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Beyond its importance as a literary work of unvarnished genius, Geoffrey Chaucer's unfinished epic poem is also one of the most beloved works in the English language-and for good reason: It is lively, absorbing, perceptive, and outrageously funny. But despite the brilliance of Chaucer's work, the continual evolution of our language has rendered his words unfamiliar to many of us. Esteemed poet, translator, and scholar Burton Raffel's magnificent new unabridged translation brings Chaucer's poetry back to life, ...
Beyond its importance as a literary work of unvarnished genius, Geoffrey Chaucer's unfinished epic poem is also one of the most beloved works in the English language-and for good reason: It is lively, absorbing, perceptive, and outrageously funny. But despite the brilliance of Chaucer's work, the continual evolution of our language has rendered his words unfamiliar to many of us. Esteemed poet, translator, and scholar Burton Raffel's magnificent new unabridged translation brings Chaucer's poetry back to life, ensuring that none of the original's wit, wisdom, or humanity is lost to the modern reader. This Modern Library edition also features an Introduction that discusses Chaucer's work as well as his life and times.
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.
“The Canterbury Tales has remained popular for seven centuries. It is the most approachable masterpiece of the medieval world, and Mr. Raffel’s translation makes the stories even more inviting.”—Wall Street Journal
The Knight’s Tale
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, with Emily’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
General Prologue 1
The Knight's Tale 26
The Miller's Prologue 85
The Miller's Tale 88
The Steward's Prologue [The Reeve's Prologue] 105
The Steward's Tale [The Reeve's Tale] 107
The Cook's Prologue 118
The Cook's Tale 120
Introductory Words to the Man of Law's Tale 122
Prologue to the Man of Law's Tale 125
The Man of Law's Tale 127
Epilogue to the Man of Law's Tale [of disputed authenticity] 158
The Wife of Bath's Prologue 159
The Wife of Bath's Tale 182
The Friar's Prologue 193
The Friar's Tale 195
The Summoner's Prologue 205
The Summoner's Tale 207
The Cleric's Prologue 223
The Cleric's Tale 225
Chaucer's Happy Song 258
The Merchant's Prologue 260
The Merchant's Tale 262
Epilogue to the Merchant's Tale 292
Introduction to the Squire's Tale 293
The Squire's Tale [unfinished] 294
The Landowner's Prologue [The Frat/Hitts Prologue] 313
The Landowner's Tale [The Franklin's Tale] 314
The Physician's Tale 337
Introduction to the Pardon Peddler's Tale [Introduction to the Pardoner's Tale] 345
The Pardon Peddler's Prologue [The Pardoner's Prologue] 347
The Pardon Peddler's Tale [The Pardoner's Tale] 351
The Shipman's Tale 365
The Host's Merry Words to the Shipman and the Prioress 377
Prologue to the Prioress's Tale 378
The Prioress's Tale 380
Prologue to Sir Thopas 387
Sir Thopas 388
The Host Stops Chaucer's Narration 395
The Tale of Melibee 397
The Prologue of the Monk's Tale 431
The Monk's Tale: De Castbus Virorum lllustrium [The Fall or Illustrious Men] 434
The Prologue of the Nun's Priest's Tale 457
The Nun's Priest's Tale of Cock and Hen
Chauntecleer and Pertelote 459
Epilogue to the Nun's Priest'sTale 475
The Second Nun's Prologue 476
Prayer to the Virgin Mary 478
The Second Nun's Tale 481
Prologue of the Cleric-Magician's Servant [The Canon's Yeoman's Prologue] 495
Tale of the Cleric-Magician's Servant [The Canon's Yeoman's Tale] 500
The Provisioner's Prologue [The Manciple's Prologue] 520
The Provisioner's Tale [The Manciple's Tale] 523
The Parson's Prologue 530
The Parson's Tale 533
Here the Maker of This Book Takes His Leave 597
Posted June 15, 2009
Writing a "review" of The Canterbury Tales is difficult, not because the book/collection isn't worthy of a review, but because it is so widely variant and has so many nuances to be discussed.
So what do you say in a brief review of The Canterbury Tales?
To start with, I would suggest you try reading it in the original Middle English. The language/spelling/pronunciation can be a problem, so be sure you get an edition that's glossed (unless you're proficient in Middle English). During the semester, I found a "children's" edition of the tales at my local library. It included Modern English "translations" of a couple of the tales along with some illustrations. It was kind of fun to read, but it lost some of the rhythm and drive of the tales by having them in a modern format.
The writing is fun and clever (once you get through the 'translation' issues with the Middle English). For a common reference, it's like reading Shakespeare, only more archaic by a couple hundred years. The language of the narrative varies depending on the narrator of the particular prologue/tale, but with Chaucer at the helm behind the scenes, the writing is generally very good, descriptive, layered, humorous, inspiring, etc. (except for when he's trying to illustrate 'bad writing', and then it's good in that it's so bad).
The messages presented are widely varied as well. The Knight's Tale was an intriguing tale of romance and chivalry with lots of courtly intrigue...but at times it felt a little dry. The Miller and the Reeve were hilarious tales and introduced me to a new (to me) genre in the fabliau. The Wife of Bath had an interesting prologue and a fun tale, again with a semi-romantic style and an interesting moral. The Nun's Priest gave us a fun little animal fable. The Prioress presented a strange little tale about miracles or anti-semitism or devout love or something else?
Overall, I would definitely recommend having a copy of The Canterbury Tales on your shelf. Some tales are easier to read than others. Some tales are more fun while others are more thought provoking (as stated in one of the prologues, a tale has one of two purposes, to educate or to entertain...and there are examples of each). Once you get your teeth into the language (probably the biggest hurdle) I suspect you'll enjoy these.
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Posted December 3, 2008
I read this book in my senior year of high school, quite honestly this book would go right over most people's heads(including me at first). The book was written in the 14th century so its understandable that the book's concepts are hard to grasp.But all an all I actually like the Canterbury tales once I re-read them and understood it better. This book takes time to really understand, however some people might right away but you should give it a chance, if you really want to read up on some great 14 century literature.
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Posted April 26, 2011
there are so many publications of this book in so many formats and translations that the b&n strategy of compositing data from all publications of the same name makes the site totally useless with regard to this kind of book. is it a side by side translation, annotated, something else? who knows. is it the translation by Hastings, Raffel, Wright, Ecker & Crook, Reeve & Shipman, or some one else? who knows!? they're all referenced! is it the complete tales or a selection of a few? it could be either according to the information presented by this site! b&n need to fix this bad.
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Posted December 22, 2012
All translations are NOT created equal. I am brushing up on Chaucer for a credit-by-exam option for my degree and wanted to make sure I was working off of the same translation as the professor. The translation he desired was Nevill Coghill's, Penguin's translation. That is the paperback version listed on the page. That is what I wanted. That is what I needed.
When I saw that there was a nook version available in that edition I was ecstatic. Often it is difficult to find correct translations for many of my texts. I immediately previewed the version to double check and noticed, to my disgust, that the nook book version is just the B&N edition, NOT the penguin translation by Coghill. This is NOT clear on the page as the nook book is listed as an equivalent for the Penguin edition. I then also noticed that the "overview" section is also praising a different translator, not Coghill. As someone who is actually concerned about using accurate translations for academic purposes this is a problem. Varying editions of Chaucer can be VERY different. For example, I have a Bantam Classics, side-by-side translation that omits a number of the tales. Other translations change words and syntax to the point that it is unrecognizable and loses all of Chaucer's distinct tone. For people who actually read these classics for academics, it is a shame and a disgrace that a reputed bookseller would be careless enough to not pay credit to the correct translation and understand that there ARE in fact differences.
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Posted June 9, 2008
Simply, this is a book recording the tales that people told one another during a pilgrimage from one place to another. It is very entertaining and a book that should be read by all.
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Posted October 5, 2011
Posted February 6, 2010
Posted July 19, 2007
As a high school student who was forced to read this, I initially did not look forward to reading the book, but the humor that Chaucer displays and the fantastic weaving of the stories is incredible. I recommend this book to everyone.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 21, 2007
This book sucks. All it is is a waste of time. I had to read it for high school. I would rather shoot myself than to read a gay book like this. Reading this book is like liveing hell.
0 out of 14 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 3, 2005
I really wanted to read this book, because I have heard that it was really good. I generally love classics and poetry is pretty good. But this book was horrid! All the stories were just alike, for the most part, and they were extremely depressing. If not for the fact that I had to read the book for school, I would have put it down after the first story. There wasn't even one story that I half-way enjoyed. The rhyming lines really irratated me. I was very dissapointed, and I can not comprehend why this book is so highly acclaimed.
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Posted May 23, 2005
In Chaucer's work, 'The Canterbury Tales', perhaps the greatest of English literary works from the period of the language known as Middle English, there is one particular piece that have always stood out for me.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 3, 2004
i understand that Chaucer is a great English poet, but why would i waste my time reading about a creepy friar, and nun with attitude, and a miller who opens doors by ramming them with his head? i had to read it for school, for goodness sake, i'm only 12! take my advice-please don't check this out of the library!
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Posted October 6, 2004
A friend of mine gave me this book after she read it in high school. Although the introduction is mind-numbingly dull, one cant he but enjoy the clever stories the Chaucer has created. I would recommend this book to any high school student of a higher reading level. While readed make an attempt to note the critzisms that Chaucer includes about the state of the catholic church of the middle ages. Theses are most clear in his discription of the monk. Enjoy!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 5, 2004
I was taught Chaucer including the Canterbury Tales at Harpur College State University of New York by Professor Bernard Huppe. Professor Huppe was the most prominent exponent along with Prof.Robertson of the Christian interpretation of Chaucer. In other words the entire Canterbury Tales were seen as the work of a believing Christian whose anti - clerical passages were a true exposure of the faults of a society of sinners. The high comedy and low were according to Prof. Huppe a way of reenforcing this ideal Christian message. For most readers I suspect the pleasure of Chaucer is less however in the ideology than in the realistic and humorous depiction of character. And there are great characters, often drawn only in a few lines in the prologue .The Wife of Bath is perhaps the most outstanding and memorable of these, but the whole cast taken together provide a kind of typological picture of medieval mankind as a whole. The low laughter, the farce of the Miller's tale, the romantic chivalry of the Knight's tale I must admit never really charmed me. But what I loved in Chaucer and I can hear today Prof . Huppe's rich and deep enunciation was the sound of the lyric and the rich poetry .The music of Chaucer, the swift telling of a character and a story in a few lines, the realistic look at human pretension and foible make the work feel true . One reservation and here my claim has been roundly denied by Chaucerian scholars including the formidable Professor Lawrence Besserman is that the Parson Nun's tale does promote the 'blood libel'. Sophisticated readers however contend that I in reading it this way miss the subtlety of Chaucer's broad humanism. Would that they are right. In any case the delight and disaster of much of human life is in this great work.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 8, 2003
I read this in high school and I have read it again since. I love chaucer's descriptions of the characters. My favorite was the Miller's Tale. This book is a must for any fan of great literature :-DWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 30, 2003
My sister, who's a senior, (I'm in Jr. High)came home with this book saying that she had to read it for school. Once I got a closer look at it, I realized that the author of the book was a name in a favorite movie of mine, 'A Knight's Tale'-If you've seen it, you know what I mean. Anyway, she told me to check it out, and I really enjoyed it. I really liked how there were so many backgrounds of people that came together and told their own tales. It's absolutely fascinating.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 3, 2011
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Posted June 8, 2009
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Posted April 23, 2009
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Posted December 30, 2009
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