The Canterbury Tales: A Selection

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Chaucer's most celebrated work, The Canterbury Tales (c.1387), in which a group of pilgrims entertain each other with stories on the road to Canterbury, is a masterpiece of narration, description, and character portrayal. The tellers and their tales are as fresh and vivid today as they were six centuries ago.

An illustrated retelling of Geoffrey Chaucer's famous work in which a group of pilgrims in fourteenth-century England tell each other stories as they travel on...

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paperback New York. Signet/New American Library. Reprinted Signet Classic Paperback Edition. Very Good In Wrappers. CE1514. paperback. 0451515145. [ 1514 ]. keywords: Signet ... Classic Paperback. inventory # 31459. FROM THE PUBLISHER-Chaucer's most celebrated work, The Canterbury Tales (c.1387), in which a group of pilgrims entertain each other with stories on the road to Canterbury, is a masterpiece of narration, description, and character portrayal. The tellers and their tales are as fresh and vivid today as they were six centuries ago. An illustrated retelling of Geoffrey Chaucer's famous work in which a group of pilgrims in fourteenth-century England tell each other stories as they travel on a pilgrimage to the cathedral at Canterbury. Read more Show Less

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Overview

Chaucer's most celebrated work, The Canterbury Tales (c.1387), in which a group of pilgrims entertain each other with stories on the road to Canterbury, is a masterpiece of narration, description, and character portrayal. The tellers and their tales are as fresh and vivid today as they were six centuries ago.

An illustrated retelling of Geoffrey Chaucer's famous work in which a group of pilgrims in fourteenth-century England tell each other stories as they travel on a pilgrimage to the cathedral at Canterbury.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Like Charles Lamb's edition of Shakespeare, Hastings's loose prose translation of seven of Chaucer's tales is more faithful to the work's plot than to the poet's language. This is not a prudish retelling (even the bawdy Miller's tale is included here) but the vigor of Chaucer's text is considerably tamed. In the original, the pilgrims possess unique voices, but here the tone is uniformly bookish. The colloquial speech of the storyteller is replaced by formal prose; for example, while Cohen (see review above) directly translates Chaucer's ``domb as a stoon'' as ``silent as stones,'' Hastings writes ``in solemn silence.'' Cartwright's startling paintings skillfully suggest the stylized flatness of a medieval canvas, but often without the accompanying richness of detail. Like Punch and Judy puppets, the faces and voices of these pilgrims are generally representative but lack the life and charm of the original text. Ages 10-up. (Oct.)
Library Journal
The old standby here gets its first facelift in more than 50 years. Librarian/author Ecker and scholar Crook translated Chaucer's Middle English into a more modern, more accesssible form. Large English literature collections should consider.
School Library Journal
Gr 5-9 These 13 rollicking interpretations take their inspiration from Chaucer but are freely adapted for young readers. Students will have to get the feel of original text elsewhere: the excellent A Taste of Chaucer (HBJ, 1964; o.p.) by Malcolmson, Farjeon's Tales from Chaucer (Branford, 1948; o.p.) and even the Hieatts' adapted selections from Canterbury Tales (Golden, 1961; o.p.), are long out of print. The emphasis here is on the pilgrims and their stories, and these, despite some shifts to avoid bawdiness, come off as rousingly good. In colorful style and language, McCaughrean creatively reconstructs and adds conversation, event and detail, in keeping with the medieval times, to stitch the tales together. ``Death's Murderers,'' McCaughrean's version of ``How the Three Found Death,'' is exceptionally stark and good. The collection is rounded off by having the pilgrims reach Canterbury, with a look to the return trip. A brief historical note is given on the endpapers. Ambrus' handsome portrait of Chaucer gives a nod to that of the Ellesmere manuscript, but his colorful paintings showing the other pilgrims and their tales are his exuberant own. This attractive volume is a good introduction to medieval stories for reluctant but able junior high readers. Ruth M. McConnell, San Antonio Pub . Lib .
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780451515148
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 12/6/1988
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Abridged
  • Pages: 1
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 5.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

The son of a wealthy and high-connected vintner, Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1342–1400) received a classical education prior to becoming a page at the court of King Edward III. As soldier, statesman, public official, and court poet, he remained in contact with the most important people of his time. Chaucer was sent on several diplomatic missions to Italy, where he read and was deeply influenced by the works of Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio. The Italian influence is evident in his masterpiece, Canterbury Tales, on which he worked intermittently for at least twenty years.

Donald R. Howard was the Olive H. Palmer Professor in the Humanities at Stanford University and the author of a number of noted books on medieval literature, including The Three Temptations: Medieval Man in Search of the World, The Idea of the World (1966), The Idea of The Canterbury Tales (1976), and Writers and Pilgrims: Medieval Pilgrimage Narratives and Their Posterity (1980).

Frank Grady is Professor of English at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, where he teaches medieval literature, literary theory, and film. He has published essays on both late medieval English literature and contemporary American popular culture, and he is currently editor of the annual of the New Chaucer Society, Studies in the Age of Chaucer.  

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Read an Excerpt

The Knight’s Tale

1

Introduction

1 The Knight’s Tale, which mostly takes place in ancient Athens, is the conflicted love story of two royal Theban cousins who love the same woman. Because “The Knight’s Tale” is by far the longest and most complex of the Canterbury Tales presented in this volume, a quick summary of the action of the four parts of the tale may help readers encountering it for the first time:

Part I. On his way back to Athens with his bride, Hypolita, and his sister-in-law, Emily, Duke Theseus responds to the pleas of some grieving widows by defeating Creon, the tyrant of Thebes. Among the bodies of the defeated army, he finds near death the royal cousins Palamon and Arcite. Rather than kill them, Theseus takes them back to Athens and places them in prison. From their barred prison window, the two young men see the lovely Emily and both fall in love with her. Arcite after a time is released but banished from Athens on pain of death, while Palamon remains in prison. The two are envious of each other’s condition.

Part II. Arcite disguises himself as a common laborer and comes back to Athens, where he gets a job working in Emily’s household. Meanwhile, Palamon escapes from prison, and the rival cousins chance to meet in a grove near Athens. While Palamon and Arcite are fighting a bloody duel, Theseus, Hypolita, and Emily, out hunting, by chance come upon them in a grove. At first angry, Theseus soon relents, sets both of his enemies free, and invites them to return in a year, each with a hundred knights, to take part in a glorious tournament, withEmily’s hand going to the winner.

Part III. Theseus builds a splendid amphitheater in preparation for the tournament and places on its west, east, and north borders elaborately decorated temples to Mars, Venus, and Diana. When the two troops of warriors come back for the tournament, the three principals each pray to one of the planetary deities. Palamon prays to Venus, not for victory but for the hand of Emily. Emily prays to Diana to be spared marriage to either Palamon or Arcite, praying instead to remain a maiden always. Arcite prays to Mars for victory in the tournament.

Part IV. Just before the tournament begins Theseus declares that he wants no lives to be lost and restricts the kinds of weapons that may be used. He sets out the rules of the game, the primary one being that the winning side will be the one that takes the loser to a stake at the end of the field. After vigorous fighting, Arcite’s men drag the wounded Palamon to the stake. No sooner is Arcite declared the winner than Saturn commands Pluto, god of the underworld, to send a diabolical fury to frighten Arcite’s horse. Arcite is thrown and crushed by his own saddle bow. After an elaborate funeral and the passage of some years, Theseus tells Palamon and Emily to marry, and they happily do so.





Arching over the story of the warriors and lovers down on the earth below is a heavenly conflict among the gods or, more precisely, among the planetary or astrological influences that were thought to control the affairs of men. Indeed, a key feature of “The Knight’s Tale” is the prayers of the three principal characters to these influences. Closely tied up with the question of whether Palamon or Arcite will get the young woman they both love is the question of how the powerful Saturn will settle the conflicting demands on him of Mars, Venus, and Diana.

Chaucer’s main source for “The Knight’s Tale” is Giovanni Boccaccio’s several-hundred-page-long Teseida. Readers who are upset at having to read Chaucer’s long and leisurely story of Palamon, Arcite, and Emily should thank Chaucer for streamlining a story that is less than a quarter the length of Boccaccio’s Italian story of Palemone, Arcita, and Emilia. Chaucer reduced the story in lots of ways, particularly by staying focused on the love story. He cut out, for example, Boccaccio’s long opening description of Theseus’s journey to the land of the Amazons, his defeat of them, and his acquiring as his bride the Amazonian queen Hypolita. But Chaucer did more than reduce the Teseida, which focuses on Arcite as the main character, who in Boccaccio is almost a tragic figure who makes the mistake of praying to the wrong deity. For Chaucer, Palamon is raised to equal importance, if not more importance, than his rival. And Chaucer transforms the vain and coquettish Emilia of his source into a more innocent object of the love of rival cousins.

One of Chaucer’s most important changes was to give the story a philosophical overlay by introducing into it the ideas of the ancient philosopher Boethius. One of Boethius’s key ideas was that there is a great God who designs a far better plan for human beings than they could possibly design for themselves. That design sometimes involves what looks like adversity, but the adversity is always (for Boethius) part of a design that leads to happiness. We should then, according to Boethius, not resist or fight against the troubles that come our way, but cheerfully accept them, trusting that in the end things will work out for the best. The ending of “The Knight’s Tale,” then, reflects this reassuring philosophy by showing that although the three principal characters all seem at first not to get what they want most, in the end all of them do get what they want, or perhaps something even better.

For this and the other tales in this volume, readers should reread the portrait of the teller given by Chaucer in the General Prologue. The portrait of the Knight (lines 43–78) shows him to be the idealized Christian soldier who fought with valor and honor at most of the important late-fourteenth-century battles against heathens. We know less of his marital than of his martial life, but he does have a son who is with him on this pilgrimage. The Knight seems, all in all, an ideal teller for the long tale of war, romance, honor, and philosophy that Chaucer assigns to him.

Notes

Part I

Femenye (line 8). A race of warlike women, led by Hypolita, who decided that they could live and protect themselves without the help of men. They are sometimes called Amazons, their land Scithia.

Saturne, Juno (470–71). Two forces that Palamon blames for the setbacks that Thebes has suffered. Saturn is the powerful planet. Juno is the jealous wife of Jupiter, who had made love to two Theban women.

Part II

Hereos (516). Eros, a sickness associated with the intense emotion of falling in love.

manye (516). A kind of melancholy madness or mania brought on by the frustration of his love for an inaccessible woman.

Argus (532). In classical mythology, the jealous Juno had set the hundred-eyed Argus as guard to Io, who was a lover of her husband, Jupiter. Argus was killed by Mercury (see line 527), who first sang all of Argus’s hundred eyes to sleep.

Cadme and Amphioun (688). Cadmus and Amphion are the legendary founders of the city of Thebes, home to Palamon and Arcite.

regne of Trace (780). The reference in this and the next lines is to the Thracian kingdom in which a hunter prepares himself at a mountain pass to meet a charging lion or bear.

Part III

Citheroun (1078). Venus’s supposed mountainous island of Cytherea, though Chaucer may have confused the name with the name of a different location.

Ydelnesse, Salamon, Hercules, Medea, Circes, Turnus, Cresus (1082–88). Various literary, historical, and classical allusions, most of them demonstrating the follies and miseries associated with the snares of love.

qualm (1156). Probably a reference to the “pestilence” or bubonic plague that killed millions in Europe during Chaucer’s lifetime. See also line 1611 below, where Saturn claims to have the power to send the plague. The reference to the bubonic plague here is anachronistic, since “The Knight’s Tale” is set in the classical pre-Christian era.

Julius, Nero, Antonius (1173–74). Three famous rulers slaughtered in time of war—exemplary of the mayhem and death caused by mighty Mars. The last is Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Caracalla, a Roman emperor murdered in AD 217.

Puella, Rubeus (1187). Two astrological references to Mars as cast by a complicated process called geomancy, a pseudoscience involving dots and lines.

Calistopee, Dane, Attheon, Atthalante, Meleagre (1198– 1213). Various classical and legendary allusions to hunters or the hunted whose unfortunate tales are depicted on the walls of the temple of Diana, goddess of the hunt.

griffon (1275). A griffin was in Greek mythology a fearsome beast with the head and wings of an eagle on the body of a lion.

in hir houre (1359). Palamon picks his hour of prayer carefully. The various planets were supposed to have special powers on certain hours of the day, hours in which it was particularly propitious to make prayers for their astrological influence. Venus would have had special strength on the twenty-third hour of Sunday night (see line 1351), when it was not yet two hours before dawn on Monday morning (line 1352).

the thridde houre inequal (1413). The medieval astrological day was divided into twenty-four “inequal” or planetary hours. In this system the time between dawn and dusk was divided equally into twelve hours, the time between dusk and the following dawn into twelve more. Except at the two equinoxes, when the daylight hours would have been exactly equal in length to the nighttime hours (that is, sixty minutes), the daylight hours would have been longer or shorter than the hours of darkness, depending on the time of the year—thus the inequality. Emily prays to Diana on the third inequal hour after Palamon prayed to Venus. That would have been the first hour of Monday (“moon day”), or the dawn hour, the hour at which Diana’s power would have been the greatest. Like Palamon, Emily picks her prayer time very carefully.

Stace of Thebes (1436). The Thebaid of Statius, though Chaucer’s more direct source was actually Boccaccio’s Teseida, which he does not mention by name here or elsewhere. Chaucer was often eager to claim an ancient source, not a contemporary one.

Attheon (1445). While hunting, Acteon accidentally saw Diana while she was bathing. In her anger she changed him into a stag, which Acteon’s hunting dogs then killed, not realizing that they were killing their master. See lines 1207–10 above, where Acteon’s unhappy story is artistically summarized on the walls of Diana’s temple.

thre formes (1455). As suggested in lines 1439–42 above, the goddess was imagined to have appeared in various forms. The three referred to here are probably Luna, the moon (in the heavens), the chaste Diana, the huntress (on earth), and Proserpina, the reluctant wife of Pluto (in the underworld).

the nexte houre of Mars (1509). Mars’s next hour, the hour that Arcite would have selected for his prayer to Mars, would have been the fourth hour of that Monday.

Part IV

al that Monday (1628). Monday is given over to partying and celebrations so that the tournament itself takes place the next day, on a Tuesday, or Mars’s day (“Mardi” in French). Since Tuesday is the day when the influence of Mars is strongest, it would not have surprised a medieval audience that Arcite, who had prayed to Mars, wins the tournament.

Galgopheye (1768). Probably a valley in another part of Greece, perhaps Gargaphia.

Belmarye (1772). Probably Benmarin in Morocco but, like the previous name, perhaps just meant to be an exotic place where wild animals were rampant and dangerous.

furie infernal (1826). A fury was an avenging spirit usually confined to the underworld but released from time to time to influence the affairs of men, sometimes to see that justice was done.

vertu expulsif (1891). This “virtue” involved the ability to expel certain harmful poisons from the body. This complex account of the mechanics of Arcite’s dying, the technical details of which are not important here, shows Chaucer’s awareness of the medical terminology of his day.

Firste Moevere (2129). This First Mover who creates the links in the great “chain of love,” though later in the passage identified as Jupiter, may perhaps be read as an anachronistic stand-in for the Judeo-Christian godhead, the all- loving deity who stands above and beyond the planetary gods and goddesses that seem to control the fates of men. This prime mover determines the number of years indi- vidual men and women get to live on earth and arranges things better for them than they could arrange them for themselves.


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Table of Contents

Chronology

A Note on the Translation, Text and Illustrations

The General Prologue 1

The Knight's Tale 49

The Miller's Prologue and Tale 171

The Reeve's Prologue and Tale 213

The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale 241

The Clerk's Prologue and Tale 311

The Merchant's Prologue, Tale and Epilogue 391

The Franklin's Prologue and Talc 459

The Pardoner's Prologue and Tale 511

The Nun's Priest's Tale 551

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 394 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 366 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2009

    e-book review only; caution for ease of use

    Hanning's edition is marvelous in standard paper formatting. My review is for the electronic edition formatted for the Nook, however, which is extraordinarily poorly done--hence the detracted stars. 5 stars for content; 1 star for formatting.

    The electronic version has no line numbers, which is a problem. The translation is advertised as "facing page," but in fact it's just haphazardly lumped into the original Middle English with no warning and no formatting changes whatsoever. You'll be reading along in Middle English and suddenly find yourself reading the same thing all over again in Modern English, and there's nothing you can do about it. So basically only someone really familiar with the Canterbury Tales will be able to use this electronic format, and anyone else should stay away.

    It's a shame, because I'd really like to have access to this one on my Nook.

    63 out of 66 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 13, 2010

    Ebook is unreadable--there is no such thing as a facing page ebook.

    The Barnes & Noble Classics Series edition of The Canterbury Tales has Chaucer's original text on one page and a modern translation on the facing page. This works wonderfully well in print books for obvious reasons. This does *not* work for ebooks.

    Reading this book on the nook you will read through a page or two of the original text, then on the next page turn you'll have the modernized translation, then back to the original again. It is not simply a matter of Chaucer's version being in one chapter, followed by a chapter in translation; in fact, Chaucer's version and the translation are interspersed together so that there is NO WAY of choosing to read one or the other without having to manually click forward watching to see when the language changes to Chaucer's language. Because of this, the book is simply unreadable.

    Go find a public domain version of Chaucer's text and take the effort to get a feel for his language.

    38 out of 38 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2008

    A classic tale for years to come!

    This was one of the best books I ever read. I love that not only is the book presented in the original middle English, but also in translated modern English that I can understand. I was really blown away by the text and how expressive and beautiful it was. It is quite an undertaking, but it will pay off.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 22, 2012

    Do not recommend

    This book did not switch to the nook format well. It jumps from 1400s style writing to current day at inappropriate moments, which probably made sense in the paper version, but not at all on the Nook. I could only get through the first 5 pages before giving up and going to a store to buy it in paper.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 15, 2009

    Good Presentation - So-So Translation

    I love having the original Middle English on one side with a Modern English Translation on the facing page. I decided to try reading the Middle English. It's easy to look over to the translation whenever I get stuck. However, even without being able to completely understand the Middle English, I can tell the translation isn't that great. Also, the text is only footnoted on the Modern English side, which (if you're trying to follow the Middle English text) makes it easy to miss. Still, it's a lot more fun to read this on your own when you don't have a high school English teacher forcing you to do it.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 21, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Fascinating

    As someone who's always been interested in England, mythology, and a lot of other things, this book is paradise!! The premise is simple: a group of pilgrims are on the way to the shrine of St. Thomas Beckett in Canterbuty (hence the name). At the Tabard Inn, the host suggests that they each tell two stories on the way there, and two on the way back. They readily agree. The group is comprised of people representing various social positions (knight, reeve, nun, friar, miller, etc) and so the stories are widely varied. And the best part is that the language is easy! It's not the difficult 14th century that we Generation X think it is. Yes, buy the book.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 6, 2011

    not formatted for Nook

    I should have heeded the other review I read that said that the book does not work on the Nook. In paper form the book was supposed to have both the original on one page and the modern form on the right. They end up alternating on the nook. I figured I would just read the original, sort of like reading a real long Jabberwocky. At first there were clear breaks between the original and the modern, but after a few pages I found they ran together, making the book even more difficult to read. At that point I gave up. I'll read it on paper.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2001

    Delightful to Hear in the Recorded Books Edition

    This version will appeal most to those who have read and studied The Canterbury Tales and enjoyed them. The Canterbury Tales are best heard aloud. With commentary by Professor Murphy and talented actors, the various tales come appealingly alive. Chaucer¿s Middle English has its archaic words explained, and leaves the beauty of the meter and rhymes intact. The tales explore primarily relations between men and women, people and God, and consistently challenge hypocrisy. The tales also exemplify all the major story forms in use during the Middle Ages. The book¿s structure is unbelievable subtle and complex, providing the opportunity to peel the onion down to its core, one layer at a time. Modern anthologies look awfully weak by comparison. Although the material is old, the ideas are not. You will also be impressed by how much closer God was to the lives of these people than He is today. The renunciation at the end comes as a mighty jolt, as a result. My favorites are by the miller, wife of Bath, pardoner, and nun¿s priest. Where do you see the opportunity to give and share spiritual and worldly love? How can you give and receive more love? Donald Mitchell, co-author of The Irresistible Growth Enterprise and The 2,000 Percent Solution

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2013

    Not my favorite

    This book was good but the middle english is extremely hard to decipher.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 19, 2013

    Unable to read text

    This copy is bad, bad,bad
    Typos, misspellings

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 7, 2013

    i didn't believe the other reviews!

    It's true, it's impossible to read , not worth the 1star but i wanted u to know it's bad

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2013

    Dishonest

    This book is in Middle English and I was looking for a modern translation. B&N didn't make it clear on their website that it was in Middle English, which I found dishonest.
    When I wanted to cancel the transaction, my B&N account did not give me that option. Some friends of mine had similarly poor experiences trying to return or exchange their purchases via B&N.
    Thumbs down.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2013

    Nook format makes this near impossible to read!

    I enjoy Chaucer. But the format of this Nook version made this impossible to enjoy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2012

    nook version not readable

    The free edition didn't scan well, which is a shame because the Canterbury Tales are wonderful stories.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 16, 2012

    To: Do not recommend

    Was it a good book on paper?

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2012

    Nook version hard to read

    Letters joined oodly

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2012

    Ok...

    The tales were ok, but they stereotyoed lots of people.

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 17, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Great Edition

    If you don't like the rhymes its unfortunate but it brings a nice flavor to the Canterbury tales

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 17, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Great book

    Good translation and I like the original text on the opposite page.

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  • Posted June 6, 2009

    Solid

    A good translation

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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