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.
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About the Author
Geoffrey Chaucer was born in London, the son of a wine-merchant, in about 1342, and as he spent his life in royal government service his career happens to be unusually well documented. By 1357 Chaucer was a page to the wife of Prince Lionel, second son of Edward III, and it was while in the prince's service that Chaucer was ransomed when captured during the English campaign in France in 1359-60. Chaucer's wife Philippa, whom he married c. 1365, was the sister of Katherine Swynford, the mistress (c. 1370) and third wife (1396) of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, whose first wife Blanche (d. 1368) is commemorated in Chaucer's ealrist major poem, The Book of the Duchess.
From 1374 Chaucer worked as controller of customs on wool in the port of London, but between 1366 and 1378 he made a number of trips abroad on official business, including two trips to Italy in 1372-3 and 1378. The influence of Chaucer's encounter with Italian literature is felt in the poems he wrote in the late 1370's and early 1380s – The House of Fame, The Parliament of Fowls and a version of The Knight's Tale – and finds its fullest expression in Troilus and Criseyde.
In 1386 Chaucer was member of parliament for Kent, but in the same year he resigned his customs post, although in 1389 he was appointed Clerk of the King's Works (resigning in 1391). After finishing Troilus and his translation into English prose of Boethius' De consolatione philosophiae, Chaucer started his Legend of Good Women. In the 1390s he worked on his most ambitious project, The Canterbury Tales, which remained unfinished at his death. In 1399 Chaucer leased a house in the precincts of Westminster Abbey but died in 1400 and was buried in the Abbey.
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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.
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.
From the Paperback edition.
Table of Contents
Biographical Note V
Translator's Foreword xxix
The Canterbury Tales
General Prologue 3
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 Tate] 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 Franklin's 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 Casibus Virorum Illustrium [The Fall of Illustrious Men] 434
The Prologue of the Nun's Priest's Tale 457
The Nun'sPriest's Tale of Cock and Hen, Chauntecleer and Pertelote 459
Epilogue to the Nun's Priest's Tale 475
The Second Nun's Prologue 476
Prayer to the Virgin Mary 478
The Second Nun's Tale 482
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
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Hanning's edition is marvelous in standard paper formatting. My review is for the electronic edition formatted for the Nook, however, which is extraordinarily poorly done--hence the detracted stars. 5 stars for content; 1 star for formatting. The electronic version has no line numbers, which is a problem. The translation is advertised as "facing page," but in fact it's just haphazardly lumped into the original Middle English with no warning and no formatting changes whatsoever. You'll be reading along in Middle English and suddenly find yourself reading the same thing all over again in Modern English, and there's nothing you can do about it. So basically only someone really familiar with the Canterbury Tales will be able to use this electronic format, and anyone else should stay away. It's a shame, because I'd really like to have access to this one on my Nook.
The Barnes & Noble Classics Series edition of The Canterbury Tales has Chaucer's original text on one page and a modern translation on the facing page. This works wonderfully well in print books for obvious reasons. This does *not* work for ebooks. Reading this book on the nook you will read through a page or two of the original text, then on the next page turn you'll have the modernized translation, then back to the original again. It is not simply a matter of Chaucer's version being in one chapter, followed by a chapter in translation; in fact, Chaucer's version and the translation are interspersed together so that there is NO WAY of choosing to read one or the other without having to manually click forward watching to see when the language changes to Chaucer's language. Because of this, the book is simply unreadable. Go find a public domain version of Chaucer's text and take the effort to get a feel for his language.
This was one of the best books I ever read. I love that not only is the book presented in the original middle English, but also in translated modern English that I can understand. I was really blown away by the text and how expressive and beautiful it was. It is quite an undertaking, but it will pay off.
This book did not switch to the nook format well. It jumps from 1400s style writing to current day at inappropriate moments, which probably made sense in the paper version, but not at all on the Nook. I could only get through the first 5 pages before giving up and going to a store to buy it in paper.
I should have heeded the other review I read that said that the book does not work on the Nook. In paper form the book was supposed to have both the original on one page and the modern form on the right. They end up alternating on the nook. I figured I would just read the original, sort of like reading a real long Jabberwocky. At first there were clear breaks between the original and the modern, but after a few pages I found they ran together, making the book even more difficult to read. At that point I gave up. I'll read it on paper.
I love having the original Middle English on one side with a Modern English Translation on the facing page. I decided to try reading the Middle English. It's easy to look over to the translation whenever I get stuck. However, even without being able to completely understand the Middle English, I can tell the translation isn't that great. Also, the text is only footnoted on the Modern English side, which (if you're trying to follow the Middle English text) makes it easy to miss. Still, it's a lot more fun to read this on your own when you don't have a high school English teacher forcing you to do it.
As someone who's always been interested in England, mythology, and a lot of other things, this book is paradise!! The premise is simple: a group of pilgrims are on the way to the shrine of St. Thomas Beckett in Canterbuty (hence the name). At the Tabard Inn, the host suggests that they each tell two stories on the way there, and two on the way back. They readily agree. The group is comprised of people representing various social positions (knight, reeve, nun, friar, miller, etc) and so the stories are widely varied. And the best part is that the language is easy! It's not the difficult 14th century that we Generation X think it is. Yes, buy the book.
I enjoy Chaucer. But the format of this Nook version made this impossible to enjoy.
The free edition didn't scan well, which is a shame because the Canterbury Tales are wonderful stories.
Letters joined oodly
There are a lot of things to talk about with the book. First of all, I think the book was ok, to be honest I didn’t love it because I think it was kinda all over the place. The tales were pretty good, they all had a meaning and lesson at the end. The book is very interesting because I've never read a book that's in the Middle Ages and has three different stories in one book. The book made me change the choices in my life by seeing what we have now that wasn’t made ages ago. If I had the choice to read another book of Geoffrey Chaucer I wouldn't I’m sorry but I would rather read a book about something scary or interesting. Overall I think the tales were well written and they had a little twist on them which was cool.
This is for the new version translated by Burton Raffel that was offered here as an Early Review. At first, the new format was not my favorite. I really like the rhythm and feel of the original. But I never actually finished the Middle English version, and I did finish this one, so maybe that's because of the translation.I have to say that I really didn't like it though. Nothing wrong with the translation itself. It was the subject matter. First of all, it struck me as funny that they were on a religious pilgrimage, and yet they were so, well, irreverent! The rather bawdy humor in some of the stories didn't exactly fit the picture of religious pilgrims. Another thing that seemed kind of strange was the way they kept referring to the Roman gods and goddesses. It was kind of an odd mixture. But my biggest objection was the way women were portrayed. Some of the stories were just plain goofy, really. I hated the stories of Cecilia and Griselda. And even though I really like the wife of Bath, I thought her story was just plain goofy. A knight rapes a girl and the king wants him executed. But the queen and her ladies beg for mercy for him because he's good looking. So he gets a reprieve in time to travel the country, finding out what women want. Well, not to be raped would be pretty high on my list. But then he does it, and escapes, and blah, blah, blah. Over and over again, I was bothered by how far out from modern society the attitudes were in this book. I just wasn't able to make the leap required to enjoy this book at all. I'm just glad it's done!
I initially was introduced to the Canterbury tales in AP English class in HS. The way my teacher brought the text to life was great and when I saw this I had to buy it. Having the Old English (which I believe is really Middle English) next to present day English is very helpful. I found it curious to see how our language has developed over time as the meanings of certain words have definitely changed over time. During my next semester in college I'm taking a class that specifically deals with Middle Age literature. I look forward to reading this yet again and am sincerely hoping for an easy A in the course. If you've never read the Canterbury Tales, I highly recommend it. This is a classic in English Lit, everyone should read it.
Touted as unabridged. It contains unabridged versions of the 12 more popular tales.
The Canterbury Tales is one of those classics that was on my TBR list. I chose to listen to this on audio and was very glad I did. Narrators are a reader's best friend when it comes to more difficult reads, allowing the listener to just sit back and absorb the work. And in between the actual traveler's tales, there would be a brief summary of what exactly was going on. I appreciated this very much because, at times, I wondered if I was listening to the same writer--one story would be fluid and coherent and easy to understand--and then we came to tales that were confusing and tortured in their language. Audio recommended. Overall, interesting.
A classic work of literature and one of the first tot criticise society in this way. A wrote a paper about it for my studies and knowing more about the time it was written makes you appreciate it even more.
I studied The Canterbury Tales in a required literature class. The Tales comprised the entire syllabus. Our professor was one of those rare gems who made the work absolutely come alive. Each Tale became its own masterpiece. We learned to read in Middle English and to translate Middle English to Modern English. From a master, I learned to love and appreciate Chaucer's work. My five-star rating is for the late Professor Douglas Wurtele of Ottawa, ON, who spent his academic life studying Chaucer and tirelessly sharing his rich enthusiasm with his students.
This edition of the Canterbury Tales, edited by Larry Benson, is superb. It is based on the Riverside Chaucer, Third Edition (also edited by Benson) and is as authoritative as you can get. It's greatest attribute is the presentation of a highly readable text that will be appreciated by scholars and lovers of Chaucer of all levels. It's beautifully glossed, but in an unobtrusive manner that allows the language to sing off the page without any unneccesary interruptions; the copious (and useful) vocab and grammar notes are clearly marked by line and placed below the body text, thus one can read (aloud preferably) at one's own pace without being constantly interrupted. The placement and economy of the notes also makes for a clear presentation and a great reading text that allows individual readers to approach the Tales at his or her own pace. Highly informative and entertaining essays on Chaucer's life, the history and conext in which he lived and wrote and on his language and versification introduce the volume and provide an excellent jumping off point into the Tales. The latter essay is a decent - albeit brief - introduction to reading and pronounciation of Chaucer's Middle English, but it is far from comprehensive, covering primarily the most basic elements thereof while paying scant attention to the nuances of inflection and grammar. Nevertheless, that is where this edition acheives - it presents a highly readable and accesible version of Chaucer's masterpiece and allows readers of all levels to approach the poem(s) on their own terms, unencumbered by an intrusive or burdensome scholarly apparatus. In other words, one can approach the Tales with just enough context, historically and linguistically, to engage with it in a manner as close to possible as a fluent reader of Middle English would have. And the perfect balance between inspiring the novice reader to venture forth independently and the superior guidance that is readily available with just a quick glance toward the bottom of the page, will undoubtadly improve one's reading and comprehension of Middle English. Scholars of all levels will appreciate and enjoy this edition. Larry Benson (still teaching at Harvard, by the way) is one of the great Chaucerians and has given us one of the best editions of Chaucer available - one that is equally beneficial and interesting to both the student and the layman. The point is, you can't outgrow this one. If anything, you can grow into it. What more could one want?
This Nook edition should be withdrawn by Barnes & Noble. As other reviewers have stated, it randomly merges modern and Middle English content that the reader must laboriously untangle. Previously, I had only read the Tales in Middle English and was looking forward to a modern English rendition. I had assumed I did not need to read reviews of The Canterbury Tales. I was wrong.
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