Chaucer and the Canterbury Tales

25 Apr

Portrait of Chaucer from a manuscript by Thoma...

Image via Wikipedia

Ultimately, I failed on this one.

For the last 3 weeks, I have been trying to read the Canterbury Tales and I can’t get through them. I can’t seem to get any context for what I’m reading, except for what’s printed in the Norton Anthology. And the stuff that’s in the Anthology is good — good enough that it makes me think I don’t even need to read the Tales! I was trying to read them slowly so I could understand and read all the footnotes, but at that pace it would have taken me a year to get through. Then I tried buzzing through it, and I found that I was absorbing nothing. So I stopped so I can keep moving through the Anthology.

By the end of Volume 1, I may feel compelled to come back and try again. I hope so.

However, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Chaucer and his connections to royalty. He wrote so much more than Canterbury! I read some of his poems as well, and they were OK. One was particularly amusing because it was too his pocketbook (“purse”) as it was too light — he was broke!


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2 responses to “Chaucer and the Canterbury Tales

  1. David

    April 29, 2011 at 5:53 pm

    The best version of The Canterbury Tales is in The Riverside Chaucer a great hardback book of all Chaucer’s writings. It also has fantastic notes and commentary on the man. The book was a necessary acquisition while I was at university the past few years.

    Still, you either like Chaucer or you don’t, and I don’t particularly care for his bawdy humor and unromantic tales. He’s a master of words and wordplay, but his morals tend to be skewed. Still, a few of the Tales are good ones. The Knight’s Tale is a good, straightforward chivalric romance, with enough layers to make the Knight himself, in my mind, the most interesting and admirable of Chaucer’s pilgrims. And while English professors rave over The Wife of Bath’s Tale, I personally find it rather shallow. The Franklin’s Tale is probably the best, because Chaucer tells the story of the knight, his wife, and the sorcerer with complete sincerity and a sense for what true honor is.

    If you want to give Chaucer another chance, just read the ones I mentioned above. Unless you plan on doing an in-depth study of the entire work, it’s better to just pick a few of the better tales as samples of the whole thing. Find out what you can about the particular pilgrim who is supposed to be telling the Tale, as way of background, and then dive in, paying attention to whatever editorial notes your version has. And skip The Miller’s Tale — it’s just disgusting!

    • The Sidebar Review

      April 30, 2011 at 11:14 am

      Thanks for the tip, David! Riverside Chaucer sounds good. Duly noted on The Miller’s Tale…. 🙂


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