The Canterbury Tales: In Modern English (Penguin Classics)

by Geoffrey Chaucer

Paper Book, 2000




Penguin Classics (2003), 528 pages


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)

Original publication date

14th century AD (source material)
1394 (Original manuscripts completed & circulated)
1478 (Earliest printed edition issued in London ∙ UK ∙ by William Caxton)
1484 (Reprinted by William Caxton)
1498 (Second Edition by Wynkyn de Worde ∙ Caxton's successor)
1526 (First Edition of Collected Works in Three Volumes ∙ published by Richard Pynson ∙ de Worde's successor)
1532, 1561, 1598 (other editions of Collected Worksm following the first one)
1894 ( the Oxford Chaucer [standard authoritative edition] edited by Walter w. Skeat)
1934 (translated by Frank Ernest Hill into modern English verse)
1946 (revised by translator Hill and issued with illustrations by Arthur Szyk)



0140440224 / 9780140440225


½ (2853 ratings; 3.7)

User reviews

LibraryThing member universehall
I must admit that I was expecting this to be a very stuffy, dry, boring book. I mean, it's a pretty old book, and sometimes books this old that are considered "classics" are a touch hard to get through.

However, it was neither stuffy, nor dry, nor boring. In fact, quite the opposite of all those
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Very unexpectedly, this was an easy-to-read, entertaining book. Even though the "story-within-story-within-story" format occasionally had me flipping back to remind myself who was talking, I wouldn't call it difficult reading.

If I'm totally honest, though, I must admit that there were one or two stories that I started reading and began to wonder where on earth they were going. However, for the most part Chaucer seemed aware of that himself, because he would often truncate stories when they started to get dull.

If I can muster a minor criticism of this book, it would be the fact that a disproportionate number of the stories revolve around adulterous wives. I can't even remember how many of the stories feature that as a major plot point.

This leads to another - well, not so much a criticism as an observation. This book was much *randier* than I expected. Every other story seemed to feature people hopping in and out of bed. So much so that I began to get self-conscious about reading this book on my commute to and from work each morning; I began to worry that old ladies would notice me reading it, and shake their heads disapprovingly.

Regardless, I had a good time reading this book - or at least, a much better time than I anticipated. I suppose my most major criticism would be with the ending: we never get to find out who won the contest! There's no general "summing up" at the ending. It simply finishes with the last story, and when that's done, so's the book.
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LibraryThing member Katie_H
I read this in Middle English, so it was extremely challenging, but well worth the extra effort. The "Canturbury Tales" are a collection of stories, all but two of which, were written in verse. In the framing story, 24 pilgrims are on their way from Southwark to Canturbury to visit the Saint Thomas
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Becket shrine at Canturbury Cathedral. When they stop along the way, they entertain the group with tales, some serious, some hilarious, some racy, some satirical, and some laced with religious themes. The most famous of these is "The Knight's Tale," in which two friends, both knights, fall in love with the same woman. The funniest and bawdiest story is "The Miller's Tale," which includes extramarital sex, ass (ers) kissing, and farting! I'd highly recommend at least attempting to read the book in its original language, as the verses are incredibly beautiful and well-written. There are several versions that include either glossaries or interlinear translation which is necessary to fully understand the meaning of the text, but a strictly modern version will miss much of what makes Chaucer amazing.
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LibraryThing member thorold
The Canterbury Tales is by a wide margin the best-known work of English literature from the medieval period. It's not only enshrined in the school History syllabus between Crop Rotation, Monasticism and Castles, but it's a book that many modern readers still seem to turn to for pleasure, despite
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the obvious difficulties caused by the linguistic and cultural distance of six centuries. I've often dipped into it pleasurably before, and I've had a copy sitting on my shelves for many years, but this is the first time I've tried a cover-to-cover read.

I found the language easier to deal with than I expected - Chaucer's version of southern English is a lot more straightforward for the modern reader than the nearly contemporary Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Anyone who knows a bit of French or Latin and a bit of German or Dutch ought to be able to read it fairly easily with the help of the marginal glosses. Especially with 600 pages to practice on, you soon get the hang of what it means and a rough idea of how it sounds (I listened to an audio recording of the General Prologue for help with this). In fact, the pronunciation of Middle English is usually more logical than that of Modern English. If what's written is "knight", it makes far more sense to say cnicht (or kerniggut if you're John Cleese) than nite...

Like most people, I had mixed reactions to the Tales. The bawdy ones were fun - it's always interesting to see that people enjoyed fart-jokes as much (or perhaps even more) in those days as they do now. The chivalric-romance style of several other Tales was colourful but sometimes a bit slow for modern tastes (some of the descriptions in the "Knight's Tale" seem to go on for ever), but it was revealing to see that Chaucer was well aware of that and was prepared to make fun of it in the mock-heroic "Nun's Priest's Tale" and the deliberately boring and directionless "Tale of Sir Thopas", which is supposedly being told by the poet's narrator-persona, "Chaucer", until he's cut off by the Host.

There are several "high-minded" religious Tales that look as though they are meant to be taken straight - the blatantly antisemitic - "Prioress's Tale" is perhaps best ignored; the "Physician's Tale", a gruesome story about an honour-killing, is not much better, except that there at least the narrator seems to distance himself a little from the idea that it's better to kill your (innocent) daughter than risk shame attaching to her; the "Second Nun's Tale" (the gloriously over-the-top martyrdom of St Cecilia) is almost readable, but even I was forced into skimming by the "Parson's Tale", a lengthy and very dry sermon on the subject of "penance" (it does get a bit livelier when it's discussing the Seven Deadly Sins...).

Probably the most interesting aspect of the Tales overall is what Chaucer has to say about the relations between men and women. Several Tales deal with this topic explicitly in various different ways, and the core of the argument is obviously in the "Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale" - she argues powerfully and directly that the world will not collapse into disorder if women are allowed to decide the course of their own lives. The "Franklin's Tale" also takes up the idea of an equitable marriage in which neither partner owes obedience to the other and presents it in a positive light. It's tempting to read something of the Chaucers' domestic situation into this, but of course we don't have the slightest bit of evidence for anything other than that Philippa Chaucer had a career of her own.

We read this for its scope, vitality and colour, and for the liveliness of Chaucer's verse, which manages to jump the centuries without any problem. It's striking how we're so used to groaning and expecting dullness or difficulty when we see a passage of verse in a modern prose novel - here it's precisely the opposite; we (rightly) groan when we see the prose text of the "Parson's Tale" and the "Tale of Melibee" coming up, and are relieved when we get back to verse again...

One - irrelevant - thought that struck me for the first time on this reading was to wonder how the practicalities of storytelling on horseback work out. Even on foot, it's difficult to talk to more than two or three people at once whilst walking along, and when riding you can't get as close together as you can on foot, plus you've got the noise of the horses. So I don't know how you would go about telling a story to a group of 29 riders in a way that they can all hear it. If they were riding two abreast, they would be spread out over something like 50m of road, and it's unlikely that the A2 was more than two lanes wide in the 14th century...
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LibraryThing member lit_chick
I studied The Canterbury Tales in a required literature class. The Tales comprised the entire syllabus. Our professor was one of those rare gems who made the work absolutely come alive. Each Tale became its own masterpiece. We learned to read in Middle English and to translate Middle English to
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Modern English. From a master, I learned to love and appreciate Chaucer's work.

My five-star rating is for the late Professor Douglas Wurtele of Ottawa, ON, who spent his academic life studying Chaucer and tirelessly sharing his rich enthusiasm with his students.
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LibraryThing member Voracious_Reader
Here are my thoughts on the Prioress' Tale:

The Tales begin with the General Prologue where Chaucer introduces all of the pilgrims. The Prioress is described as a gentlewoman, possessing all the etiquette/manners and sympathetic trappings of nobility. She keeps pets, including little dogs, which she
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feeds scraps from the dinner table. She wears a bangle on her wrist and a brooch/necklace (rather than a rosary, I assume, if rosaries existed yet) that reads "Amor vincit omnia" (the phrase "Love Conquers All" could be evidence of her hypocrisy, and/or symbolize an interest in physical love—sex and motherhood are probably not a terrific obsession for a Prioress). Notably, she doesn't act like a pious nun. In the prologue, she's a coquettish social climber who’s more reminiscent of a woman attempting to maneuver her way through a royal court than a House of God.

The Prologue introduces the idea of an entertaining storytelling contest, and so each character tells a tale. The Prioress tells a violent, sentimental, religious tale that makes listeners weep and turn away in horror. We empathize with the story’s main character, a young child (or, at least, I think we’re supposed to); thus, when she draws parallels between herself and her Tale’s main character, she wants the reader to feel sorry for her as well. The problem: She isn’t an innocent child. So why does she want us to see her as innocent and pitiable?

She sees herself as being childlike and innocent, but she comes across as childish, envious, and unforgiving and merciless. She hasn’t given up worldly possessions and pride; she sports jewelry and wears her habit so that her prominent forehead is exposed. My version of the Tales, in a footnote, indicates that in Chaucer’s time, the prominent forehead indicated status and noble or aristocratic bloodlines. As a Prioress, her pride and materialistic nature would probably have verged on being sinful, but must have been, at the very least, uncharacteristic of a Prioress.

She has abandoned some nonmaterial aspirations by giving up the ability to have her own children and marriage. The difference, though, between The Prioress and her Tale’s main character is that she, unlike he, chooses to give something up for her faith, whereas he has faith without knowledge. (He willingly sings Latin hymns without knowing their meaning, and sings them as he wanders through a Jewry. Notably, he sings the Alma Redemptoris Mater, yet the Prioress always leaves the word Mater out until the young boy has already died and is sprinkled with holy water.) Or, did she? Did the Prioress knowingly give up motherhood for her faith? In other words, does she have faith coupled with knowledge, or, is she like the character in her story, which would mean that she doesn't understand the demands of her own devotion and calling? While she sees herself as being like the boy in her Tale, Chaucer certainly intends parallels between the Prioress and the boy’s mother, the widow, and that may tell us something about how Chaucer sees her to understand her faith.
The Prioress mourns the loss of her own motherhood via the pathos of the widow’s character. The widow cannot locate her son, so she becomes whiny and plaintiff, inadequate, and ultimately has to seek the help of others in order to find (or care for) her child. Ultimately, the Prioress’s behaves the same way when it comes to articulating that for which she has abandoned ordinary motherhood, namely her faith. She even draws attention to the fact that she has faith without knowledge by making fun of the Monk (Shipman’s Tale) for having the exact opposite--knowledge without faith. She apologizes for that weakness, and we are left to draw our own conclusions and compare her weaknesses to the strengths of one of the only other female taletellers, the Wife of Bath. The Prioress is like the widow, namely incapable of caring for her own son (faith), protecting him from the evils of the world, and helpless, because she lacks the knowledge and rationality to do so.

Because she lacks a rational understanding of faith, and is at the same time attempting to explain what faith is, she tells a violent, gruesome, anti-Semitic Tale. At the end of that tale, she asks for mercy for herself, sinners, and her listeners, but she doesn't appreciate the paradox between asking for mercy, wearing the Amor vincit omnia, and being so blatantly vindictive. The choice is either (1) the prioress understands the paradox of mercy and the violence in her tale, or (2) that she doesn’t realize her own vindictiveness. It's hard to imagine what she believes that phrase means in light of the story she tells, but it seems she’s genuinely clueless as to her hypocrisy.

Aside from not living the phrase “Love Conquers All,” her faith without knowledge keeps her from grasping the fullness of the Virgin Mary (that she is the mother of a man in the flesh and of the divine). In other words, she doesn't reconcile the earthly nature of motherhood with the heavenly nature of being God's mother. Although laudable to empathize with Mary’s motherhood, faith loses meaning without an understanding of being “The Mother” as well. Instead of seeing herself as a strong protector of the innocent and of the faithful, she sees herself as an infant, drawing parallels between herself and a young boy. Yet, she isn’t an infant, she’s a woman.

As a Prioress, she would have had authority over young women and some responsibility for teaching “the faith.” Would a story about a young boy having his throat slit to the bone by Jews bring young women closer to God, would it entertain a party of pilgrims? Hm. Maybe she did join the pilgrimage to have a “spiritual dialogue between man and creation,” but the Prioress will always be a pilgrim, perpetually struggling to reconcile her calling with her loss of motherhood. She has faith in the redeemer but uttering the complete phrase Oh Loving Mother of the Redeemer will never come easily. Faith without knowledge still seems to leave the Prioress in a dark place where mercy falls on only those with her sort of faith, and Love does not conquer fear and longing.

So, in the end is faith enough? I hope so, but the Tale isn’t very encouraging.
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LibraryThing member sedelia
This is one of the best translations of Chaucer that I've read. And, having been an English major, I've read quite a few versions of Chaucer's stories. It makes a huge difference having a poet translate, I think. Raffel does an excellent job in maintaining the poetic integrity of the work while
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making it readable for modern readers.

I have heard many friends complain about how boring The Canterbury Tales is. I admit, there are some stories that are impossibly long-winded. (I'm thinking of the Parson's Tale here.) However, there are a few classics in here, such as the Wife of Bath's Tale, and the Knight's Tale. No matter what, it's amazing to see how each of these stories continues to be meaningful and have relevance to audiences today. There is something in every story that we can still see in today's world. Promiscuity, cheating, marriage, friendship, religion, etc. Chaucer covers it all.

If you're going to pick and choose, however, I think the funny ones are the best. There is some merit in the others, but Chaucer is at his finest when writes humor. He's sarcastic, clever, and gloriously irreverent. And he's not above a good fart joke. I'm not sure that can be taken as a sign of a brilliant writer, but Chaucer is one of the greatest.

Overall, I think classics are classics for a reason. The status of The Canterbury Tales is rightly deserved. Chaucer is undeniably clever and funny and brings up a lot of issues that are still worth thinking about. I think everyone should sit down and read this one; just be prepared for poetry, not prose, and know that it won't be a fast read. But it will be worth it.

*I was given a free copy of this book through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers' Program in exchange for an honest review.*
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LibraryThing member Nouche
This edition of the Canterbury Tales, edited by Larry Benson, is superb. It is based on the Riverside Chaucer, Third Edition (also edited by Benson) and is as authoritative as you can get. It's greatest attribute is the presentation of a highly readable text that will be appreciated by scholars and
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lovers of Chaucer of all levels. It's beautifully glossed, but in an unobtrusive manner that allows the language to sing off the page without any unneccesary interruptions; the copious (and useful) vocab and grammar notes are clearly marked by line and placed below the body text, thus one can read (aloud preferably) at one's own pace without being constantly interrupted. The placement and economy of the notes also makes for a clear presentation and a great reading text that allows individual readers to approach the Tales at his or her own pace. Highly informative and entertaining essays on Chaucer's life, the history and conext in which he lived and wrote and on his language and versification introduce the volume and provide an excellent jumping off point into the Tales. The latter essay is a decent - albeit brief - introduction to reading and pronounciation of Chaucer's Middle English, but it is far from comprehensive, covering primarily the most basic elements thereof while paying scant attention to the nuances of inflection and grammar. Nevertheless, that is where this edition acheives - it presents a highly readable and accesible version of Chaucer's masterpiece and allows readers of all levels to approach the poem(s) on their own terms, unencumbered by an intrusive or burdensome scholarly apparatus. In other words, one can approach the Tales with just enough context, historically and linguistically, to engage with it in a manner as close to possible as a fluent reader of Middle English would have. And the perfect balance between inspiring the novice reader to venture forth independently and the superior guidance that is readily available with just a quick glance toward the bottom of the page, will undoubtadly improve one's reading and comprehension of Middle English. Scholars of all levels will appreciate and enjoy this edition. Larry Benson (still teaching at Harvard, by the way) is one of the great Chaucerians and has given us one of the best editions of Chaucer available - one that is equally beneficial and interesting to both the student and the layman. The point is, you can't outgrow this one. If anything, you can grow into it. What more could one want?
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LibraryThing member OscarWilde87
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member jwhenderson
Reading The Canterbury Tales of Geoffrey Chaucer from beginning to end is an exhilarating experience. The humor and variety that abound in these stories particularly impresses this reader. That aside, the game established by Chaucer at the Tabard the night before the journey is a competition for
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the tale "of best sentence and moost solaas," the prize being "a soper at oure aller cost." He leaves no doubt that some of his pilgrims would rate the prospect of a free meal more highly than the feast promised at the Cathedral: a view of not only the St. Thomas a Becket relics, but the whole arms of eleven saints, the bed of the Blessed Virgin, fragments of the rock at Calvary and of rock from the Holy Sepulchre, Aaron's Rod, a piece of the clay from which Adam was made, and more. Since Chaucer does not complete his tale-telling, nor get his pilgrims to their destination, neither earthly nor spiritual nourishment is realized. The reader should not let this deter him from enjoying the tales that Chaucer did complete as presented in this effective modern english verse translation.
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LibraryThing member jonfaith
A wife destroys her husband and contrives,
As husbands know, the ruin of their lives

Much as the theme of estrangement dominates a thread of traditional songs, (see Wayfaring Stranger, Motherless Child etc) much of early Modern literature appears concerned with faithless brides and the looming
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spectre of cuckoldry. It is possible that I am full of sh*t in tall weeds, but that said, I do think that there is a link between the themes (alienation and infidelity) and that both are understood in terms of our ontological displacement. Such were my reasoned reactions to Canterbury Tales. My unreasoned ones amounted to observation: look there’s a rape, that’s a rape, that’s a pogrom, why would anyone’s daughter want to sleep with him etc, etc? I read this in translation into modern English and was impressed about the rhyme, especially between Flanders and extravagances: who can fault that? The Tales is a display of language's majesty.

My grasp of Chaucer amounts to the author saying through his myriad voices -- much like Bill Nighy in Hitchhiker’s Guide: there really is no point, just keep busy
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LibraryThing member lissabeth21
I could listen to and read this repeatedly and still find more to love I think.
LibraryThing member jguidry
The narrator of this audiobook bumped this book from a 3.5 to a 4 star rating.  David Cutler had an excellent grasp of the Old English and helped the poetry flow smoothly.  I was able to enjoy the bawdy humor and misogynistic views of womanly virtues".  It is always interesting to read what was
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considered important in our past and Chaucer definitely wrote as a man of the times.  He did occasionally get a few knocks in for the women, though.  It was fun re-reading these tales now that I don't have to analyze them for a term paper."
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LibraryThing member mbmackay
Wow! Almost readable in original English after 660 years. Irreverent & ebullient.
Read Samoa Nov 2003
LibraryThing member stephxsu
Canterbury Tales is basically required literature for every literate English speaker out there. It offers a plethora of different stories to choose from: some sad, some funny, some downright raucous and crude. You'll never run out of stories for all your varieties of moods.

I would recommend trying
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reading this in the original Middle English; it's difficult but rewarding, especialy when you revert back to modern English afterwards and realize how easy and familiar it is!

That being said, Burton Raffel's new translation of Canterbury Tales is approachable and friendly to readers of all ages, from the slightly-but-hopefully-not-too-apathetic high school student to the serious and wise scholar of English lit. More points for having a lovely book layout; I love the feel of a good, solid book in my hands.
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LibraryThing member BrynDahlquis
The whole idea of the Canterbury Tales is very cool, and I certainly enjoy reading the different stories and poetry, but I find that I don't actually -like- most of the stories. They all follow a distinct pattern and are either crude and tragic or just plain tragic.
LibraryThing member swingingnorske
Always entertaining. I loved reading this the first time and I always enjoy going back over a tale or two for a chuckle.
LibraryThing member Gold_Gato
Oh, the treasure of finding and holding a shopworn copy of Chaucer's tales in my hands is just too much for words. His tales are not just downright funny, but they can be applied even today to the people we work with, live with, and play with on a daily basis. In fact, I kept laughing every time I
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read another tale that was a ringer for someone I knew. The classics hold up well, don't they?

Book Season = Sping ("when the sweet showers of April fall and shoot")
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LibraryThing member StefanY
The Canterbury Tales is an entertaining romp through the Medieval English countryside. If you don't know what it's about, the Canterbury Tales is a collection of stories told by a group of pilgrims on their way to Canterbury Cathedral. The tales are told as a way to entertain each other on their
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journey and the one who tells the best tale will earn a fine meal paid for by the other travelers. This is actually an incomplete work as Chaucer died before completing it, but it is a fine example of early English literature and one of the most important pieces of the English Canon.

The tales here vary in length and content as to the prologues and epilogues containing the goings on of the party members. Chaucer writes with a great sense of humor and, since he is writing in the language of the common folk, the content contains many lewd and bawdy jokes and events. It is a very entertaining read and if one wants more than just entertainment, there is a lot of social commentary about life in medieval England that can be gleaned throughout the text.

I was a little unsure what to expect when I read this and don't be turned off by the introductory prologue in which our narrator introduces all of the characters. It can be a little long and dry in parts, but it helps to give a clear picture of the characters in the party as they interact with one another and tell their respective tales.
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LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales consists of a collection of stories framed as being told during a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral. Each in this company of about 30 pilgrims is to tell a tale on the journey there--the one judged to have told the best to get a free meal. In structure, and sometimes
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even in the content of the stories, this resembles the Italian Decameron by Boccaccio, written over a century before which Chaucer probably read. One of the differences is that while the Decameron is prose, most of The Canterbury Tales is in verse. But I think what really distinguishes it in my mind is the cross-section of English Medieval society Chaucer presents. Boccacio's storytellers were young members of Florence nobility, Chaucer on the other hand has people from all levels of society: a knight and his squire, a prioress, friar, parson, canon, priests, nuns and a monk, various professions, tradesmen and artisans, a merchant, cook, physician etc. Each tale has a content and style that matches the teller. The most memorable passages to me are the little portraits of the various pilgrims, especially the Wife of Bath. Which is not to say the individual stories don't have their pleasures; some are dull and long-winded, but quite a few are vivid, funny, and/or bawdy. I especially remember "The Shipman's Tale" with its pun on "double entry" bookkeeping, and "The Knight's Tale" was adapted by Shakespeare into Two Noble Kinsman. Purists and scholars will want to suffer through Chaucer's original Middle English. It can, with difficulty and frustration, be made out by the modern reader. Here's the opening:

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
Tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the ram his halve cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(so priketh hem nature in hir corages);
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages

More power to you if you choose to do so. But if you're looking to enjoy yourself and read with understanding without constantly referring to footnotes, sacrilege though it may be, you might want to try one of the translations into Modern English such as those by Nevill Coghill, Colin Wilcockson or David Wright.
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LibraryThing member bamalibrarylady
When I was assigned this book to read for my World Literature class, I was somewhat afraid. This was not only because I figured I wouldn't understand the language but also because it seemed extremely boring.However, once I bought the book and read it, I was surprised to find that I was wrong about
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both of these things.First,in terms of the language, although it was written in Middle English, the author of this edition takes the liberty of having a translation of each section. This of course allows the reader to see the contrast of the old language and the modern translation as well as better relate to the story.Secondly, in terms of the Canterbury Tales being boring, I was surprised to find myself wanting to continue reading each of the tales. Although I thought I would not be interested in the various tales told by each pilgrim, I eventually wanted to see how the characters in each tale ended and what became of them.So,although this started out as an assignment for class, it became an opportunity for me to read something that I usually wouldn't. Therefore, I would suggest this book to anyone who would like to read about not only a journey but about how people are not as they appear to be.
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LibraryThing member Africansky1
The pleasure of this book lies in the double bonus of the ever green stories of Chaucer together with the wonderful selection of illustrations drawn from contemporary, medieval illuminated manuscripts. I know that Cresset is a publisher for the mass market but this edition is particularly
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attractive and I think very collectable. There is an excellent introduction by John Wain and an apposite foreword by Melvyn Bragg while the text is Chaucer but with old English given an understandable and very readable translation by the great Chaucer authority, Nevill Coghill. This particular volume is not a text for university study but is a volume for pleasurable and bedtime reading. It returns me to the humour and the wisdom of Chaucer and reminds me that there are so many English expression from Chaucer which we still use today - for example, keeping mum, or many a true word said in jest, or rotten apples spoiling all in the barrel. We are reminded of the richness of the English language, the debt we owe to Chaucer and the freshness of these 14th century tales. This particular edition is worth acquiring ( readily available) and adding to one's book treasures. It is a very beautiful book. The illustrations are well matched to the text and repay close study. If you have never read Chaucer or if you read Chaucer as a chore, take another look and give yourself the treat of a classic of literature in a lovely format.
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LibraryThing member kislam
I first read this book in the 11th grade in Ms. Robert's English class. I think this was one of the first books where I really began to take an interest in the classics, which was unwittingly encouraged by Ms. Robert's excellent teaching of the class (for example, the day we read The Knight's Tale,
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we were told to pronounce "knight" as "kuh-nig-ut"). It is an interesting glimpse into mediaeval times, which, as it turns out, weren't so different from a human perspective than the present.One of the books I took with me and read while deployed to Iraq.
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LibraryThing member Helenliz
Read in a Penguin Classics translation from the 50s, this is a re-read for me. I last read this approaching 20 years ago when I needed distracting on a long haul flight. And having read it again, I can see why it did it's job! It's not exactly an easy read, it demands attention and concentration -
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no skimming here. but it rewards the attention with some classic pieces of story telling. The concept was enormous, each of the pilgrims (and there are approaching 30 identified) were to tell two tales. He didn't even get as far as one tale each, the work remains unfinished, but some of the stories are just sparkling studies of human nature even now. A lot of the stories are relayed as if the pilgrim is telling a story they have heard elsewhere, so a lot of them can be traced to other sources - there's little in the narrative arc that is original. What is all Chaucer is the linking passages, the representation of all of life in one group. They are a mixture of positions in life and it is noticeable that the ladies represented in the group and in the tales tend to be very strong females - very few shrinking violets here. For his time, that strikes me as noticeable. The introduction, when the pilgrims are introduces, could be (with a little tweaking) any group of random strangers you could gather together today. OK, there are a few more religious job titles then than now (they'd be bankers or management consultants now) but they're such an assorted bunch that they seem to spring to life as you read. I think that's part of the charm, this is the English at the birth of a national consciousness - these are my people, this is part of what makes us who we are.
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LibraryThing member MistressOfTaboo
I would've found it easier to read had I not learnt any grammar!! :D ~Kidding~

Jokes apart, I find his humor and his intended pun much more enhanced by the language structure. What remains stark in my memory are the characters; the Frair and the Wife of Bath :D, they both are so opposite in their
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stature in society yet Chaucer managed to wheedle in a common meeting ground so easily. Also the grandiose verbosity in the prologue actually made me sit up and go.. what was that!?
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LibraryThing member AlexTheHunn
Chaucer presents a group of pilgrims on their way to Canterbury to visit the shrine of Saint Thomas à Becket's at Canterbury Cathedral. To make the journey interesting they settle upon the plan that each of them should tell a tale for the amusement of the others. Eventually a vote would decide who
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had told the best story. By this structure, Chaucer is able to tell several otherwise unrelated stories. This could be considered the first major piece of literature in English.
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