The Canterbury Tales
The Canterbury Tales (Middle English: Tales of Caunterbury) is a collection of 24 stories that runs to over 17,000 lines written in Middle English by Geoffrey Chaucer. In 1386, Chaucer became Controller of Customs and Justice of Peace and, three years later, Clerk of the King's work in 1389. It was during these years that Chaucer began working on his most famous text, The Canterbury Tales. The tales (mostly written in verse, although some are in prose) are presented as part of a story-telling contest by a group of pilgrims as they travel together on a journey from London to Canterbury to visit the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. The prize for this contest is a free meal at the Tabard Inn at Southwark on their return.
After a long list of works written earlier in his career, including Troilus and Criseyde, House of Fame, and Parliament of Fowls, The Canterbury Tales is near-unanimously seen as Chaucer's magnum opus. He uses the tales and descriptions of its characters to paint an ironic and critical portrait of English society at the time, and particularly of the Church. Chaucer's use of such a wide range of classes and types of people was without precedent in English. Although the characters are fictional, they still offer a variety of insights into customs and practices of the time. Often, such insight leads to a variety of discussions and disagreements among people in the 14th century. For example, although various social classes are represented in these stories and all of the pilgrims are on a spiritual quest, it is apparent that they are more concerned with worldly things than spiritual. Structurally, the collection resembles The Decameron, which Chaucer may have read during his first diplomatic mission to Italy in 1372.
It has been suggested that the greatest contribution of The Canterbury Tales to English literature was the popularization of the English vernacular in mainstream literature, as opposed to French, Italian or Latin. English had, however, been used as a literary language centuries before Chaucer's time, and several of Chaucer's contemporaries—John Gower, William Langland, the Pearl Poet, and Julian of Norwich—also wrote major literary works in English. It is unclear to what extent Chaucer was seminal in this evolution of literary preference.
While Chaucer clearly states the addressees of many of his poems, the intended audience of The Canterbury Tales is more difficult to determine. Chaucer was a courtier, leading some to believe that he was mainly a court poet who wrote exclusively for nobility.
The Canterbury Tales is generally thought to have been incomplete at the end of Chaucer's life. In the General Prologue, some thirty pilgrims are introduced. According to the Prologue, Chaucer's intention was to write two stories from the perspective of each pilgrim on the way to and from their ultimate destination, St. Thomas Becket's shrine (making for a total of four stories per pilgrim). Although perhaps incomplete, The Canterbury Tales is revered as one of the most important works in English literature. Not only do readers find it entertaining, but it is also open to a wide range of interpretations.
- 1 Text
- 2 Language
- 3 Sources
- 4 Genre and structure
- 5 Style
- 6 Historical context and themes
- 7 Influence on literature
- 8 Reception
- 9 Literary additions and supplements
- 10 Literary adaptations
- 11 Adaptations and homages
- 12 Notes
- 13 References
- 14 Further reading
- 15 External links
The question of whether The Canterbury Tales is finished has not yet been answered. There are 83 known manuscripts of the work from the late medieval and early Renaissance periods, more than any other vernacular literary text with the exception of The Prick of Conscience. This is taken as evidence of the tales' popularity during the century after Chaucer's death. Fifty-five of these manuscripts are thought to have been complete at one time, while 28 are so fragmentary that it is difficult to ascertain whether they were copied individually or as part of a set. The Tales vary in both minor and major ways from manuscript to manuscript; many of the minor variations are due to copyists' errors, while others suggest that Chaucer added to and revised his work as it was being copied and (possibly) distributed.
Even the earliest surviving manuscripts are not Chaucer's originals, the oldest being MS Peniarth 392 D (called "Hengwrt"), compiled by a scribe shortly after Chaucer's death. The most beautiful of the manuscripts of the tales is the Ellesmere Manuscript, and many editors have followed the order of the Ellesmere over the centuries, even down to the present day. The first version of The Canterbury Tales to be published in print was William Caxton's 1478 edition. Only 10 copies of this edition are known to exist, including one held by the British Library and one held by the Folger Shakespeare Library. Since this print edition was created from a now-lost manuscript, it is counted as among the 83 manuscripts. In 2004, Professor Linne Mooney claimed that she was able to identify the scrivener who worked for Chaucer as an Adam Pinkhurst. Mooney, then a professor at the University of Maine and a visiting fellow at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, said she could match Pinkhurst's signature, on an oath he signed, to his lettering on a copy of The Canterbury Tales that was transcribed from Chaucer's working copy.
Textual and manuscript clues have been adduced to support the two most popular modern methods of ordering the tales. Some scholarly editions divide the Tales into ten "Fragments". The tales that make up a Fragment are closely related and contain internal indications of their order of presentation, usually with one character speaking to and then stepping aside for another character. However, between Fragments, the connection is less obvious. Consequently, there are several possible orders; the one most frequently seen in modern editions follows the numbering of the Fragments (ultimately based on the Ellesmere order). Victorians frequently used the nine "Groups", which was the order used by Walter William Skeat whose edition Chaucer: Complete Works was used by Oxford University Press for most of the twentieth century, but this order is now seldom followed.
An alternative ordering (seen in an early manuscript containing The Canterbury Tales, the early-fifteenth century Harley MS. 7334) places Fragment VIII before VI. Fragments I and II almost always follow each other, just as VI and VII, IX and X do in the oldest manuscripts. Fragments IV and V, by contrast, vary in location from manuscript to manuscript.
Recording in reconstructed Middle English pronunciation
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Chaucer wrote in late Middle English, which has clear differences from Modern English. From philological research, we know certain facts about the pronunciation of English during the time of Chaucer. Chaucer pronounced -e at the end of words, so that care was [ˈkaːrə], not // as in Modern English. Other silent letters were also pronounced, so that the word knight was [kniçt], with both the k and the gh pronounced, not //. In some cases, vowel letters in Middle English were pronounced very differently from Modern English, because the Great Vowel Shift had not yet happened. For instance, the long e in wepyng "weeping" was pronounced as [eː], as in modern German or Italian, not as //. Below is an IPA transcription of the opening lines of The Merchant's Prologue:
Although no manuscript exists in Chaucer's own hand, two were copied around the time of his death by Adam Pinkhurst, a scribe with whom he seems to have worked closely before, giving a high degree of confidence that Chaucer himself wrote the Tales. Because the final -e sound was lost soon after Chaucer's time, scribes did not accurately copy it, and this gave scholars the impression that Chaucer himself was inconsistent in using it. It has now been established, however, that -e was an important part of Chaucer's grammar, and helped to distinguish singular adjectives from plural and subjunctive verbs from indicative.
No other work prior to Chaucer's is known to have set a collection of tales within the framework of pilgrims on a pilgrimage. It is obvious, however, that Chaucer borrowed portions, sometimes very large portions, of his stories from earlier stories, and that his work was influenced by the general state of the literary world in which he lived. Storytelling was the main entertainment in England at the time, and storytelling contests had been around for hundreds of years. In 14th-century England the English Pui was a group with an appointed leader who would judge the songs of the group. The winner received a crown and, as with the winner of The Canterbury Tales, a free dinner. It was common for pilgrims on a pilgrimage to have a chosen "master of ceremonies" to guide them and organise the journey. Harold Bloom suggests that the structure is mostly original, but inspired by the "pilgrim" figures of Dante and Virgil in The Divine Comedy.
The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio contains more parallels to The Canterbury Tales than any other work. Like the Tales, it features a number of narrators who tell stories along a journey they have undertaken (to flee from the Black Death). It ends with an apology by Boccaccio, much like Chaucer's Retraction to the Tales. A quarter of the tales in The Canterbury Tales parallel a tale in the Decameron, although most of them have closer parallels in other stories. Some scholars thus find it unlikely that Chaucer had a copy of the work on hand, surmising instead that he must have merely read the Decameron at some point. Each of the tales has its own set of sources that have been suggested by scholars, but a few sources are used frequently over several tales. They include poetry by Ovid, the Bible in one of the many vulgate versions in which it was available at the time (the exact one is difficult to determine), and the works of Petrarch and Dante. Chaucer was the first author to utilise the work of these last two, both Italians. Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy appears in several tales, as the works of John Gower do. Gower was a known friend to Chaucer. A full list is impossible to outline in little space, but Chaucer also, lastly, seems to have borrowed from numerous religious encyclopaedias and liturgical writings, such as John Bromyard's Summa praedicantium, a preacher's handbook, and Jerome's Adversus Jovinianum. Many scholars say there is a good possibility Chaucer met Petrarch or Boccaccio.
Genre and structure
The Canterbury Tales is a collection of stories built around a frame narrative or frame tale, a common and already long established genre of its period. Chaucer's Tales differs from most other story "collections" in this genre chiefly in its intense variation. Most story collections focused on a theme, usually a religious one. Even in the Decameron, storytellers are encouraged to stick to the theme decided on for the day. The idea of a pilgrimage to get such a diverse collection of people together for literary purposes was also unprecedented, though "the association of pilgrims and storytelling was a familiar one". Introducing a competition among the tales encourages the reader to compare the tales in all their variety, and allows Chaucer to showcase the breadth of his skill in different genres and literary forms.
While the structure of the Tales is largely linear, with one story following another, it is also much more than that. In the General Prologue, Chaucer describes not the tales to be told, but the people who will tell them, making it clear that structure will depend on the characters rather than a general theme or moral. This idea is reinforced when the Miller interrupts to tell his tale after the Knight has finished his. Having the Knight go first gives one the idea that all will tell their stories by class, with the Monk following the Knight. However, the Miller's interruption makes it clear that this structure will be abandoned in favour of a free and open exchange of stories among all classes present. General themes and points of view arise as the characters tell their tales, which are responded to by other characters in their own tales, sometimes after a long lapse in which the theme has not been addressed.
Lastly, Chaucer does not pay much attention to the progress of the trip, to the time passing as the pilgrims travel, or to specific locations along the way to Canterbury. His writing of the story seems focused primarily on the stories being told, and not on the pilgrimage itself.
The variety of Chaucer's tales shows the breadth of his skill and his familiarity with many literary forms, linguistic styles, and rhetorical devices. Medieval schools of rhetoric at the time encouraged such diversity, dividing literature (as Virgil suggests) into high, middle, and low styles as measured by the density of rhetorical forms and vocabulary. Another popular method of division came from St. Augustine, who focused more on audience response and less on subject matter (a Virgilian concern). Augustine divided literature into "majestic persuades", "temperate pleases", and "subdued teaches". Writers were encouraged to write in a way that kept in mind the speaker, subject, audience, purpose, manner, and occasion. Chaucer moves freely between all of these styles, showing favouritism to none. He not only considers the readers of his work as an audience, but the other pilgrims within the story as well, creating a multi-layered rhetorical puzzle of ambiguities. Thus Chaucer's work far surpasses the ability of any single medieval theory to uncover.
With this, Chaucer avoids targeting any specific audience or social class of readers, focusing instead on the characters of the story and writing their tales with a skill proportional to their social status and learning. However, even the lowest characters, such as the Miller, show surprising rhetorical ability, although their subject matter is more lowbrow. Vocabulary also plays an important part, as those of the higher classes refer to a woman as a "lady", while the lower classes use the word "wenche", with no exceptions. At times the same word will mean entirely different things between classes. The word "pitee", for example, is a noble concept to the upper classes, while in the Merchant's Tale it refers to sexual intercourse. Again, however, tales such as the Nun's Priest's Tale show surprising skill with words among the lower classes of the group, while the Knight's Tale is at times extremely simple.
Chaucer uses the same meter throughout almost all of his tales, with the exception of Sir Thopas and his prose tales. It is a decasyllable line, probably borrowed from French and Italian forms, with riding rhyme and, occasionally, a caesura in the middle of a line. His meter would later develop into the heroic meter of the 15th and 16th centuries and is an ancestor of iambic pentameter. He avoids allowing couplets to become too prominent in the poem, and four of the tales (the Man of Law's, Clerk's, Prioress', and Second Nun's) use rhyme royal.
Historical context and themes
The Canterbury Tales was written during a turbulent time in English history. The Catholic Church was in the midst of the Western Schism and, though it was still the only Christian authority in Europe, was the subject of heavy controversy. Lollardy, an early English religious movement led by John Wycliffe, is mentioned in the Tales, which also mention a specific incident involving pardoners (sellers of indulgences, which were believed to relieve the temporal punishment due for sins that were already forgiven in the Sacrament of Confession) who nefariously claimed to be collecting for St. Mary Rouncesval hospital in England. The Canterbury Tales is among the first English literary works to mention paper, a relatively new invention that allowed dissemination of the written word never before seen in England. Political clashes, such as the 1381 Peasants' Revolt and clashes ending in the deposing of King Richard II, further reveal the complex turmoil surrounding Chaucer in the time of the Tales' writing. Many of his close friends were executed and he himself moved to Kent to get away from events in London.
While some readers look to interpret the characters of The Canterbury Tales as historical figures, other readers choose to interpret its significance in less literal terms. After analysis of Chaucer's diction and historical context, his work appears to develop a critique of society during his lifetime. Within a number of his descriptions, his comments can appear complimentary in nature, but through clever language, the statements are ultimately critical of the pilgrim's actions. It is unclear whether Chaucer would intend for the reader to link his characters with actual persons. Instead, it appears that Chaucer creates fictional characters to be general representations of people in such fields of work. With an understanding of medieval society, one can detect subtle satire at work.
The Tales reflect diverse views of the Church in Chaucer's England. After the Black Death, many Europeans began to question the authority of the established Church. Some turned to lollardy, while others chose less extreme paths, starting new monastic orders or smaller movements exposing church corruption in the behaviour of the clergy, false church relics or abuse of indulgences. Several characters in the Tales are religious figures, and the very setting of the pilgrimage to Canterbury is religious (although the prologue comments ironically on its merely seasonal attractions), making religion a significant theme of the work.
Two characters, the Pardoner and the Summoner, whose roles apply the Church's secular power, are both portrayed as deeply corrupt, greedy, and abusive. Pardoners in Chaucer's day were those people from whom one bought Church "indulgences" for forgiveness of sins, who were guilty of abusing their office for their own gain. Chaucer's Pardoner openly admits the corruption of his practice while hawking his wares. Summoners were Church officers who brought sinners to the Church court for possible excommunication and other penalties. Corrupt summoners would write false citations and frighten people into bribing them to protect their interests. Chaucer's Summoner is portrayed as guilty of the very kinds of sins for which he is threatening to bring others to court, and is hinted as having a corrupt relationship with the Pardoner. In The Friar's Tale, one of the characters is a summoner who is shown to be working on the side of the devil, not God.
Churchmen of various kinds are represented by the Monk, the Prioress, the Nun's Priest, and the Second Nun. Monastic orders, which originated from a desire to follow an ascetic lifestyle separated from the world, had by Chaucer's time become increasingly entangled in worldly matters. Monasteries frequently controlled huge tracts of land on which they made significant sums of money, while peasants worked in their employ. The Second Nun is an example of what a Nun was expected to be: her tale is about a woman whose chaste example brings people into the church. The Monk and the Prioress, on the other hand, while not as corrupt as the Summoner or Pardoner, fall far short of the ideal for their orders. Both are expensively dressed, show signs of lives of luxury and flirtatiousness and show a lack of spiritual depth. The Prioress's Tale is an account of Jews murdering a deeply pious and innocent Christian boy, a blood libel against Jews that became a part of English literary tradition. The story did not originate in the works of Chaucer and was well known in the 14th century.
Pilgrimage was a very prominent feature of medieval society. The ultimate pilgrimage destination was Jerusalem, but within England Canterbury was a popular destination. Pilgrims would journey to cathedrals that preserved relics of saints, believing that such relics held miraculous powers. Saint Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, had been murdered in Canterbury Cathedral by knights of Henry II during a disagreement between Church and Crown. Miracle stories connected to his remains sprang up soon after his death, and the cathedral became a popular pilgrimage destination. The pilgrimage in the work ties all of the stories together and may be considered a representation of Christians' striving for heaven, despite weaknesses, disagreement, and diversity of opinion.
Social class and convention
The upper class or nobility, represented chiefly by the Knight and his Squire, was in Chaucer's time steeped in a culture of chivalry and courtliness. Nobles were expected to be powerful warriors who could be ruthless on the battlefield yet mannerly in the King's Court and Christian in their actions. Knights were expected to form a strong social bond with the men who fought alongside them, but an even stronger bond with a woman whom they idealised to strengthen their fighting ability. Though the aim of chivalry was to noble action, its conflicting values often degenerated into violence. Church leaders frequently tried to place restrictions on jousts and tournaments, which at times ended in the death of the loser. The Knight's Tale shows how the brotherly love of two fellow knights turns into a deadly feud at the sight of a woman whom both idealise. To win her, both are willing to fight to the death. Chivalry was in Chaucer's day on the decline, and it is possible that The Knight's Tale was intended to show its flaws, although this is disputed. Chaucer himself had fought in the Hundred Years' War under Edward III, who heavily emphasised chivalry during his reign. Two tales, Sir Topas and The Tale of Melibee are told by Chaucer himself, who is travelling with the pilgrims in his own story. Both tales seem to focus on the ill-effects of chivalry—the first making fun of chivalric rules and the second warning against violence.
The Tales constantly reflect the conflict between classes. For example, the division of the three estates: the characters are all divided into three distinct classes, the classes being "those who pray" (the clergy), "those who fight" (the nobility), and "those who work" (the commoners and peasantry). Most of the tales are interlinked by common themes, and some "quit" (reply to or retaliate against) other tales. Convention is followed when the Knight begins the game with a tale, as he represents the highest social class in the group. But when he is followed by the Miller, who represents a lower class, it sets the stage for the Tales to reflect both a respect for and a disregard for upper class rules. Helen Cooper, as well as Mikhail Bakhtin and Derek Brewer, call this opposition "the ordered and the grotesque, Lent and Carnival, officially approved culture and its riotous, and high-spirited underside." Several works of the time contained the same opposition.
Relativism versus realism
Chaucer's characters each express different—sometimes vastly different—views of reality, creating an atmosphere of testing, empathy, and relativism. As Helen Cooper says, "Different genres give different readings of the world: the fabliau scarcely notices the operations of God, the saint's life focuses on those at the expense of physical reality, tracts and sermons insist on prudential or orthodox morality, romances privilege human emotion." The sheer number of varying persons and stories renders the Tales as a set unable to arrive at any definite truth or reality.
The concept of liminality figures prominently within The Canterbury Tales. A liminal space, which can be both geographical as well as metaphorical or spiritual, is the transitional or transformational space between a “real” (secure, known, limited) world and an unknown or imaginary space of both risk and possibility. The notion of a pilgrimage is itself a liminal experience, because it centers on travel between destinations and because pilgrims undertake it hoping to become more holy in the process. Thus, the structure of The Canterbury Tales itself is liminal; it not only covers the distance between London and Canterbury, but the majority of the tales refer to places entirely outside the geography of the pilgrimage. Jean Jost summarises the function of liminality in The Canterbury Tales,
"Both appropriately and ironically in this raucous and subversive liminal space, a ragtag assembly gather together and tell their equally unconventional tales. In this unruly place, the rules of tale telling are established, themselves to be both disordered and broken; here the tales of game and earnest, solas and sentence, will be set and interrupted. Here the sacred and profane adventure begins, but does not end. Here, the condition of peril is as prominent as that of protection. The act of pilgrimaging itself consists of moving from one urban space, through liminal rural space, to the next urban space with an ever fluctuating series of events and narratives punctuating those spaces. The goal of pilgrimage may well be a religious or spiritual space at its conclusion, and reflect a psychological progression of the spirit, in yet another kind of emotional space."
Liminality is also evident in the individual tales. An obvious instance of this is the Friar’s Tale in which the yeoman devil is a liminal figure because of his transitory nature and function; it is his purpose to issue souls from their current existence to hell, an entirely different one. The Franklin’s Tale is a Breton Lai tale, which takes the tale into a liminal space by invoking not only the interaction of the supernatural and the mortal, but also the relation between the present and the imagined past.
Influence on literature
It is sometimes argued that the greatest contribution that this work made to English literature was in popularising the literary use of the vernacular English, rather than French or Latin. English had, however, been used as a literary language for centuries before Chaucer's life, and several of Chaucer's contemporaries—John Gower, William Langland, and the Pearl Poet—also wrote major literary works in English. It is unclear to what extent Chaucer was responsible for starting a trend rather than simply being part of it. It is interesting to note that, although Chaucer had a powerful influence in poetic and artistic terms, which can be seen in the great number of forgeries and mistaken attributions (such as The Floure and the Leafe, which was translated by John Dryden), modern English spelling and orthography owe much more to the innovations made by the Court of Chancery in the decades during and after his lifetime.
While Chaucer clearly states the addressees of many of his poems (the Book of the Duchess is believed to have been written for John of Gaunt on the occasion of his wife's death in 1368), the intended audience of The Canterbury Tales is more difficult to determine. Chaucer was a courtier, leading some to believe that he was mainly a court poet who wrote exclusively for the nobility. He is referred to as a noble translator and poet by Eustache Deschamps and by his contemporary John Gower. It has been suggested that the poem was intended to be read aloud, which is probable as this was a common activity at the time. However, it also seems to have been intended for private reading as well, since Chaucer frequently refers to himself as the writer, rather than the speaker, of the work. Determining the intended audience directly from the text is even more difficult, since the audience is part of the story. This makes it difficult to tell when Chaucer is writing to the fictional pilgrim audience or the actual reader.
Chaucer's works may have been distributed in some form during his lifetime in part or in whole. Scholars speculate that manuscripts were circulated among his friends, but likely remained unknown to most people until after his death. However, the speed with which copyists strove to write complete versions of his tale in manuscript form shows that Chaucer was a famous and respected poet in his own day. The Hengwrt and Ellesmere manuscripts are examples of the care taken to distribute the work. More manuscript copies of the poem exist than for any other poem of its day except The Prick of Conscience, causing some scholars to give it the medieval equivalent of bestseller status. Even the most elegant of the illustrated manuscripts, however, is not nearly as highly decorated as the work of authors of more respectable works such as John Lydgate's religious and historical literature.
John Lydgate and Thomas Occleve were among the first critics of Chaucer's Tales, praising the poet as the greatest English poet of all time and the first to show what the language was truly capable of poetically. This sentiment was universally agreed upon by later critics into the mid-15th century. Glosses included in The Canterbury Tales manuscripts of the time praised him highly for his skill with "sentence" and rhetoric, the two pillars by which medieval critics judged poetry. The most respected of the tales was at this time the Knight's, as it was full of both.
Literary additions and supplements
The incompleteness of the Tales led several medieval authors to write additions and supplements to the tales to make them more complete. Some of the oldest existing manuscripts of the tales include new or modified tales, showing that even early on, such additions were being created. These emendations included various expansions of the Cook's Tale, which Chaucer never finished, The Plowman's Tale, The Tale of Gamelyn, the Siege of Thebes, and the Tale of Beryn.
The Tale of Beryn, written by an anonymous author in the 15th century, is preceded by a lengthy prologue in which the pilgrims arrive at Canterbury and their activities there are described. While the rest of the pilgrims disperse throughout the town, the Pardoner seeks the affections of Kate the barmaid, but faces problems dealing with the man in her life and the innkeeper Harry Bailey. As the pilgrims turn back home, the Merchant restarts the storytelling with Tale of Beryn. In this tale, a young man named Beryn travels from Rome to Egypt to seek his fortune only to be cheated by other businessmen there. He is then aided by a local man in getting his revenge. The tale comes from the French tale Bérinus and exists in a single early manuscript of the tales, although it was printed along with the tales in a 1721 edition by John Urry.
John Lydgate wrote The Siege of Thebes in about 1420. Like the Tale of Beryn, it is preceded by a prologue in which the pilgrims arrive in Canterbury. Lydgate places himself among the pilgrims as one of them and describes how he was a part of Chaucer's trip and heard the stories. He characterises himself as a monk and tells a long story about the history of Thebes before the events of the Knight's Tale. John Lydgate's tale was popular early on and exists in old manuscripts both on its own and as part of the Tales. It was first printed as early as 1561 by John Stow, and several editions for centuries after followed suit.
There are actually two versions of The Plowman's Tale, both of which are influenced by the story Piers Plowman, a work written during Chaucer's lifetime. Chaucer describes a Plowman in the General Prologue of his tales, but never gives him his own tale. One tale, written by Thomas Occleve, describes the miracle of the Virgin and the Sleeveless Garment. Another tale features a pelican and a griffin debating church corruption, with the pelican taking a position of protest akin to John Wycliffe's ideas.
The Tale of Gamelyn was included in an early manuscript version of the tales, Harley 7334, which is notorious for being one of the lower-quality early manuscripts in terms of editor error and alteration. It is now widely rejected by scholars as an authentic Chaucerian tale, although some scholars think he may have intended to rewrite the story as a tale for the Yeoman. Dates for its authorship vary from 1340 to 1370.
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Many literary works (both fiction and non-fiction alike) have used a similar frame narrative to The Canterbury Tales as an homage. Science-fiction writer Dan Simmons wrote his Hugo Award winning novel Hyperion based on an extra-planetary group of pilgrims. Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins used The Canterbury Tales as a structure for his 2004 non-fiction book about evolution titled The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution. His animal pilgrims are on their way to find the common ancestor, each telling a tale about evolution.
Historical-mystery novelist P.C. Doherty wrote a series of novels based on The Canterbury Tales, making use of both the story frame and Chaucer's characters.
Canadian author Angie Abdou translates The Canterbury Tales to a cross section of people, all snow-sports enthusiasts but from different social backgrounds, converging on a remote back-country ski cabin in British Columbia in the 2011 novel The Canterbury Trail.
Adaptations and homages
The Two Noble Kinsmen, by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher, a retelling of "The Knight's Tale", was first performed in 1613 or 1614 and published in 1634. In 1961, Erik Chisholm completed his opera, The Canterbury Tales. The opera is in three acts: The Wyf of Bath’s Tale, The Pardoner’s Tale and The Nun’s Priest’s Tale. Nevill Coghill's modern English version formed the basis of a musical version that was first staged in 1964.
A Canterbury Tale, a 1944 film jointly written and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, is loosely based on the narrative frame of Chaucer's tales. The movie opens with a group of medieval pilgrims journeying through the Kentish countryside as a narrator speaks the opening lines of the General Prologue. The scene then makes a now-famous transition to the time of World War II. From that point on, the film follows a group of strangers, each with his or her own story and in need of some kind of redemption, who are making their way to Canterbury together. The film's main story takes place in an imaginary town in Kent and ends with the main characters arriving at Canterbury Cathedral, bells pealing and Chaucer's words again resounding. A Canterbury Tale is recognised as one of the Powell-Pressburger team's most poetic and artful films. It was produced as wartime propaganda, using Chaucer's poetry, referring to the famous pilgrimage, and offering photography of Kent to remind the public of what made Britain worth fighting for. In one scene a local historian lectures an audience of British soldiers about the pilgrims of Chaucer's time and the vibrant history of England.
Pier Paolo Pasolini's 1972 film The Canterbury Tales features several of the tales, some of which keep close to the original tale and some of which are embellished. The Cook's Tale, for instance, which is incomplete in the original version, is expanded into a full story, and the Friar's Tale extends the scene in which the Summoner is dragged down to hell. The film includes these two tales as well as the Miller's Tale, the Summoner's Tale, the Wife of Bath's Tale, and the Merchant's Tale.
On April 26, 1986, American radio personality Garrison Keillor opened "The News from Lake Wobegon" portion of the first live TV broadcast of his A Prairie Home Companion radio show with a reading of the original Middle English text of the General Prologue. He commented, "Although those words were written more than 600 years ago, they still describe spring."
English rock musician Sting paid tribute to Chaucer and the book with his 1993 concept album Ten Summoner's Tales, which he described as ten songs (plus an epilogue number) with no theme or subject tying them together. Sting's real name is Gordon Sumner, hence the reference to the "Summoner" character in the record's title. In essence, the collection of songs was composed as "a musical Canterbury Tales".
Several more recent films, while they are not based on the tales, do have references to them. For example, in the 1995 film Se7en, the Parson's Tale is an important clue to the methods of a serial killer who chooses his victims based on the seven deadly sins. The 2001 film A Knight's Tale took its name from "The Knight's Tale". Although it bears little resemblance to the tale, it does feature what Martha Driver and Sid Ray call an "MTV-generation" Chaucer who is a gambling addict with a way with words. Scattered references to the Tales include Chaucer's declaration that he will use his verse to vilify a summoner and a pardoner who have cheated him.
The 2014 young adult short novel Anaheim Tales by M.L. Millard was inspired by and references The Canterbury Tales.
- Carlson, David. "The Chronology of Lydgate's Chaucer References". The Chaucer Review, Vol. 38, No. 3 (2004), pp. 246–254. Accessed 6 January 2014.
- The name "Tales of Caunterbury" appears within the surviving texts of Chaucer's work. Its modern name first appeared as Canterbury talys in John Lydgate's 1421-2 prologue to the Siege of Thebes.
- "Geoffrey Chaucer (1342–1400) "The Canterbury Tales" (in middle english and modern english)". www.librarius.com. Retrieved 2015-09-25.
- Black, Joseph (2011). The Broadview Anthology of British Literature. Canada: Broadview Press. pp. 229–331.
- Pearsall, 8.
- Cooper, 6—7
- Pearsall, 10, 17.
- Cooper, 8.
- Linne R. Mooney (2006), "Chaucer's Scribe," Speculum, 81 : 97–138.
- Cooper, 7
- Pearsall, 14–15.
- Text from The Riverside Chaucer, ed. by Larry D. Benson, 3rd edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 153.
- Based on the information in Norman Davies, "Language and Versification", in The Riverside Chaucer, ed. by Larry D. Benson, 3rd edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), pp. xxv–xli.
- Linne R. Mooney, "Chaucer’s Scribe", Speculum, 81 (2006), 97–138.
- e.g. Ian Robinson, Chaucer's Prosody: A Study of the Middle English Verse Tradition (London: Cambridge University Press, 1971).
- Seminal studies included M. L. Samuels, "Chaucerian Final '-e'", Notes and Queries, 19 (1972), 445–48, and D. Burnley, "Inflection in Chaucer's Adjectives", Neuphilologische Mitteilungen, 83 (1982), 169–77.
- Cooper, p. 10.
- Bloom, Harold (11 November 2009). "Road Trip". New York Times. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
- Cooper, pp. 10–11.
- Cooper, pp. 12–16.
- Brewer, p. 227. Although Chaucer undoubtedly studied the works of these celebrated writers, and particularly of Dante before this fortunate interview; yet it seems likely, that these excursions gave him a new relish for their compositions, and enlarged his knowledge of the Italian fables.
- Brewer, p. 277. ...where he became thoroughly inbued with the spirit and excellence of the great Italian poets and prose-writers: Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio; and is said to have had a personal contact interview with one of these, Petrarch.
- Hendrickson , pp. 183–192. Professor G. L. Hendrickson of the University of Chicago gives a detailed analysis as to Chaucer coming in contact with Petrarch.
- Rearden, p. 458. There can be no moral doubt but that Chaucer knew Petrarch personally. They were both in France many times, where they might have met. They were both courtiers. They both had an enthusiasm for scholarship. Whether they met then, or whether Chaucer, when on his visit to Genoa, specially visited the Italian, it does not appear. ...but the only reason that such a visit could not have occurred lies in the fact that Petrarch himself does not record it. Still, on the other hand, would he have mentioned the visit of a man who was the servant of a barbarous monarch, and whose only claim to notice, literary-wise, was his cultivation of an unknown and uncouth dialect that was half bastard French?
- Skeat (1874), p. xxx. And we know that Petrarch, on his own shewing, was so pleased with the story of Griselda that he learnt it by heart as well as he could, for the express purpose of repeating it to friends, before the idea of turning it into Latin occurred to him. Whence we may conclude that Chaucer and Petrarch met at Padua early in 1373; that Petrarch told Chaucer the story by word of mouth, either in Italian or French; and that Chaucer shortly after obtained a copy of Petrarch's Latin version, which he kept constantly before him whilst making his own translation.
- "Sources and Analogues of the Canterbury Tales", 2002, p. 22.
- Cooper, 8–9.
- Cooper, 17–18.
- Cooper, 18.
- Podgorski, Daniel (December 29, 2015). "Puppetry and the "Popet:" Fiction, Reality, and Empathy in Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales". The Gemsbok. Retrieved March 17, 2016.
- Cooper, 22–24.
- Cooper, 24–25.
- Cooper, 25–26.
- Cooper, 5–6.
- Donald R. Howard, Chaucer and the Medieval World (London, 1987), pp. 410–417.
- Bisson, pp. 49–51, 56–62.
- Bisson, pp. 50.
- Bisson, pp. 61–64.
- Bisson, pp. 66–67.
- Bisson, pp. 67–68.
- Bisson, pp. 73–75, 81.
- Bisson, pp. 91–95.
- Rubin, 106–107.
- "The Prioress's Tale", by Prof. Jane Zatta.
- Bisson, pp. 99–102.
- Bisson, pp. 110–113.
- Bisson, pp. 117–119.
- Bisson, pp. 123–131.
- Bisson, pp. 132–134.
- Bisson, pp. 139–142.
- Bisson, pp. 138.
- Bisson, pp. 141–142.
- Bisson, pp. 143.
- Cooper, 19
- Cooper, 21.
- Bishop, Norma J. "Liminal Space in Travellers’ Tales: Historical and Fictional Passages (Folklore, Ritual, History).” Order No. 8615152 The Pennsylvania State University, 1986. Ann Arbor: ProQuest. Web. 30 Sep. 2015.
- Jost, Jean. “Urban and Liminal Space in Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale: Perilous or Protective?” Albrecht Classen, ed. Fundamentals of Medieval and Early Modern Culture : Urban Space in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Age. Berlin, DEU: Walter de Gruyter, 2009. Print.
- Bloomfield, Morton W. “The ‘Friar’s Tale’ as a Liminal Tale.” The Chaucer Review 17.4 (1983): 286–291. Print.
- Nowlin, Steele. “Between Precedent and Possibility: Liminality, Historicity, and Narrative in Chaucer's ‘The Franklin's Tale.’" Studies in Philology 103.1 (2006): 47–67. Print.
- Pearsall, 294-5.
- Pearsall, 295-97.
- Pearsall, 298–302.
- Trigg, Stephanie, Congenial Souls: Reading Chaucer from Medieval to Postmodern, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002, p. 86. ISBN 0-8166-3823-3.
- Trigg, pp. 86–88, 97.
- Trigg, pp. 88–97.
- Brewer, Charlotte, Editing Piers Plowman: The Evolution of the Text, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996, pp. 8–9. ISBN 0-521-34250-3.
- Ohlgren, Thomas, Medieval Outlaws, Parlor Press, 2005, pp. 264–265. ISBN 1-932559-62-0.
- Ellis, Steve, Chaucer at Large, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000, pp. 64–65. ISBN 0-8166-3376-2.
- Pencak, William, The Films of Derek Jarman, Jefferson: McFarland & Co, 2002, pp. 178–9. ISBN 0-7864-1430-8.
- Bignell, Jonathan, Postmodern Media Culture, Aakar Books, 2007. ISBN 81-89833-16-2 pp. 93–94.
- Rosenbaum, Jonathan et al, The Medieval Hero on Screen, Jefferson: McFarland, 2004, pp. 202–203. ISBN 0-7864-1926-1.
- "BBC – Drama – Canterbury Tales". BBC Drama article about the series. Retrieved 6 May 2007.
- "On These Walls: Inscriptions and Quotations in the Buildings of the Library of Congress". Retrieved 31 December 2012.
- Bisson, Lillian. Chaucer and the Late Medieval World. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998. ISBN 0-312-10667-X
- Cooper, Helen. The Canterbury Tales. Oxford Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 1996. ISBN 0-19-871155-7
- Pearsall, Derek. The Canterbury Tales. London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1985. ISBN 0-04-800021-3
- Rubin, Alexis P., (ed.): Scattered Among the Nations: Documents Affecting Jewish History. 49 to 1975. Wall & Emerson, 1993. ISBN 1-895131-10-3.
- Collette, Carolyn. Species, Phantasms and Images: Vision and Medieval Psychology in the Canterbury Tales. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001.
- Kolve, V. A. and Glending Olson (eds). The Canterbury Tales: Fifteen Tales and The General Prologue; Authoritative Text, Sources and Backgrounds, Criticism. A Norton Critical Edition (2nd ed.), 2005. New York, London: W. W. Norton and Company. ISBN 0-393-92587-0. LC PR1867.K65 2005.
- Thompson, N. S. Chaucer, Boccaccio, and the Debate of Love: A Comparative Study of the Decameron and the Canterbury Tales. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996. ISBN 0-19-812378-7.
- Modern Translation and Other Resources at eChaucer
- The Canterbury Tales Project: publishing transcripts, images, collations and analysis of all surviving 15th-century copies
- The Canterbury Tales public domain audiobook at LibriVox
- Online texts
- The Canterbury Tales and Other Poems at Project Gutenberg
- Chaucer's Canterbury Tales – Presented by ELF
- The Canterbury Tales: A Complete Translation into Modern English by Ronald L. Ecker and Eugene J. Crook. ISBN 0-9636512-3-4.
- Originals from the British Library high resolution scans of William Caxton's two editions of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales
- The Hengwrt Manuscript: high-resolution image of the first page of the oldest manuscript copy.
- Manuscript images, transcripts and collations from The Miller's Tale and The Nun's Priest's Tale