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The Canterbury Tales

by Geoffrey Chaucer

Other authors: Peter Levi (Blurber)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
18,567150180 (3.72)647
Lively, absorbing, often outrageously funny, Chaucer's "The Canterbury tales" is a work of genius, an undisputed classic that has held a special appeal for each generation of readers. It gathers twenty-nine of literature's most enduring (and endearing) characters in a vivid group portrait that captures the full spectrum of medieval society, from the exalted Knight to the humble Plowman.… (more)
  1. 90
    The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio (thecoroner)
  2. 102
    Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (Othemts)
  3. 60
    Walking to Canterbury : A modern journey through Chaucer's medieval England by Jerry Ellis (amyblue)
  4. 50
    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. 20
    The Pentameron by Richard Burton (KayCliff)
  7. 10
    Tales of Count Lucanor by Manuel Juan (caflores)
  8. 10
    Finbar's Hotel by Dermot Bolger (JenniferRobb)
    JenniferRobb: Both contain stories of travelers who have stopped to "rest" in their journey.
  9. 00
    A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara W. Tuchman (Cecrow)
    Cecrow: Nonfiction study of Chaucer's period, with several references to his Tales.
  10. 11
    The Canterbury Tales by Seymour Chwast (kxlly)
  11. 11
    Life in the Medieval University by Robert S. Rait (KayCliff)

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» See also 647 mentions

English (143)  Dutch (2)  Portuguese (Brazil) (2)  Spanish (2)  Swedish (1)  Finnish (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (152)
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This was my first (and possibly my last) Chaucer, and was a tough read. The English language has changed considerably since these stories, most in verse but a couple long ones in prose, were published between 1386 and 1390. The spelling, pronunciation, and many words he used have changed, with many words having become obsolete or changed their meanings. I'm glad there was a glossary of this "famous (Walter William) Skeat edition. The stories vary in quality--some are very good and some just okay--but they illustrate why Geoffrey Chaucer is the leading English poet. It's a classic of classics that demonstrates his mastery of rhythm. ( )
  Jimbookbuff1963 | Jun 5, 2021 |
What can I add to the other 148 reviews? That many efforts begin to rival the bulk of the work itself. So I will merely record that when I dissolved an acquaintance's set of "Great Books of the Western World" I snapped up the Chaucer, The format is dignified, it is a parallel column edition, though done by 1934. Get one yourself , and enjoy it! ( )
  DinadansFriend | May 14, 2021 |
Video review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ai3QQB4awqo

Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer, c. 1400 CE

From Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales: Bloom's Modern Critical Interpretations:

"Except for Shakespeare, whom he profoundly influenced, Chaucer is the major literary artist in the English language" (ed. Harold Bloom, 1).

From "Confusion of Orifices in Chaucer's Miller's Tale" by Louise M. Bishop:

"Chaucer uses sensual confusion to poke fun at the limits of human knowledge..." (170).

From The Canterbury Tales (Penguin, trans. Nevill Coghill):

"No English poet has so mannerly an approach to his reader" (xi).
"All Chaucer's heroes regard love when it comes upon them as the most beautiful of absolute disasters, an agony to be as much desired as bemoaned, ever to be pursued, never to be betrayed" (xii).

From The Lifetime Reading Plan by Clifton Fadiman:

"As Dante's great poem is called The Divine Comedy, so Chaucer's has been called the Human Comedy" (74).
"The Prologue...is perhaps the most delightful portrait gallery in all literature" (75).
"Chaucer is a perfect yarn spinner, the founder of English realism, and an entrancing human being" (75).

From Genius by Harold Bloom:

"Profoundly impressed and cheerfully irritated by Dante, Chaucer created a parody of Dante the Pilgrim in Chaucer the Pilgrim of the Canterbury Tales" (104).

From The Western Canon by Harold Bloom:

"Turning from what is overpraised to what cannot be overpraised, the Canterbury Tales is a remarkable tonic" (99).

From Classics for Pleasure by Michael Dirda:

"From Chaucer and Cervantes to Joyce and Proust, our greatest comic writers don't simply make us laugh, they show us what it means to be human" (18).

From The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer:

"At the end of his book, Chaucer primly retracts the Tales along with his other "worldly translations," thus shifting the blame for enjoying them onto the reader" (364).

From The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry D. Benson:

"Inspired and perhaps influenced, but certainly not distracted, by the world around him, Chaucer yet found time to write thousands of lines, among them some of the best poetry in English" (xv).

From Chaucer: His Life, His Works, His World by Donald R. Howard:

"Of all the writers Chaucer has had the greatest influence on English literature; he stands at the beginning, the father of English poetry, as Dryden and Arnold called him" (xi).
"Chaucer--unlike most writers, I fear--led an interesting life" (xii).

From Chaucer's Tale: 1386 and the Road to Canterbury by Paul Strohm:

"Chaucer may, in fact must, be seen in double vision: as the medieval poet that he was and as the poet of permanent themes and enduring stature that he aspired to be, situated in the 'then' of his own time but also speaking to the 'now' of ours" (13).

(First, a note about the edition I used--the Penguin paperback with modern English versification by Nevill Coghill. While the translation is exceptional (retention of verse and rhyme), the edition lacks line numbers, footnotes on the page, an informative introduction, and more end notes. Yet, paired with the Everyman's Middle English, and well supplemented, edition, you will be in good standing. The Riverside Chaucer is also a critical text for the serious student.)

It has taken me a long while to catch onto Chaucer's Boccaccio-inspired masterwork (though he never credited Boccaccio). Like most, I read the General Prologue, the Miller's Tale, and the Wife of Bath's Tale in school. I read it again in college. No double the Miller's Tale woes the electric minds of youth, what with its bawdy riffing on orifices, but, in the end, it isn't enough to keep young minds coming back. Like most works of high literature (I'm thinking Moby-Dick especially), one needs much experience in life before being ready to take on such dense books. It is a tragedy that most are completely turned off by these classics by the end of high school. For me, at thirty-five now, this is the first time I can say that I went beyond appreciating the endurance of the work and actually enjoyed it as a common reader.

Aside from helming English literature--alongside his former teacher John Wycliffe, who produced the first English translation of the Bible--the Tales are remarkable for denying the more accepted French of the day for such works that targeted nobility. Like Dante who denied Latin in favor of his Tuscan, Chaucer put English on the literary map. To be more precise, however, if we take consult the Riverside Chaucer text, we find that "...English...had been used in poetry and prose for at least six centuries before Chaucer began to write" (xxix), but the Norman Conquest overshadowed all the regional dialects of English. What Chaucer actually did was to show that "...English could be written with an elegance and power that earlier authors had not attained" (xxx). The work also begins with a realism that was unprecedented in literary works. Chaucer manages to embody thirty-some personalities seemingly effortlessly. The General Prologue begins with an assertion of his poetic ability:

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 halfe cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open eye-
(So priketh hem Nature in hir corages);
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
And specially from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke
That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seeke.

Then the Prologue gives way to a fascinating roll call of characters.

The wrapper-story sets up like The Arabian Nights where the story around all the stories keeps the time element moving along. The Host decides to while away the travel time of their pilgrimage by having a story contest. Each of the thirty characters is to tell two stories there and two stories back. Thus, the original conception was to have one hundred and twenty stories (twenty more than Boccaccio, mind), but, sadly, Chaucer died in 1400 before he could finish. The criteria by which the tales will be judged by the Host: "...who gives the fullest measure / Of good morality and general pleasure..." (24).

Like Dante, again, and as others we will see later (Shakespeare, Milton, Melville, et al.), Chaucer has all of history, literature, theology, and philosophy at his disposal. Through his characters, he reveals an enormous store of information. Among the works referenced or alluded to: Homer, Aristotle, Virgil, Livy, Petrarch, Ovid, Augustine, Suetonius, Lucan, Valerius, the Bible. And the way in which he threads all these sources into the Tales is well-measured and -calculated.

The Knight's Tale leads off, and with its noble theme of chivalry (indeed, it brings ancient Greece into the fourteenth century), so treasured in Chaucer's day, it acts as a sort of bait-and-switch when turning next to the Miller's Tale. This is perhaps the most notorious of all the Tales (pun intended), what with its image of Alison sticking her "hole" out the window and Absalon kissing it: "And Absalon has kissed her nether eye" (106). It also introduces the word "quim" as Coghill translates it, and a vulgar depiction Nicolas grabbing Alison's pudendum (according to the Riverside Chaucer). Thus, in the first two tales, we see the poet's mastery of the chivalrous and the bawdy. He is daring enough to have a character blast a fart in someone's face and a Catholic member of the clergy shamelessly brag about his avarice. At the same time, Chaucer has no problem digging through the annals of history to highlight the Christian concept of pride before the fall.

Overall, these stories and their raconteurs put on display our humanity in all of its paradoxes, lows, and highs. As the Host says, "Now isn't in a marvel of God's grace / That an illiterate fellow can outpace / The wisdom of a heap of learned men?" (18). These common people deal with all the struggles we all do, and they cope with them in different ways. As the host urges storytellers to leave sad, depressing tales and lighten the mood with farce, so is life in its vicissitudes. Chaucer, himself, as the poet-pilgrim, isn't above self-deprecation--his own tale is interrupted because it is so bad.

Ovid is the most present source in the Tales. They are rife with transformations, though perhaps not from one creature to another; these transformations are more human: social, moral, ethical. In the Monk's tale, we get a veritable encyclopedia of transformations, tragedies, and moral transgressions, beginning with Lucifer and ending with Croesus. (Humorously, the monk gets cut off because he is killing the mood.) Emotional transformations abound: "Ever the latter end of joy is woe..."(224). Nothing is permanent. Nothing stays the same. All is change, as Democritus taught.

While these tales anticipate the bodily humor of Rabelais, they also prefigure twentieth-century feminism with the provocative, confident, enchanting proto-feminist The Wife of Bath. So secure is her mark upon the work that no conversation of Chaucer is complete without her. From the start of her prologue, The Wife of Bath shatters female stereotypes (or perhaps, in context, I should say expectations). Far from the lowly servant to her husband, it is she who pines for the reigns to the relationship. And she is ready to argue not only for equality, but for the upper hand, using a wealth of examples from the very Bible that men hold over her! She speaks forth with a boldness that is as shocking as it is admirable. In the opening lines--"If there were no authority on earth / Except experience, mine, for what it's worth, / And that's enough for me..."--The Wife of Bath gives a precursor to nineteenth-century American self-reliance. She is secure with and proud of her sexuality; no repression for this wife; and in this category, men are pitiful ("What means of paying her can he invent / Unless he use his silly instrument?") and women free ("In wifehood I will use my instrument / As freely as my Maker me it sent"). Truly she boasts in her "quoniam," a word to be savored in posterity along with the Miller's Tale's "quim": "And truly, as my husbands said to me, / I had the finest quoniam that might be...." But all this attention-grabbing prologue is not merely for flipping the conception of men and women on its head. The prologue sets the stage for a tale that argues a cunning theory. If men allow the woman to have mastery over them, everyone gets what they want! That, however, is a simple and somewhat cheeky rendering of a tale with so clever a capstone on the central question of what women desire the most.

Chaucer's work, like Homer, like Dante, sings and much as it informs. If one puts in the time to learn the pronunciations of the Middle English and the effort to chat the passages aloud, one will be most rewarded. The language, far from being harsh in its Germanic influence, is intoxicating. The rime riche and ever-changing schemes that match the tone of the story being told raise the literature far above mere storytelling. Chaucer, in the end, is an artist in full command of his craft. His work stands centuries later as the genesis of English literature and continues to speak to us through the ages. ( )
  chrisvia | Apr 29, 2021 |
A collection of stories framed by a pilgrimage from Thomas's sanctuary to Becket in Canterbury, Kent. The 30 pilgrims who undertake the journey gather at the Tabard Inn in Southwark, across the Thames, from London. They agree to participate in a storytelling contest while traveling, and Harry Bailly, host of the Tabard, serves as the emcee for the contest. Most pilgrims are presented by brief vivid sketches in the "General Prologue". Among the 24 stories interspersed, there are short and dramatic scenes, featuring animated exchanges, usually involving the host and one or more pilgrims. Chaucer did not complete the plan for his book: the return trip from Canterbury is not included and some of the pilgrims do not tell stories.

The use of a pilgrimage as a framing device allowed Chaucer to bring together people from all walks of life: knight, monk, merchant, forgiver and many others. The multiplicity of social types, as well as the device of the narrative contest itself, allowed the presentation of a highly varied collection of literary genres: religious legend, courteous romance, saintly life, allegorical tale, fable of the beast, medieval sermon and, at the sometimes mixtures of these genres. The stories offer complex depictions of pilgrims, while, at the same time, the tales present notable examples of short narratives on the back, in addition to two prose exhibitions. The pilgrimage, which in medieval practice combined a fundamentally religious purpose with the secular benefit of spring break, enabled a broader consideration of the relationship between the pleasures and vices of this world and the spiritual aspirations for the next. ( )
  Marcos_Augusto | Feb 19, 2021 |
  pszolovits | Feb 3, 2021 |
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» Add other authors (183 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Geoffrey Chaucerprimary authorall editionscalculated
NeCastro, GerardTranslatormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Levi, PeterBlurbersecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ackroyd, PeterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Allen, MarkEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Altena, Ernst vanTranslatorsecondary 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
Burton, RaffelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cawley, A. C.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Caxton, WilliamPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Coghill, NevillTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fisher, John H.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Forster, PeterIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
French, Robert D.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hanning, Robert W.Introductionsecondary 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
Pearsall, DerekIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Skeat, Walter W.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stearn, TedCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Taylor, AndrewEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tuttle, PeterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Untermeyer, LouisIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wain, JohnIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wright, DavidTranslatorsecondary 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
Hester Lewellen
and for
Larry Luchtel
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.
[Preface] The first part of this Norton Critical Edition of "The Canterbury Tales: Seventeen Tales and the General Prologue"--the glossed Chaucer text--is addressed specifically to students making their first acquaintance with Chaucer in his own language, and it takes nothing for granted.
[Chaucer's Language] There are many differences between Chaucer's Middle English and modern English, but they are minor enough that a student can learn to adjust to them in a fairly short time.
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
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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 (4)

Lively, absorbing, often outrageously funny, Chaucer's "The Canterbury tales" is a work of genius, an undisputed classic that has held a special appeal for each generation of readers. It gathers twenty-nine of literature's most enduring (and endearing) characters in a vivid group portrait that captures the full spectrum of medieval society, from the exalted Knight to the humble Plowman.

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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.

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2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0140424385, 014042234X

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