what he has wrought. …" Yet at the end of that tale, Chaucer adds a song or "envoy," gleefully acknowledging that "Griselda is dead, and so too is her patience," so that husbands should not try to find her like: "They'd only be wasting their time, and deserve their penance."

More important, Chaucer creates the Wife of Bath, that irresistible emblem of female independence and appetite, to display "in real life" a charisma that the "fictional" Griselda could never match. Griselda is the kind of woman that only exists in stories written by "clerks," that is, clergymen, as the Wife complains:

There is no greater impossibility,
In truth, than clerics praising wives would be,
Unless the woman is a holy saint:
No other women deserve a word of praise.
Pictures of lion-killing show a living
Man. But what if a lion had painted the picture?

The Wife of Bath's fifth husband, she recounts, had a book full of misogynistic stories from sacred and pagan literature; tired of hearing them, she "yanked three pages out of the book/ And threw them onto the floor, and also hit him/ Right on the cheek, hard, with my balled-up fist." The secret of The Canterbury Tales is that it allows its characters to tear out its own pages, so to speak—to mock and complain about the rules they are supposed to live by. Because of this, the book has a holiday air, a tolerance for human appetites and frailties, that few modern works can rival. Our officially secular and hedonistic society seldom allows us to feel as free and happy as Chaucer's pilgrims seem to be.

All the passages I have quoted come from Burton Raffel's new translation, and they show its one big virtue: It is immediately comprehensible, allowing the reader to grasp (most of) Chaucer's meaning without footnotes. For those readers who are absolutely unwilling to puzzle out Middle English spelling, or spend time getting acquainted with Chaucer's versification and syntax, Raffel's edition will be a useful substitute.

But even Raffel, a poet who has translated everyone from Cervantes to Stendhal, seems a little curious why anyone would bother reading The Canterbury Tales in translation. "Native speakers of English, as recently as the first half of the twentieth century, were not particularly uncomfortable with Chaucer's difficulties," he writes in his introduction. Since the English language has not changed much in the last 50 years, he clearly believes that the problem lies with its speakers—that we have gotten lazier and more provincial.

No one who embarks on reading The Canterbury Tales, however, can be all that lazy, and any reader who compares the original with Raffel's version will surely agree that the extra effort is worthwhile. For Raffel's translation loses the original's music without finding a music of its own; he is wordy where the original is pithy and bare where the original is lush. Chaucer is in many ways the progenitor of English fiction—he is closer to Dickens than to Keats—but he is also a great master of English poetry; and since poetry is what is lost in translation, why not take the trouble to read the original and avoid the loss? Besides, as the Pardoner says, "lewed peple loven tales olde;/ Swiche thynges kan they wel reporte and holde."
  meadcl | Dec 17, 2014 |
I've recently read several interesting short story collections from antiquity, namely The Canterbury Tales, Arabian Nights, and Ovid's Metamorphoses. Each of them has inspired enough academic articles to fill a library, so I'm not going to delve into their historical import or the ways each has influenced future literature, but I think its valuable to consider how they compare to each other in approach and how I saw them as stories.

First, The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer's unfinished collection provides a great window into what life was like in the middle ages, more specifically England in the 1300s. By providing a diverse cast of story tellers as the vehicles for the stories themselves Chaucer is able to explore many professions and various points on the social hierarchy, satirizing and criticizing all the flaws he saw in his society. To an extent these are interesting, but social satire does not always age well. While it certainly gives you a sense of how England looked through Chaucer's eyes (a den of corruption and hypocrisy for the most part, especially when discussing the religious institutions), it can be hit or miss as to whether the critique has aged well. Critique on chivalry in The Knight's Tale? I'm in. Critique of alchemists wherein pages and pages of ingredients are listed? Yawn. Additionally, the majority of the tales aren't that deep, with many being raunchy stories of pure entertainment and others being morality tales with blatantly obvious messages (pride is bad and fortune is fickle, we get it). The message of one tale was flat out stated to be "beware of treachery." Was there someone at the time going around saying "treachery isn't that bad, don't worry about it?"

In reverse chronological order the next up is Arabian Nights. This collection is amorphous enough that many tales pop up in one edition and not another, which in my opinion weakens the arguments I see about the collection having a set of coherent themes or messages. The sole theme that I found to be consistent was the power of storytelling- it appears in the frame narrative, of course, but also the stories themselves often showcase the ability of stories to trick the powerful, and oftentimes stories lead to sub-stories and so on, like nesting dolls. Toward the end of the collection the descriptions began to get to me: if I never see someone described as being "as beautiful as the moon" with "lips like coral" and other features like various gems I'll be a happy reader. The Norton Critical addition showed its worth by providing many additional pieces inspired by the Arabian Nights, as well as critical analyses of the text (some of which I found less than convincing, but always interesting). More so than the other two collections Arabian Nights just struck me as a bunch of stories, many of which of course were intended to edify, but mostly its purpose was to entertain. It more or less accomplished this.

The earliest, and also the best, of the three collections was Ovid's Metamorphoses. Chaucer references the classic explicitly several times in his work, and it's no wonder: Ovid is the master that Chaucer tried and failed to match. What put this collection above the others for me was that Ovid not only had a consistent theme to the stories (transformations, as the title would suggest), but also stories flow from one to the next, mostly with an organic feeling that makes the work take on a grander scale. Ovid's not just telling stories, he's tracing the history of the world, explaining how the world became populated with the birds and plants and animals that fill it, and connecting the past all up to what was then the present day. It also serves as the source for much of what we know of Greek/Roman mythology, as Ovid was also setting down an account of the actions and behavior of the gods. Framing narratives can be used to great effect, just look at If On a Winter's Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino for a phenomenal example, but Canterbury Tales creates such a framing narrative only to leave it incomplete, and Arabian Nights slowly siphons away the importance of the frame narrative until it is forgotten entirely. In comparison, Ovid's Metamorphoses connection of his tales makes his work stand on a grander scale, and makes it feel like a more coherent whole. A note on translations, I found Charles Martin's work to be very strong in general, although he makes a few bizarre choices. Translating a singing contest into a rap battle was a clear mistake. Overall, though, I feel confident recommending him so long as you want a more modern take on the text.

All three collections have stood the test of time, and each is an essential read to understand the ages and cultures they arose out of. Between the three of them, though, Ovid's Metamorphoses is the most worthy of your time in my opinion. ( )
  BayardUS | Dec 10, 2014 |
The Canterbury Tales is a collection of over 20 stories which were written near the end of the Fourteenth Century, just prior to 1400. While this is often referred to as an essential in medieval fiction, it is possible to narrow it down a little further and say this is a glimpse of life during the time of the Hundred Years’ War. The collection of tales helps break up this book a bit but it also contains a loose narrative framework throughout the entire The Canterbury Tales. I could go into deep analysis of each tale without doing a disservice to the quality and diversity of Geoffrey Chaucer’s large work. However in an effort to talk about The Canterbury Tales in its entirety, I may have to resort to broad analysis and generalities.

The Fourteenth Century was a violent and unstable period of time in English history; not only was the Hundred Years War raging with the French (1340-1450) but there was the Black Death (1348), famines and rebellions (the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381). This was an unstable time, things were changing; even the Catholic Church which often had a community-building nature was corrupt and abusing its power. Near the end of the 14th Century the Church was a mess, there was the sale of church offices as well as indulgences and pardons as well as greed and moral corruption. The Western Schism (or Papal Schism) took place from 1378 to 1418 where the Church was divided and several men simultaneously claimed to be the true pope. This should give you an idea of just what kind of instability the people in The Canterbury Tales faced.

However this book explored more than this instability; it is a medieval tapestry exploring the whole feel of this period but it might be easier to narrow it down to three major themes. The political, since The Norman conquest of England (1066) the country was gradually processing toward political consolidation and unification, a theme that comes through a number of times within this book. Social and economic changes, following the story of many people around England as urbanisation takes affect and London becomes a more modern city. Finally The Canterbury Tales explores the cultural changes of a changing time; social classes are shifting but still play a big role within this country.

I know I am probably looking at this book through modern eyes but this is the best way I found to wrap my head around what is written. Luckily I didn’t have to read this book in Middle English and got to rely on Nevill Coghill’s translation but I am not going to deny that this was a very difficult book to get through. I found trying to understand the situation as if England changed from medieval into a modern society helped me pick up on the social, economical and political changes. I know London didn’t become an urban city like we know it today but it helped me follow the shifting times. I am not sure if viewing the book this way helped me understand it better or sent me down the wrong path but it doesn’t matter, is there a right or wrong way to interpret literature?

Symbolism, imagery and allegory play a huge part in Chaucer’s tales but it is hard to go into details on this topic because they change from story to story. What I found surprising about this book is not the beautiful poetic lines but how real and raw the emotions played out in each tales. I read an exploration into marriage, growing old, morality, rape, sexual pleasure and even anti-social behaviour. I never expected this from the book and it really surprised me. From a general overview The Canterbury Tales looks at a changing time but each tale goes into a personal look into different people’s lives.

As the narrator, Geoffrey Chaucer plays with the narrative from tale to tale; sometimes he comes off as naïve but then he can be very knowledgeable. I picked up on how heavy he is on the irony, but in all honesty I didn’t have enough knowledge of the times to be able to explore this as much as I would have liked. If it wasn’t for the fact that I read this for a university subject I might have really struggled with this book. A lecture and some reading guides really helped me get something out of this book but like I said, I don’t have enough knowledge of medieval history to fully grasp this book in its entirety.

I mentioned to my dad that I had to read this book and he told me not to bother; he called it crude and vulgar but that only made me excited. I understand now that he had to read this book for high school and found it difficult but I can’t say vulgar is a good word to describe this book. Sure, there are some crude scenes but life is never full of well-mannered moral people. Chaucer explores life at this time and doesn’t shy away from the tough topics; but I think that is what makes this book so great.

This review originally appeared on my blog: http://literary-exploration.com/2014/11/07/the-canterbury-tales-by-geoffrey-chau... ( )
  knowledge_lost | Dec 1, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Geoffrey Chaucerprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Coghill, NevillTranslatormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ackroyd, PeterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Barisone, ErmannoEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Barnouw, A.J.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bennett, J. A. W.Notesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bragg, MelvynForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cawley, A. C.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Caxton, WilliamPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Forster, PeterIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hieatt, A. KentEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hieatt, ConstanceEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hill, Frank ErnestTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kent, RockwellIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Latham, RobertGeneral editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Skeat, Walter W.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stearn, TedCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Untermeyer, LouisIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wain, JohnIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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... I have translated some parts of his works, only that I might perpetuate his memory, or at least refresh it, amongst my countrymen. If I have altered him anywhere for the better, I must at the same time acknowledge, that I could have done nothing without him...

JOHN DRYDEN on translating Chaucer
Preface to the Fables

And such as Chaucer is, shall Dryden be.

Essay on Criticism
First words
When the sweet showers of April have pierced/
The drought of March, and pierced it to the root,/
And every vein is bathed in that moisture/
Whose quickening force will engender the flower;/
And when the west wind too with its sweet breath/
Has given life in every wood and field/
To tender shoots, and when the stripling sun/
Has run his half-course in Aries, the Ram,/
And when small birds are making melodies,/
That sleep all the night long with open eyes,/
(Nature so prompts them, and encourages);/
Then people long to go on pilgrimages,/
And palmers to take ship for foreign shores,/
And distant shrines, famous in different lands;/
And most especially, from all the shires/
Of England, to Canterbury they come,/
The holy blessed martyr there to seek,/
Who gave his help to them when they were sick.
When in April the sweet showers fall
And pierce the drought of March to the root, and all
The veins are bathed in liquor of such power
As brings about the engendering of the flower,
When also Zephyrus with his sweet breath
Exhales an air in every grove and heath
Upon the tender shoots, and the young sun
His half-course in the sign of the Ram has run,
And the small fowl are making melody
That sleep away the night with open eye
(So nature pricks them and their heart engages)
Then people long to go on pilgrimages
And palmers long to seek the stranger strands
Of far-off saints, hallowed in sundry lands,
And specially, from every shire's end
Of England, down to Canterbury they wend
To seek the holy blissful martyr, quick
To give his help to them when they were sick.

(translated by Nevill Coghill, 1951)
Once upon a time, as old stories tell us, there was a duke named Theseus;  Of Athens he was a lord and governor, And in his time such a conqueror, That greater was there none under the sun.
Sloth makes men believe that goodness is so painfully hard and so complicated that it requires more daring than they possess, as Saint George says.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
This record is for the unabridged Canterbury Tales. Please do not combine selected tales or incomplete portions of multi-volume sets onto this record. Thank you!
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Wikipedia in English (2)

Book description
blurb: The Canterbury Tales stands conspicuous among the great literary achievements of the Middle Ages. Told by a jovial procession of pilgrims - knight, priest, yeoman, miller, or cook - as they ride towards the shrine of Thomas a’ Becket, they present a picture of a nation taking shape. The tone of this never resting comedy is, by turns, learned, fantastic, lewd, pious, and ludicrous. Geoffrey Chaucer began his great task on about 1386. This version in modern English, by Nevill Coghill, preserves the freshness and racy vitality of Chaucer’s narrative.

Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0140424385, Paperback)

On a spring day in April--sometime in the waning years of the 14th century--29 travelers set out for Canterbury on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Thomas Beckett. Among them is a knight, a monk, a prioress, a plowman, a miller, a merchant, a clerk, and an oft-widowed wife from Bath. Travel is arduous and wearing; to maintain their spirits, this band of pilgrims entertains each other with a series of tall tales that span the spectrum of literary genres. Five hundred years later, people are still reading Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. If you haven't yet made the acquaintance of the Franklin, the Pardoner, or the Squire because you never learned Middle English, take heart: this edition of the Tales has been translated into modern idiom.

From the heroic romance of "The Knight's Tale" to the low farce embodied in the stories of the Miller, the Reeve, and the Merchant, Chaucer treated such universal subjects as love, sex, and death in poetry that is simultaneously witty, insightful, and poignant. The Canterbury Tales is a grand tour of 14th-century English mores and morals--one that modern-day readers will enjoy.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:30:07 -0400)

(see all 10 descriptions)

A retelling of the medieval poem about a group of travelers on a pilgrimage to Canterbury and the tales they tell each other. With their astonishing diversity of tone and subject matter, The Canterbury Tales have become one of the touchstones of medieval literature. Translated here into modern English, these tales of a motley crowd of pilgrims drawn from all walks of life-from knight to nun, miller to monk-reveal a picture of English life in the fourteenth century that is as robust as it is representative.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 43 descriptions

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2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0140424385, 014042234X

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