The Canterbury Tales (Modern Library Series)

The Canterbury Tales (Modern Library Series)

3.4 401
by Geoffrey Chaucer
     
 

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

Overview

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

This new edition includes a comprehensive introduction that summarizes some of the most important historical events and movements that defined the world of Chaucer and his pilgrims; two additional tales (Reeve’s and Shipman’s); introductions for each tale designed to prepare the reader for a better understanding and enjoyment of the tale; newly written and conveniently placed explanatory notes; and a new, more easily understood system for learning to pronounce Chaucerian Middle English.


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 .

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780679601258
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
11/15/1994
Series:
Modern Library Series
Pages:
656
Product dimensions:
5.01(w) x 7.56(h) x 1.53(d)

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.


Meet the Author

Geoffrey Chaucer was born in London about 1340, the son of a well-to-do and well-connected wine merchant. In 1360, after his capture while fighting in the French wars, Edward III paid his ransom, and later Chaucer married Philippa de Roet, a maid of honor to the queen and sister-in-law to John of Gaunt, Chaucer's patron.

Chaucer's oeuvre is commonly divided into three periods: the French (to 1372), consisting of such works as a translation of the Roman de la Rose and The Book of the Duchess; the Italian (1372-1385), including The House of Fame, The Parliament of Fowls and Troilus and Criseyde; and the English (1385-1400), culminating in The Canterbury Tales. In 1400, he died, leaving 24 of the apparently 120 tales he had planned for his final masterpiece. Chaucer became the first of England's great men to be buried in the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey.
    
Peter G. Beidler is the Lucy G. Moses Distinguished Professor of English at Lehigh University. He is the author of a dozen books and more than 150 articles. In the summer of 2005 he directed a seminar for high school teachers on Chaucer's Canterbury Comedies (the seminar was supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities). He and his wife Anne have four children.


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Canterbury Tales (Barnes & Noble Classics Series) 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 401 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Tuirgin More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
LemuelOH More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Cricket-JT More than 1 year ago
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.
Benedick_101 More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoy Chaucer. But the format of this Nook version made this impossible to enjoy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The free edition didn't scan well, which is a shame because the Canterbury Tales are wonderful stories.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Letters joined oodly
Anonymous 8 days ago
Good guess, but no. Gordon is the manager
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Anonymous 8 days ago
Walks in h.o.r.n.y af
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Walks in
Anonymous 23 days ago
Sorry fell asleep
Anonymous 3 months ago
Starts at 9:00 pm eastern
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Here
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