Saturday, 24 March 2012

Canterbury Tales

Title: Canterbury Tales
Author: Geoffrey Chaucer
Translated by: David Wright
Pages: 482 (paperback)
Published: May 15th 2008 (first published 1390)
Published by: Oxford University Press

Chaucer's most celebrated work, The Canterbury Tales (c.1387), in which a group of pilgrims entertain each other with stories on the road to Canterbury, is a masterpiece of narration, description, and character portrayal. The tellers and the tales are as fresh and vivid today as they were six centuries ago.

One night, Chaucer finds himself in a pub. He meets a load of other people going to Canterbury, so decides to join them. To make the journey a bit more interesting, the owner of the pub sets them a challenge: to each tell at least one story on the trip to Canterbury and back to the pub; with him joining them to be the judge, the winner gets a meal paid for by all the others.

This leads to a wide range of tales from the wide range of people who make up this group of pilgrims, and the tales they tell are by turn amusing, entertaining, heartbreaking, educational and (though only a couple) tedious. The majority had some sort of moral to them, which can still be applied to today a lot of the time. Most of them are very good, but some few I found to be a little on the dull side,The Monk's Tale being the one that particularly stood out for me in this regard, it being merely a recounting of all the men through history who had succeeded but then been brought low through one thing or another. Luckily it was quite short so it wasn't too bad.

Particularly of note for me were:
The Knight's Tale, which was long but lovely and showing how much impact one person can have on the lives of others. The phrase which came to mind while reading it was 'bros before hoes'.
The Reeve's Tale was really quite amusing, in spite of it being a little crude.
The Prioress's Tale was absolutely heart-breaking but still a wonderful story. I didn't the consequences coming and they were shocking and so incredibly sad.
The Oxford Scholar's Tale was also sad, but in a very different way. I felt incredibly sorry for the poor woman and everything her husband put her through: it seemed petty and without real need. If I was her I could not have managed to put up with anything near what she did, and I don't doubt everyone else would say the same.

The voices of the tale-tellers were all quite distinct, though I think the host was my favourite character - a pity, then, that he has only a very little input - usually breaking up disagreements between the travellers. Not only the stories themselves, but the form and vocabulary seemed to fit each person wonderfully. The descriptions in all quite light, leaving it up to the imagination of the reader for the most part, which I think was clever. Beauty - in people or place - is very much subjective and so when the beautiful girl was introduced in each story (for there was one in nearly all of them) their physical attributes were left to the imagination.

I have to commend the translation, because when starting out I was worried I would struggle terribly with it, but it is wonderfully done and I found very easy to read and understand. It wasn't all fancy or unnecessarily wordy or anything annoying like that, and I genuinely enjoyed reading the majority of it, skipping through the stories (particularly the earlier ones) at quite a pace.

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