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The Canterbury Tales

Cover of The Canterbury Tales

The Canterbury Tales

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Lively, absorbing, often outrageously funny, Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales is a work of genius, an undisputed classic that has held a special appeal for each generation of readers. The Tales gathers twenty-nine of literature's most enduring (and endearing) characters in a vivid group portrait that captures the full spectrum of medieval society, from the exalted Knight to the humble Plowman.

This new edition includes a comprehensive introduction that summarizes some of the most important historical events and movements that defined the world of Chaucer and his pilgrims; two additional tales (Reeve's and Shipman's); introductions for each tale designed to prepare the reader for a better understanding and enjoyment of the tale; newly written and conveniently placed explanatory notes; and a new, more easily understood system for learning to pronounce Chaucerian Middle English.

From the Paperback edition.

Lively, absorbing, often outrageously funny, Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales is a work of genius, an undisputed classic that has held a special appeal for each generation of readers. The Tales gathers twenty-nine of literature's most enduring (and endearing) characters in a vivid group portrait that captures the full spectrum of medieval society, from the exalted Knight to the humble Plowman.

This new edition includes a comprehensive introduction that summarizes some of the most important historical events and movements that defined the world of Chaucer and his pilgrims; two additional tales (Reeve's and Shipman's); introductions for each tale designed to prepare the reader for a better understanding and enjoyment of the tale; newly written and conveniently placed explanatory notes; and a new, more easily understood system for learning to pronounce Chaucerian Middle English.

From the Paperback edition.

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Excerpts-
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    The Knight's Tale 1

    Introduction

    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...

About the Author-
  • Geoffrey Chaucer was born in London about 1340, the son of a well-to-do and well-connected wine merchant. In 1360, after his capture while fighting in the French wars, Edward III paid his ransom, and later Chaucer married Philippa de Roet, a maid of honor to the queen and sister-in-law to John of Gaunt, Chaucer's patron.

    Chaucer's oeuvre is commonly divided into three periods: the French (to 1372), consisting of such works as a translation of the Roman de la Rose and The Book of the Duchess; the Italian (1372-1385), including The House of Fame, The Parliament of Fowls and Troilus and Criseyde; and the English (1385-1400), culminating in The Canterbury Tales. In 1400, he died, leaving 24 of the apparently 120 tales he had planned for his final masterpiece. Chaucer became the first of England's great men to be buried in the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey.

    Peter G. Beidler is the Lucy G. Moses Distinguished Professor of English at Lehigh University. He is the author of a dozen books and more than 150 articles. In the summer of 2005 he directed a seminar for high school teachers on Chaucer's Canterbury Comedies (the seminar was supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities). He and his wife Anne have four children.

Reviews-
  • Kirkus Reviews

    "A delight . . . [Raffel's translation] provides more opportunities to savor the counterpoint of Chaucer's earthy humor against passages of piercingly beautiful lyric poetry."

  • Billy Collins "Masterly . . . This new translation beckons us to make our own pilgrimage back to the very wellsprings of literature in our language."
  • Wall Street Journal "The Canterbury Tales has remained popular for seven centuries. It is the most approachable masterpiece of the medieval world, and Mr. Raffel's translation makes the stories even more inviting."
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    Random House Publishing Group
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