The procession that crosses Chaucer's pages is as full of life and as richly textured as a medieval tapestry. The Knight, the Miller, the Friar, the Squire, the Prioress, the Wife of Bath, and others who make up the cast of characters -- including Chaucer himself -- are real people, with human emotions and weaknesses. When it is remembered that Chaucer wrote in English at a time when Latin was the standard literary language across western Europe, the magnitude of his achievement is even more remarkable. But Chaucer's genius needs no historical introduction; it bursts forth from every page of The Canterbury Tales.If we trust the General Prologue, Chaucer intended that each pilgrim should tell two tales on the way to Canterbury and two tales on the way back. He never finished his enormous project and even the completed tales were not finally revised. Scholars are uncertain about the order of the tales. As the printing press had yet to be invented when Chaucer wrote his works, The Canterbury Tales has been passed down in several handwritten manuscripts.
The Canterbury Tales (written c. 1388-1400 CE) is a medieval literary work by the poet Geoffrey Chaucer (l. c. 1343-1400 CE) comprised of 24 tales related to a number of literary genres and touching on subjects ranging from fate to God's will to love, marriage, pride, and death. After the opening introduction (known as The General Prologue), each tale is told by one of the characters (eventually 32 in all) who are on pilgrimage to the shrine of Thomas Becket in Canterbury.
In The General Prologue, the characters agree to tell two stories going to Canterbury and two coming back to the Tabard Inn at Southwark where they started from, totaling 120 tales. If this was Chaucer's original plan and he never intended to deviate from it, then the piece must be considered unfinished at only 24 tales. Some scholars claim, however, that Chaucer did finish the work, based on the tone and subject matter of the last tale and The Retraction appended to the manuscript.
The next morning, they all set off and the knight is chosen to speak first. The other pilgrims are either chosen by Harry Bailey (referred to as The Host) or insist on speaking next and interrupt whoever was chosen. Chaucer-the-poet gives Chaucer-the-pilgrim two of the worst tales and also makes fun of himself in the Prologue to the Man of Law's Tale in which he has the character complain that every tale he can think of has already been told, however poorly, by Chaucer.
Among the best-known tales are the Miller's, the Nun's Priest's, and the Wife of Bath's although many of the others are of equal quality. The Miller's Tale is a fabliau, a form of French literature usually bawdy, satiric, and misogynistic in that wives especially, and women in general, are depicted as lusty, unfaithful, and devious. The French fabliau is among the genres the writer Christine de Pizan (l. 1364-c. 1430 CE) objected to in her work, and she would have no doubt extended this criticism to The Miller's Tale if she had known of it. This story is one of the bawdiest in the collection but is among those most often anthologized due to the brilliance of the plot and its seamless execution.
There is no consensus, however, on what The Retraction means or whether it was even intended to be included in the manuscript of The Canterbury Tales. No version of the work exists in Chaucer's own hand, all extant versions are copies and copies of copies, in which scribal errors alter who tells a tale, the tales appear in different order, or some do not appear at all. The most complete copy, The Ellesmere Manuscript (15th century CE) is the one most commonly used for modern-day editions of the work and includes The Retraction (as do many others) and so most scholars agree The Retraction was part of the original manuscript. Still, scholars who believe the work was left unfinished at Chaucer's death cite the plan outlined in The General Prologue and the non-speaking characters (such as the Plowman) who should have been given a tale as proof Chaucer never completed the work.
There are two kinds of material available here. Essay chapters explore each of the tales in relation to an engaging topic of broad general interest, while reference chapters provide key context and tools for understanding the Canterbury Tales and its time period. In the future, more material will be added to this project: teaching resources, reader contributions, and new essay chapters that consider tales from additional viewpoints and in relation to different topics.
'Whoever best acquits himself, and tells The most amusing and instructive tale, Shall have a dinner, paid for by us all...' In Chaucer's most ambitious poem, The Canterbury Tales (c. 1387), a group of pilgrims assembles in an inn just outside London and agree to entertain each other on the way to Canterbury by telling stories. The pilgrims come from all ranks of society, from the crusading Knight and burly Miller to the worldly Monk and lusty Wife of Bath. Their tales are as various as the tellers, including romance, bawdy comedy, beast fable, learned debate, parable, and Eastern adventure. The resulting collection gives us a set of characters so vivid that they have often been taken as portraits from real life, and a series of stories as hilarious in their comedy as they are affecting in their tragedy. Even after 600 years, their account of the human condition seems both fresh and true. This new edition of David Wright's acclaimed translation includes a new critical introduction and invaluable notes by a leading Chaucer scholar. ABOUT THE SERIES: For over 100 years Oxford World's Classics has made available the widest range of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford's commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, helpful notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more.
In Chaucer's most ambitious poem, The Canterbury Tales (c. 1387), a group of pilgrims assembles in an inn just outside London and agree to entertain each other on the way to Canterbury by telling stories. The pilgrims come from all ranks of society, from the crusading Knight and burly Miller to the worldly Monk and lusty Wife of Bath. Their tales are as various as the tellers, including romance, bawdy comedy, beast fable, learned debate, parable, and Eastern adventure. The Wife of Bath is a favourite amongst many for her insight into the role of women in the Late Middle Ages, and her suggestions of sexual promiscuity. Here is an extract.
It tells the story of a group of pilgrims (fancy word for travelers) on their way to Canterbury, who engage in a tale-telling contest to pass the time. Besides watching the interactions between the characters, we get to read 24 of the tales the pilgrims tell.
Chaucer's decision to write in his country's language, English, rather than in the Latin of so many of his educated colleagues, was a big break with learned tradition. But the risk paid off: we know The Canterbury Tales were enormously popular because so many more manuscripts of the tales survive than of almost any other work of this time period. The Canterbury Tales were still going strong when the first printers made their way to England, and William Caxton published the first printed version of The Canterbury Tales in 1476.
As the pilgrims tell their stories, though, they turn out to be talking not just about fairytale people in far-off lands, but also about themselves and their society. This leads to a lot of conflict in a group of pilgrims formed by members of that same society, who often take offense at the versions of themselves they see portrayed in the tales. 781b155fdc