Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Canterbury Tales - Chaucer

Note: this only deals with a handful of the stories, not the full work.

I think that I read some of the Canterbury Tales while in high school, but that was some time ago.  I'm sure we focused on the Middle English and how close it is to the modern stuff.  (I went with a translation and peeked at the original language from time to time.)  I doubt that we focused on the quality of the story telling.  I don't remember if we talked about the window that Chaucer presented of his times.
Chaucer opens with a prologue in which he introduces all of the party.  They are on a pilgrimage to Canterbury.  A holy pilgrimage.  He writes some lines about each, that makes each one a specific person.  They come from different levels of society and with many kinds of jobs (some that are virtually unknown today). 
Their host suggests that they pass the time by telling stories.  They agree and draw lots to see who will go first.  The Knight does and he tells a story of courtly love.  It's a story of two brothers who fall in love with the same woman.  There is conflict and death and a certain beauty to it.
This is followed by the Miller who tells one of the dirtiest stories that I've ever read.  Probably the only thing to challenge it in all of the Great Books is certain parts of Rabelais.  I won't relate it here, but seek it out if you're curious.  I literally laughed out loud.
The other sections I read (Reeve, Wife of Bath, Friar, Summoner and Pardoner) were all very good.  Very interesting.  Very earthy.  Chaucer presents very real people, for good or ill.  His 'holy' people are not necessarily holy, for instance.  In fact, it's hard not to think that this caused him some trouble.  Chaucer did not finish the work but he did add an apology at the end of what he did finish.

Years ago, way back in Year One, I hypothesized that one of the strongest strands of Western Philosophy is the willingness to call out the powers that be.  Chaucer does just that.  He must have been unpopular amongst the powerful, especially the church powerful, of his time.  Well, probably publicly unpopular.  I bet that the bishops all had private copies of the Canterbury tales that they would read when they wanted a chuckle...

1 comment:

  1. It is once in a while contended that the best commitment The Canterbury Tales made to English writing was in promoting the artistic utilization of the vernacular, English, as opposed to French, Italian or Latin. English had, be that as it may, been utilized as a scholarly dialect hundreds of years before Chaucer's chance, and a few of Chaucer's counterparts—John Gower, William Langland, the Pearl Poet, and Julian of Norwich—additionally composed major abstract works in English. It is indistinct to what degree Chaucer was in charge of beginning a pattern rather than just being a piece of it.