The Canterbury Tales

The Canterbury Tales

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by Geoffrey Chaucer

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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

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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, 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.

Editorial Reviews

Over the years, octogenarian translator Burton Raffel has tackled and conquered many of the most forbidding challenges in world literature: Beowulf, Gargantua and Pantagruel, Don Quixote, the Nibelungenleid. This book finds him grappling quite gracefully with another behemoth, Geoffrey Chaucer's 14th-century classic The Canterbury Tales. For modern readers, the robustness and subtlety of this collection is often diluted by the vagaries of language evolution. With a respectful poetic hand, Raffel retouches Chaucer's minutely realized word portraits, recovering their sheen. A Modern Library translation destined to be both popular and critical acclaimed.

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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.


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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The Canterbury Tales 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 189 reviews.
MattW More than 1 year ago
I got an advance copy of this and have read the first few tales -- what an amazing translation. It's accessible and will be perfect for classroom studies or just catching up on a classic.
theokester More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great Translation = Forget your English class scars.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I still prefer Coghill's translstion, bit Raffel's is a very close second. Many of the reviews here seem to be of a translation other than Raffel's. For example, some reviewers allude to a Middle English version. This indicates thst they are not reviewing Raffel's version. Perhaps B&N can sort this out. It id not only confusing but results in inaccurate reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous 7 months ago
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Anonymous 7 months ago
"Hey I am from blood clan but I am just joining for the fight so I wil be here untill it starts" she said nervously and she sat under a tree.
Anonymous 8 months ago
He rose to occasion smiling. "Raid?"
Anonymous 8 months ago
Dipped her head. She then turned and dissappeared back in the undergrowth.
Anonymous 8 months ago
I guess there IS someone named Javaho.
Anonymous 9 months ago
Watches the other cats.
Anonymous 9 months ago
Watch in the shadows
Anonymous 10 months ago
Is sanctus like deputy?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you think Im joking... well then youve made a dire mistake. SO WHO WANTS TO GET KODNAPPED FIRST!!! And my amazingly strong clan will not put an end to the tiny little blood clan!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Can I join?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Hello!" She says.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Centuries" by Fall Out Boy Some legends are told Some turn to dust or to gold But you will remember me Remember me for centuries And just one mistake Is all it will take We'll go down in history Remember me for centuries (Hey yeah, oh hey, hey yeah) Remember me for centuries Mummified my teenage dreams No, it's nothing wrong with me The kids are all wrong The stories are off Heavy metal broke my heart Come on, come on and let me in The bruises on your thighs like my fingerprints And this is for tonight I thought that you would feel I never meant for you to fix yourself Some legends are told Some turn to dust or to gold But you will remember me Remember me for centuries And just one mistake Is all it will take We'll go down in history Remember me for centuries (Hey yeah, oh hey, hey yeah) Remember me for centuries And I can't stop 'til the whole world knows my name 'Cause I was only born inside my dreams Until you die for me, as long as there is a light My shadow's over you 'cause I am the opposite of amnesia And you're a cherry blossom You're about to bloom You look so pretty, but you're gone so soon Some legends are told Some turn to dust or to gold But you will remember me Remember me for centuries And just one mistake Is all it will take We'll go down in history Remember me for centuries (Hey yeah, oh hey, hey yeah) Remember me for centuries We've been here forever And here's the frozen proof I could scream forever We are the poisoned youth Some legends are told Some turn to dust or to gold But you will remember me Remember me for centuries And just one mistake Is all it will take We'll go down in history Remember me for centuries (Hey yeah, oh hey, hey yeah) We'll go down in history (hey yeah) Remember me for centuries. "Immortals" by Fall Out BoyThey say we are what we are But we don't have to be I'm glad to hate you but I do it in the best way I'll be the watcher of the eternal flame I'll be the guard dog of all your fever dreams I am the sand in the bottom half of the hourglass (glass, glass) I try to picture me without you but I can't 'Cause we could be immortals, immortals Just not for long, for long If we meet forever now, you pull the blackout curtains down Just not for long, for long We could be immor-immortals, immor-immortals Immor-immortals, immor-immortals Immortals Sometimes the only payoff for having any faith Is when it's tested again and again everyday I'm still comparing your past to my future It might be over, but they're not sutures. I am the sand in the bottom half of the hourglass (glass, glass) I try to picture me without you but I can't 'Cause we could be immortals, immortals Just not for long, for long If we meet forever now, you pull the blackout curtains down Just not for long, for long We could be immor-immortals, immor-immortals Immortals If we meet forever now, pull the blackout curtains down We could be immor-immortals, immor-immortals Just not for long, for long We could be immor-immortals, immor-immortals Immor-immortals, immor-immortals Immortals.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Life howls. "Abattoir!" She purrs. "D<_>arn you!" ((All right. I'll reply as often as I can.))
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Throws demon off easily and archs his back. Hissing furiously