Thursday, February 11, 2010

REVIEW: The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

As soon as I cracked open this monstrous book I was delighted by the lyrical way in which the stories were written although it did take some getting used to. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is a collection of tales told by pilgrims on the way to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket. To pass the time they have a contest amongst themselves to see who can tell the best tale. What follows are tales told by each character, some being better than others.
Ones I enjoyed:

* The Knight’s Tale which tells the story of two brothers from another kingdom who are captured, imprisoned, and fall in love with the same woman who they spy from their cell. What follows is a contest to see who will win the love of the fair Emelye.

*The Clerk’s Tale which tells the story of a local noble who when told he can marry whomever he wants decides up Griselde, a poor but beautiful peasant. The noble tests her love and loyalty by sending away their children and by pretending he is going to cast her aside and marry another.

* The Prioress’s Tale which tells of a young Christian boy who attends school in the Jewish Ghetto. Every day he walks to school singing a certain hymn he loves. The Jews decide to murder the boy so they don’t have to hear him sing anymore but the mother is able to locate the murdered boy when his corpse continues to sing the song.

Ones that were ok:

* The Reeve’s Tale tells the story of an unscrupulous Miller who tries to steal the corn two local men bring him to grind. To accomplish this, the Miller unties their horse and they don’t catch it until nightfall and are forced to spend the night in the Miller’s house. One man seduces the Miller’s daughter while the other seduces his wife. When this is discovered a fight ensues but in an effort to help her husband defeat the men, the wife accidentally knocks her husband out instead. The men get their corn back and flee.

* The Wife of Bath’s Tale tells the story of a young knight who rapes a local girl. To give him a chance to save his life, the Queen sends him on a quest to find out what women really want. He comes across an old woman who agrees to tell him the correct answer if he promises to do whatever she wants. She tells him and her price is marriage. The knight is grossed out having to marry and old crone so she gives him a choice to either have a beautiful and unfaithful wife or an old and faithful one. He tells her to choose and because he left the choice to her she uses magic to make herself beautiful and she remains faithful.

And one that even literally bored me to sleep:

* The Tale of Melibee- a group of Melibee’s enemies storm his house and mutilate his daughter. He acts rashly at first but when confronted by his wife Prudence he agrees to put the punishment of the offending men in her hands. She delivers a lengthy counsel referencing several scholars and Bible verses on why the husband should act a certain way and why he should not take certain actions. I just could not through all the “For so and so says (insert wise advice here).

Overall I enjoyed the tales but after awhile it became much more difficult to read. Several of Chaucer’s tales tell of unfaithful women and a few stories even revolve entire around farting. There is only so much promiscuity and flatulence I can take before I get bored of it ;)

Also some of the stories are unfinished or the narrator stops the character from telling the story and moves on to another character’s tale which is kind of jarring. Still I liked the variety and I have to admire the fact that Chaucer wrote something in the 14th century that is still entertaining today.

If the FTC is wondering: This book is from my own personal library


  1. I read this in college, but don't remember much. Maybe it's time for a re-read.

  2. Were you brave enough to tackle it in Middle English?

  3. No. The version I read was from a set of classics my Father in Law gave me. I think I would have had a very difficult time without a translated version. I'll admit it. I wussed out :)