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The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

The Canterbury Tales (edition 2003)

by Geoffrey Chaucer, Nevill Coghill (Translator)

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14,053114147 (3.73)519
Title:The Canterbury Tales
Authors:Geoffrey Chaucer
Other authors:Nevill Coghill (Translator)
Info:Penguin Classics (2003), Edition: Revised, Paperback, 528 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:poetry, classics

Work details

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

  1. 102
    Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (Othemts)
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    The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio (thecoroner)
  3. 60
    Walking to Canterbury : A modern journey through Chaucer's medieval England by Jerry Ellis (amyblue)
  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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The importance of the Canterbury Tales in the history of English literature and the English language goes without saying. It is also a lot of fun to read, even in the original Middle English.[return][return]The Everyman's Library edition presents the full text as Chaucer wrote it, but with definitions in the margins for words whose meaning isn't obvious. There are also footnotes for those cases where a word or two of explanation won't suffice. At first it was slow going, but after awhile I was able to forgo many of the definitions. Reading aloud also helps, for Chaucer's spelling--which is by no means consistent throughout the book--is largely phonetic.[return][return]The stories themselves range from bawdy adventures to religious sermons. Some of them will sound familiar, as they are taken from Greek myths and will appear again in the works of Shakespeare and others. Most are humorous, and Chaucer's talent as a poet begins to come across once you become somewhat comfortable with the language. The framing story is noteworthy as well. The pilgrims are a cross-section of medieval society. The tales they choose to tell, and the way they tell them, reflect their lives, their education, their interests, and their prejudices. To read their tales is to be immersed in the life of the middle ages. ( )
  Dolmance | Oct 28, 2015 |
Uma coleção de contos do século 14. Um grupo de viajantes vai à Cantuária e delicia-se com histórias para passar o tempo. Algumas são bem-humoradas, outras são banais ou ficam abaixo do esperado, mas o efeito geral é forte, graças à grande vitalidade dos personagens de Chaucer, uma saudável prova de que a Idade Média nada tinha de pesada e solene (sua imagem dominante). Os personagens parecem incrivelmente vivos e, com exceção de alguns temas recorrentes (particularmente virgindade e adultério - é uma coisa boa que os imbecis a favor de censura não lêem versos), são radicalmente diferentes uns dos outros: vão do vulgarmente chocante ao presunçosamente correto ---- e são todos exuberantemente traçados. ( )
  jgcorrea | Apr 24, 2015 |
While The Canterbury Tales is very well-known by its title, it is probably not that widely read. It is a collection of 20 stories written in Middle English by Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century. Apart from a few exceptions these tales are written in verse. This review is based on my reading of the Modern English translation by Nevill Coghill.

The Canterbury Tales are a story-telling contest by a group of people on their way from Southwark to Canterbury Cathedral:

It happened in that season that one day
In Southwark, at The Tabard, as I lay
Ready to go on pilgrimage and start
For Canterbury, most devout at heart,
At night there came into that hostelry
Some nine and twenty in a company
Of sundry folk happening then to fall
In fellowship, and they were pilgrims all
That towards Canterbury meant to ride.

(quoted from The Prologue)

This "sundry folk" includes, among others, a knight, a miller, a reeve, a cook, a prioress, a monk, a clerk, a merchant, a physician, a pardoner and a parson. Probably also known to many is The Wife of Bath.

As it is hard to review such a large collection of stories I will concentrate on the one that impressed me most, which was 'The Miller's Tale'. Following a story of courtly love told by the kinght, 'The Miller's Tale' relates a story of a carpenter who is fooled by his clerks who have sex with the carpenter's wife. What I especially liked about this story is the topic, which is talked about very openly for a 14th century work. What is more, the miller does a magnificent job in telling his tale after he had just told the rest of the group of pilgrims that he was drunk and not to be held acoountable for the story. 'The Miller's Tale' is followed by 'The Reeve's Tale' in which great offense is expressed at the miller's story as the reeve had been a carpenter himself once. This can be seen as an example of the structure of The Canterbury Tales: A story insulting a particular group of persons or a particular trade is usually followed by a response from the offended who tell a tale on their own to set matters right or get back at the previous speaker.

While 'The Miller's Tale' is just one of many stories in The Canterbury Tales it is somewhat representative of what I liked about the book. First, there is the structure that greatly contributes to the overall reading pleasure. Second, there are the tales themselves, which are very entertaining, especially keeping in mind the fact that they were written at the end of the 14th century. To my mind, The Canterbury Tales is a classic that is still highly appealing to 21st century readers. On the whole, 4 stars for a great reading experience. ( )
1 vote OscarWilde87 | Apr 12, 2015 |
Always entertaining. I loved reading this the first time and I always enjoy going back over a tale or two for a chuckle. ( )
  swingingnorske | Apr 7, 2015 |
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.

While Raffel's translation was good, the stories by Chaucer generally were not. Chaucer's strength is language: his plots and characters are generally lacking. His stories often feel into one of several molds:

* Stories about chivalrous knights fighting or pining for women they hardly know, an expression of courtly love. One example is the first tale in the book, The Knight's Tale, which is an anachronistic story that ports elements of Middle Ages culture and practices into the Trojan War period.

* Comedic stories about foolish commoners. These are generally lewd, the humor is immature (for example, emphasizing bodily functions like farting), and often involve people getting hurt in the manner of slapstick cartoon characters or men whose wives cheat on them. Chaucer, who was writing predominantly for the nobility, likely was pandering to their perceptions of commoners as lesser people and buffoons.

* Lengthy, religious diatribes. The Tale of Melibee and The Parson's Tale, both written in prose rather than poetry, are the prime examples. From a plot and character perspective, they are terrible. The Tale of Melibee, for example, begins with Melibee's enemies breaking into his house when he is away. They beat his wife and mortally wound his daughter. When Melibee gets back, he is distraught and vows vengence upon them. Then, over the course of very many pages, his robot-like wife "Prudence" endlessly quotes empty platitudes from religious and secular literature, eventually convincing Melibee to forgive his enemies.

There are a few gems amidst Chaucer's many pages. Chaucer's tale "Sir Thopas" is my favorite- a genuinely funny satire of the Medieval noble knight, written in bouncy prose with a different rhyme structure from the rest of the book. Sadly, and frustratingly, Chaucer cuts off this story very near to the beginning (he has one of the other characters interrupt the tale-teller, the character Chaucer). Perhaps he felt that nobles (his audience) wouldn't be able to accept a story that satirizes the warriors among them.

My other favorite is the Pardon Peddler's Tale (including its prologue), in which the pardon peddler describes in a humorously over-the-top manner how he travels from place to place, preaching against sins such as the love of money, so that people will give him all the more money, with which he can indulge himself. His tale, which follows, is simple and moralistic, but it is well-told and has a solid plot as a short parable.

Sadly, there are also some dreadful stories. For example, the Prioress tells a short, antisemitic story. A seven-year-old boy walks through a Jewish neighborhood on the way to school. The Jews murder him because he was singing about the Virgin Mary while walking. The story ends with a massacre of the Jews (not just the specific murderers), which is presented as a positive thing.

It can be hard to tell for certain how prejudiced Chaucer was against non-Christians. A ruler whom Chaucer (erroneously) identifies as Islamic is praised in The Squire's Tale, not in spite of his faith, but in part because he follows Islam strictly. (Genghis Khan, the most likely candidate for the ruler Chaucer calls "Cambeeyuskan," was actually a tengrist.)

Overall, I did not find the experience of reading the Canterbury Tales to be worthwhile. I am never satisfied by the language or poetry of a novel or epic poem- language must be in service to a story with good plot and characters. I did not like Chaucer's humor or his moralism. While there were a few good moments, they were too rare, and in particular, I cannot forgive Chaucer for intentionally cutting off my favorite story near to its beginning. If you desire a positive experience of the Canterbury Tales, I'd recommend reading just several of his best stories. If you read the work in its entirety, you will likely come away with a more realistic, and considerably more negative, view of Chaucer's work. ( )
  jrissman | Mar 24, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (187 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Geoffrey Chaucerprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lumiansky, R.Mmain authorall editionsconfirmed
Coghill, NevillTranslatormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ackroyd, PeterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bantock, NickIllustratorsecondary 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
French, Robert D.Editorsecondary 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
Lounsbury, Thomas Raynesfordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lumiansky, R.MTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Manly, John MatthewsEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nicolson, J. U.Translatorsecondary 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!
The ISBN 0192510347 and 0192815970 correspond to the World's classics editions (Oxford University Press). One occurrence, however, is entitled "The Canterbury Tales: A Selection".
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:50 -0400)

(see all 10 descriptions)

"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." --Publisher description.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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