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The Canterbury Tales


A Collection of Chaucers' poems written in the 14th Century.

Edited for Popular Perusal by D. Laing Purves


The object of this volume is to place before the general reader our two early poetic masterpieces -- The Canterbury Tales and The Faerie Queen; to do so in a way that will render their "popular perusal" easy in a time of little leisure and unbounded temptations to intellectual languor; and, on the same conditions, to present a liberal and fairly representative selection from the less important and familiar poems of Chaucer and Spenser. There is, it may be said at the outset, peculiar advantage and propriety in placing the two poets side by side in the manner now attempted for the first time. Although two centuries divide them, yet Spenser is the direct and really the immediate successor to the poetical inheritance of Chaucer. Those two hundred years, eventful as they were, produced no poet at all worthy to take up the mantle that fell from Chaucer's shoulders; and Spenser does not need his affected archaisms, nor his frequent and reverent appeals to "Dan Geffrey," to vindicate for himself a place very close to his great predecessor in the literary history of England. If Chaucer is the "Well of English undefiled," Spenser is the broad and stately river that yet holds the tenure of its very life from the fountain far away in other and ruder scenes.

The Canterbury Tales, so far as they are in verse, have been printed without any abridgement or designed change in the sense. But the two Tales in prose -- Chaucer's Tale of Meliboeus, and the Parson's long Sermon on Penitence -- have been contracted, so as to exclude thirty pages of unattractive prose, and to admit the same amount of interesting and characteristic poetry. The gaps thus made in the prose Tales, however, are supplied by careful outlines of the omitted matter, so that the reader need be at no loss to comprehend the whole scope and sequence of the original. With The Faerie Queen a bolder course has been pursued. The great obstacle to the popularity of Spencer's splendid work has lain less in its language than in its length. If we add together the three great poems of antiquity -- the twenty-four books of the Iliad, the twenty-four books of the Odyssey, and the twelve books of the Aeneid -- we get at the dimensions of only one-half of The Faerie Queen. The six books, and the fragment of a seventh, which alone exist of the author's contemplated twelve, number about 35,000 verses; the sixty books of Homer and Virgil number no more than 37,000. The mere bulk of the poem, then, has opposed a formidable barrier to its popularity; to say nothing of the distracting effect produced by the numberless episodes, the tedious narrations, and the constant repetitions, which have largely swelled that bulk. In this volume the poem is compressed into two-thirds of its original space, through the expedient of representing the less interesting and more mechanical passages by a condensed prose outline, in which it has been sought as far as possible to preserve the very words of the poet. While deprecating a too critical judgement on the bare and constrained precis standing in such trying juxtaposition, it is hoped that the labour bestowed in saving the reader the trouble of wading through much that is not essential for the enjoyment of Spencer's marvellous allegory, will not be unappreciated.

As regards the manner in which the text of the two great works, especially of The Canterbury Tales, is presented, the Editor is aware that some whose judgement is weighty will differ from him. This volume has been prepared "for popular perusal;" and its very raison d'etre would have failed, if the ancient orthography had been retained. It has often been affirmed by editors of Chaucer in the old forms of the language, that a little trouble at first would render the antiquated spelling and obsolete inflections a continual source, not of difficulty, but of actual delight, for the reader coming to the study of Chaucer without any preliminary acquaintance with the English of his day -- or of his copyists' days. Despite this complacent assurance, the obvious fact is, that Chaucer in the old forms has not become popular, in the true sense of the word; he is not "understanded of the vulgar." In this volume, therefore, the text of Chaucer has been presented in nineteenth-century garb. But there has been not the slightest attempt to "modernise" Chaucer, in the wider meaning of the phrase; to replace his words by words which he did not use; or, following the example of some operators, to translate him into English of the modern spirit as well as the modern forms. So far from that, in every case where the old spelling or form seemed essential to metre, to rhyme, or meaning, no change has been attempted. But, wherever its preservation was not essential, the spelling of the monkish transcribers -- for the most ardent purist must now despair of getting at the spelling of Chaucer himself -- has been discarded for that of the reader's own day. It is a poor compliment to the Father of English Poetry, to say that by such treatment the bouquet and individuality of his works must be lost. If his masterpiece is valuable for one thing more than any other, it is the vivid distinctness with which English men and women of the fourteenth century are there painted, for the study of all the centuries to follow. But we wantonly balk the artist's own purpose, and discredit his labour, when we keep before his picture the screen of dust and cobwebs which, for the English people in these days, the crude forms of the infant language have practically become. Shakespeare has not suffered by similar changes; Spencer has not suffered; it would be surprising if Chaucer should suffer, when the loss of popular comprehension and favour in his case are necessarily all the greater for his remoteness from our day. In a much smaller degree -- since previous labours in the same direction had left far less to do -- the same work has been performed for the spelling of Spenser; and the whole endeavour in this department of the Editor's task has been, to present a text plain and easily intelligible to the modern reader, without any injustice to the old poet. It would be presumptuous to believe that in every case both ends have been achieved together; but the laudatores temporis acti - the students who may differ most from the plan pursued in this volume -- will best appreciate the difficulty of the enterprise, and most leniently regard any failure in the details of its accomplishment.

With all the works of Chaucer, outside The Canterbury Tales, it would have been absolutely impossible to deal within the scope of this volume. But nearly one hundred pages, have been devoted to his minor poems; and, by dint of careful selection and judicious abridgement -- a connecting outline of the story in all such cases being given -- the Editor ventures to hope that he has presented fair and acceptable specimens of Chaucer's workmanship in all styles. The preparation of this part of the volume has been a laborious task; no similar attempt on the same scale has been made; and, while here also the truth of the text in matters essential has been in nowise sacrificed to mere ease of perusal, the general reader will find opened up for him a new view of Chaucer and his works. Before a perusal of these hundred pages, will melt away for ever the lingering tradition or prejudice that Chaucer was only, or characteristically, a coarse buffoon, who pandered to a base and licentious appetite by painting and exaggerating the lowest vices of his time. In these selections -- made without a thought of taking only what is to the poet's credit from a wide range of poems in which hardly a word is to his discredit -- we behold Chaucer as he was; a courtier, a gallant, pure-hearted gentleman, a scholar, a philosopher, a poet of gay and vivid fancy, playing around themes of chivalric convention, of deep human interest, or broad-sighted satire. In The Canterbury Tales, we see, not Chaucer, but Chaucer's times and neighbours; the artist has lost himself in his work. To show him honestly and without disguise, as he lived his own life and sung his own songs at the brilliant Court of Edward III, is to do his memory a moral justice far more material than any wrong that can ever come out of spelling. As to the minor poems of Spenser, which follow The Faerie Queen, the choice has been governed by the desire to give at once the most interesting, and the most characteristic of the poet's several styles; and, save in the case of the Sonnets, the poems so selected are given entire. It is manifest that the endeavours to adapt this volume for popular use, have been already noticed, would imperfectly succeed without the aid of notes and glossary, to explain allusions that have become obsolete, or antiquated words which it was necessary to retain. An endeavour has been made to render each page self- explanatory, by placing on it all the glossarial and illustrative notes required for its elucidation, or -- to avoid repetitions that would have occupied space -- the references to the spot where information may be found. The great advantage of such a plan to the reader, is the measure of its difficulty for the editor. It permits much more flexibility in the choice of glossarial explanations or equivalents; it saves the distracting and time- consuming reference to the end or the beginning of the book; but, at the same time, it largely enhances the liability to error. The Editor is conscious that in the 12,000 or 13,000 notes, as well as in the innumerable minute points of spelling, accentuation, and rhythm, he must now and again be found tripping; he can only ask any reader who may detect all that he could himself point out as being amiss, to set off against inevitable mistakes and misjudgements, the conscientious labour bestowed on the book, and the broad consideration of its fitness for the object contemplated.

From books the Editor has derived valuable help; as from Mr Cowden Clarke's revised modern text of The Canterbury Tales, published in Mr Nimmo's Library Edition of the English Poets; from Mr Wright's scholarly edition of the same work; from the indispensable Tyrwhitt; from Mr Bell's edition of Chaucer's Poem; from Professor Craik's "Spenser and his Poetry," published twenty-five years ago by Charles Knight; and from many others. In the abridgement of the Faerie Queen, the plan may at first sight seem to be modelled on the lines of Mr Craik's painstaking condensation; but the coincidences are either inevitable or involuntary. Many of the notes, especially of those explaining classical references and those attached to the minor poems of Chaucer, have been prepared specially for this edition. The Editor leaves his task with the hope that his attempt to remove artificial obstacles to the popularity of England's earliest poets, will not altogether miscarry.


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Recent Forum Posts on The Canterbury Tales

Are the Tales a finished work?

I've read conflicting things from online sources, some say there's no answer to the question of whether they are a finished work, others say no, yet another source says GC planned 100 stories. So if this last source says that, then how is it not known whether they are finished? EDIT: I just ran across another source that says 120 stories were planned! Which is it!

Thoughts on Wife of Bath and Pardoner's Tale

I was reflecting on The Wife of Bath and also The Pardoner's Tale today in a class of mine and I wanted to present a thought that I had to see what you all make of it. Since the Canterbury Tales are a collection of poems about a group of people going on a religious pilgrimage, it would usually be assumed that the members of the group would be pious, religious, devout, and well moraled individuals. However, in many cases, this is not true. In the Wife of Bath and The Pardoner's Tale, religion and the personality of the main characters seem to be at odds with each other. In The Wife of Bath, the Wife is a woman who uses religion to justify her philosophy that women should be allowed to marry as many times as she may choose. She also uses her sexuality and her position as a wife to control her husbands. However, while she is going against the values of her Christian society, she is using the Bible to support her lifestyle. While the rest of the community thinks she is absurd, she feels what she is doing is not at odds with the Bible. In her mind, her actions are acceptable and can coexist with Christian teachings. The Pardoner, on the other hand, is a holy man who admits openly to going against the Bible entirely. He admits that his job, as a pardoner, is not to encourage people to become better or to abstain from sin, but to make himself rich. He admits to committing, without apology, nearly every one of the 7 deadly sins and he even goes so far as to say that he would steal from the poorest page, the widow, and even a starving child if it meant that he would gain from the process. Do you think this is coincidental or is Chaucer giving us some sort of hint into his own views of his Christian society or even gender? The Wife of Bath, who is a woman, believes in a very socially unacceptable lifestyle, yet still holds true to her Christian values. On the outside, she is strange. On the inside, she is a Christian. On the contrary, the Pardoner, who is a man, is open about conning his community. He, on the outside, gives the impression that he is holy, but on the inside is very rotten. *I apologize for any typos/grammar in this post. I am typing quickly since I have to go to class soon*

Pardoner's Tale, The Musical.

For school, we had to do a project, and so I wrote a rap about the Pardoner's Tale (in no way similar to the raps already running rampant!). Pardon my poor singing (eh, eh pardon, get it? =) ). Here is the video if you are interested.

The Clerk's Tale: Who is the truer villian?

To give a brief recap of The Clerk's Tale: A marquis who has been enjoying his life of bachelorhood is eventually pressured into marriage out of the need to produce an heir to be lord of the land after his death. He happens to see a beautiful young village girl Griselda and falls in love with her, and in her agreement to marry him he makes her swear a vow that she will be unquestionably obedient to him and that they will always be of one mind and she will have no will against his own and never defy or disagree with him whether he brings pleasure or woe. After they are married though he feels the need to put his wife's obedience and oath to the test, and tells her that he must take her daughter away to be killed, giving some story about the publics disapproval of their marriage (Which is a lie he made up to give reason for his actions) and so she pretty says, yes of course dear, if you say that killing our daughter is best, than be all means I support you in your choice do what you must. But of course that is not enough for him so they have another child, a son this time, and once more he comes to her with the same basic story telling her that he has to take her son away to be killed, and again she compliantly agrees without so much batting an eye and with a smile on her face. Though he does not actually have the children killed but rather just sends them away at the time she does not know this and is not told and sincerely believes that both her children have been killed by the order of her husband. Eventually in a final last test he does reveal the truth and reunites her with her children and they live happily ever after (of course). Grieslda is meant to appear to be this pure, virtuous woman who is a great heroine for her long suffering patience and her steadfast obedience to her husband's wishes and her unquestionable devotion while being subject to such cruel treatment by her husband whom does not have proper fait in her love and obedience is intended to be sympathetic. Everyone is suppose to applaud Grieslda for her consistency and sigh as she endears without resentment toward her lord, whose love she keeps in her heart no matter what he may do or demand of her. But I found Grieslda to be absolutely despicable and I think between the two she is by fore the worse villain over her husband. She is perfectly willingly to stand by idly and watch her children be led off to slaughter (as she sincerely believes is what is to be their fate) all in the name of a vow she gave her husband, but does not the bond of motherhood, and should not the natural need and desire to nurture and protect ones own children come before any mortal vow given to a man? Is not her betrayal to her children whom are innocent and rely upon her protection and her love, and whom nature demands she should preserve at any personal sacrifice and any cost to herself supersede devotion to her husband when his actions are of the most vile unjust nature? And even in his need to have ultimate loyalty, and well complete and total power over his wife and to hold her very will within his hands, truly love and respect a woman who would be so willing to stand by and allow their children to be killed.

The Wife of Bath a Feminist?

I have to say thus far I do find the Wife of Bath's tale to be the most intriguing within the Canterbury collection, though I do believe one of the other stories, though I cannot recall just off the top of my head which, did make a reference to the idea of women equality the Wife of Bath was certainly most forthwith and blatant about such ideas. The first thing which I found to be quite compelling, is in her prologue she seems almost to allude to idea of female polygamy, as she herself has had 5 husbands, though in her own case each of her previous husbands died before she remarried again, (it almost made me wonder if she was some sort of black widow, it seemed awful suspicious how many times her husbands kept dying) but as she was telling the story of her own many multiple marriage as well as her sexual prowess and seductive skill, she made direct references to stories of men who had harems, or multiple wives and polygamous relationships. The other thing which really stood out at me as she was unwinding her tale, was when she mentioned that her last husband was 20 I think it was, while she herself was 40 years old. Even in this day age, while accepted in society for older women to marry younger men, it is still against the usual convention, and perhaps even still to a degree frowned upon or at least rises an eyebrow. Then within the tale of which she tells, the whole moral behind her story is that what women desire most is sovereignty and the wish for equality to men and an equal partnership in marriage. That women not be restrained, or told where they can and cannot go or what to do and not do.

The wife of bath's tale --space/place

I need to find examples of Space and Place within the Wife of Bath's Tale Space being what is unknown to the characters (geographical areas or knowledge) Place being what is known, again geographical or knowledge. For The Wife of Bath'a tale: So far i have that the knight will not leave the kingdom because the surrounding area is space, and he will lose his knighthood. That the kingdom he lives in is place. the knowledge of what women want is space. and when he learns that women want control over their husbands that becomes place. And that the future is space, since it is unknown. Even though the wife promises fidelity and beauty if it will last this is unknown (space) Can you please help me find more examples? I need to write a 6 page essay. Thanks.

Canterbury question????????

Explain the game that is to be played on the way to Canterbury and on the return journey? 2. There is one person in the party who Chaucer seems to have a crush on who is it and what in the text give you that impression? 3. At the end of the story Chaucer ask for forgiveness. Why? what is he worried about Please answer i need atleast 5 sentence in each question.

canterbury tales

I'm about to give The Canterbury Tales a go. Is it difficult? I know it will take a bit of time and effort- is it worth it? I don't know much about Chaucer tbh. I mean, I know he is seen as the first great writer in the English language, but is he more than a mere stepping stone on the way to Shakespeare and the Elizabethan writers? Does his stuff possess intellectual depth and profundity, or is he just a bawdy comic writer?

chaucers writing style

I NEED TO KNOW CHUACERS Different writing styles! such as prose and such...

Canterbury Tales

I need help with a few of the characters. I need to find the reason of why the following characters are heading to the Canterbury cathedral. Monk Friar Merchant Oxford Cleric Serjeant at the Law Franklin. I got the rest...Please help? :]

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