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The Canterbury Tales

by Geoffrey Chaucer, David Wright

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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22,047169183 (3.71)2 / 714
Classic Literature. Fiction. Poetry. HTML:

Geoffrey Chaucer's fourteenth-century masterpiece The Canterbury Tales is such a rollicking good read that you'll forget many critics and scholars also regard it as one of the most important literary works in English. A group of pilgrims are traveling together to visit a holy shrine at the Canterbury Cathedral. Along the way, they decide to hold a storytelling contest to pass the time, with the winner to be awarded a lavish feast on the return trip. The tales offered up in turn by each of the travelers run the full gamut of human emotion, ranging from raucous and ribald jokes to heartrending tales of doomed romance. Even if you don't consider yourself a fan of classic literature, The Canterbury Tales is worth a read.

.… (more)
  1. 90
    The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio (thecoroner)
  2. 102
    Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (Othemts)
  3. 70
    Walking to Canterbury : A modern journey through Chaucer's medieval England by Jerry Ellis (amyblue)
  4. 60
    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. 11
    The Canterbury Tales by Seymour Chwast (kxlly)
  10. 11
    Life in the Medieval University by Robert S. Rait (KayCliff)
  11. 11
    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.
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Showing 1-5 of 160 (next | show all)
24. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
edition: Broadview Editions, Second Edition, edited by Robert Boenig & Andrew Taylor (2012)
OPD: 1400
format: 503-page large paperback
acquired: April read: Dec 30, 2023 – Apr 27, 2024, time reading: 62:07, 7.4 mpp
rating: 5
genre/style: Middle English Poetry theme: Chaucer
locations: on the road from London to Canterbury
about the author: Chaucer (~1342 – October 25, 1400) was an English poet and civil servant.

Chaucer is tricky because he’s hard to read and his tales vary so much, they are hard to summarize or classify. There is a Boccaccio element to them, but it’s a very different experience. Like Boccaccio, one thing that stands out is Chaucer’s naughty stories – sex and farts and trickery, money and wealth often playing a central role. The plague also has a role. One of Chaucer's tales is about three youths who hunt for Death because he has killed so many, and tragically find what they’re looking for. But what makes Chaucer most stand out from Boccaccio are the tellers of the tales. In Boccaccio, the ten youths are all of a class and many of them blend together, hard to differentiate. Chaucer’s tale is a social mixture – good and bad, wealthy and common. They are each distinct, wonderfully distinct, so much so that they, the tellers, stand out way more in memory than the tales themselves. These characters come out in the story prologues and there is simply more creativity, more social commentary, more insight into this medieval world than anything the stories themselves can accomplish, no matter how good the stories are. The Merchant’s Tale, my favorite, includes many references and wonderful debate between Hades and Persephone, a battle of the sexes. But it doesn’t touch on the Wife of Bath’s 1000-line prologue on being a wife to five men and all the experiences and judgments and justifications within, it’s not even close. She’s the best, but the Miller comes in early, drunkenly inserting this tale of sex and fart jokes, and bringing the whole level of content down. The Miller says, "I wol now quite the Knightes tale!" The knight has just told a more proper Boccaccio-inspired tale. By "quiting", the Miller means he his giving him some payback, getting back at him. (His tale has thematic consistency, but with common characters, farts and sex.) And the Cook’s tale is so awfully improper that it hasn’t been preserved, or maybe Chaucer only wrote 50 lines. Later, the Cook will throw up and fall off his horse. The Canon’s Yeoman exposes his own canon’s alchemy and trickery, getting fired on the spot before he tells his tale. This is all quite terrific stuff in and of itself, a rowdy uncontrolled mixture of societal levels, and mostly humorous confrontations (notably in a post-plague era of social mobility).

The other thing Chaucer does that Boccaccio doesn’t do in the Decameron, is write in verse. This is special all by itself. If you have read excerpts of Chaucer, there's a fair chance that like me you have been bewildered by it. It’s a weird language, oddly drawn out, then oddly compressed, obscuring the meaning, jamming in a weird accent. It doesn't make for great quotes or easy visits. But if you get deep into it, focus hard on it, something happens. It becomes magical, inimical, and lush in sound and freedom, the random inconsistent spelling as beautiful as the random inconsistent and sometimes heavily obscured phrasing. It also becomes recognizable. The more you read it, the more sense it makes. Although I was never able to scan it. Show me a page of Chaucer, and I’m immediately lost in indecipherable letters. I have to begin to read it and find the flow before it comes to life.

I find it interesting, but not inappropriate, that when Chaucer is discussed, it’s almost always his opening lines that are quoted - Whan that Aprill with hise shoures soote/The droghte of March had perced to the roote/And bathed every veyne in swich liquor/Of which vertu engendered is the flour What’s interesting is that Chaucer really doesn’t write that beautifully anywhere else. His language is generally much tamer and less trying, the rhythm more casual.

Last year I read [Troilus and Criseyde] and was enraptured in the language. There is no question the language there is better than here. And is drawn out, as he stays with long monologues that go pages and pages, the reader lost in the rhythms. This here is just not quite like that. Yes, he gets carried away a lot. But it’s always a little jerky and bumpy. There are monologues, but these are story telling monologues, with quick-ish plots. While I liked staying in the Merchant’s Tale, the writing clearly elevated and interesting, it was not the same. But T&C is both made and limited by its singular story. The Canterbury Tales expands on its cacophony of voices. The stories for me actually fade. But the prologues leave such lush impressions, they are somehow so real, and charming and Discworld-ish, and uncontained. It’s a much more powerful thing in my head.

As many know, I read this every morning beginning with April’s shoures soote on January 1. And, with the exception of the prose tales, the Tale of Melibee and The Pardoner’s Tale, it was always the best part of my day. The same could be said for T&C last year. I’ll miss being lost in this. A really special experience, and special gift to English speakers and the language's history.

https://www.librarything.com/topic/360386#8521275 ( )
  dchaikin | Apr 28, 2024 |
Joseph Glaser's translation of Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales is wonderfully readable and entertaining. His translation makes the work easily accessible to modern readers providing a poetic rhythm and rhyme that hints of Chaucer's own poetry.

The Tales themselves range from the devout to the vulgarly humorous. Most delightful are the characters brought to life within the Tales. ( )
  M_Clark | Dec 29, 2023 |
modern English
  SrMaryLea | Aug 23, 2023 |
I'd say it's more like 3.5 stars, but we round up in my family.

Some great stuff and some duds, and that's perfectly fine. When I was really in the mood for this book, even a dud story didn't bother me because the feeling of the rhymes carried me along; it was almost like listening to music in a foreign language, pleasant for the sounds if not the content. The great stuff was a treat no matter my mood, and at times I actually gasped aloud in shock and delight at the raunchiness. ( )
1 vote blueskygreentrees | Jul 30, 2023 |
High 3.

Favourite stories:

- The Knight's Tale
- The Nun's Priest's Tale
- The Friar's Tale
- The Franklin's Tale

"The Canterbury Tales" is one of those classics which I'd always intended on reading "when I got around to it", but I would quite easily have reached the end of my life and it still be collecting dust at the bottom of the "to read" pile. It wasn't until I bought a copy of Dan Simmons "Hyperion" that I'd decided to bump it up on the priority list.
I haven't read Hyperion, but after realising it was in fact a sort of homage to The Canterbury Tales I decided that I would read Chaucers unfinished epic first.

I was pleasantly surprised. No - I didn't read it in the original middle English, and I soon found it a fruitless endeavour to track down what the "best" translation was since almost everyone bar the translators seemed to be of the opinion that the best translation is no translation at all.
Unfortunately, I don't have enough time to learn to read Middle English just so I can appreciate the Canterbury Tales that little bit more; in the same way that I wouldn't learn German to read Kafka or Italian for Dante. So instead I picked up the first copy I found in Oxfam, and took it home to read.

I of course can't really draw a comparison between this translation and the original middle English - although I did read some passages alongside the original online - but as far as I could tell, it didn't feel too modernised. Although it rhymes and reads like poetry, every now and again the flow is sacrificed for the sake of accuracy; and so you get the impression that accuracy was what the translator was striving for.

HOWEVER: My biggest qualm with this translation is that it is missing two stories INTENTIONALLY. This is done for the sake of apparently sparing the modern reader from the great chore of battling his/her way through what is supposedly the most boring story (written in prose) in the book (told by Chaucers character!), and the last tale which is apparently nothing more than a drawn out sermon.
Well this modern reader likes to know that when he purchases The Canterbury Tales, he gets the complete (although technically incomplete) Canterbury Tales, and not an abridgement. I can decide whether it's boring or not, or even if I want to read it or not!

Anywho it was an enjoyable read. A mixed bag of tragedy and romance and comedy and sauce and dirt and politics and points being made about the church and women and all that flippedy-do. There are good stories and "meh" stories and so I will not reward this classic with the traditional 5 stars that all classics are assumed to deserve. I will slap on a 4 (high 3), for it was thoroughly enjoyed.
Sure. If I'd learnt Middle English and read the original then I may yet have given it 5. I may have showered it's supposed genius with glorious praise had I lived in the 14th century.... Or I might have shunned it.

Who knows?

Either way, having read a translation, I am satisfied. Maybe one day I'll go back read the original, but for now...

  TheScribblingMan | Jul 29, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 160 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (169 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Chaucer, Geoffreyprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
David Wrightmain authorall editionsconfirmed
Allen, MarkEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Altena, Ernst vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ambrus, Victor G.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bantock, NickIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Barisone, ErmannoEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Barnouw, A.J.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bennett, J. A. W.Notesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Boenig, RobertEditorsecondary 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
Gual, VictòriaTranslatorsecondary 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
Kolve, V. A.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Latham, RobertGeneral editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Levi, PeterBlurbersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lounsbury, Thomas Raynesfordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lumiansky, R.MTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Manly, John MatthewsEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
NeCastro, GerardTranslatorsecondary 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

(Penguin Classics, Nevill Coghill ed., 1974 reprint).
Hester Lewellen
and for
Larry Luchtel
For Richard Freeman, Brian Bell, Glynne Wickham, Peter Whillans, Graham Binns

(Penguin Classics, Nevill Coghill ed., 1974 reprint).
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".
Publisher's editors
Original language
Canonical DDC/MDS
Canonical LCC

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (4)

Classic Literature. Fiction. Poetry. HTML:

Geoffrey Chaucer's fourteenth-century masterpiece The Canterbury Tales is such a rollicking good read that you'll forget many critics and scholars also regard it as one of the most important literary works in English. A group of pilgrims are traveling together to visit a holy shrine at the Canterbury Cathedral. Along the way, they decide to hold a storytelling contest to pass the time, with the winner to be awarded a lavish feast on the return trip. The tales offered up in turn by each of the travelers run the full gamut of human emotion, ranging from raucous and ribald jokes to heartrending tales of doomed romance. Even if you don't consider yourself a fan of classic literature, The Canterbury Tales is worth a read.


No library descriptions found.

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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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