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.
This carefully researched and lively edition of a part of Chaucer's masterwork is richly and beautifully produced. While Cohen admits that ``Chaucer's words are best,'' her prose adaptation of four of his tales captures the zest and vigor of Middle English and makes his stories accessible to the modern child. This is not a pedantic translation or a bowdlerized retelling; Cohen does not substitute weak cliches for Chaucer's rollicking and earthy metaphors, nor does she sacrifice the rhythms of his text. Readers hear the bickering of the pilgrims as they decide on which tale they want to hear next, and the rambling voice of the good Sir John as he laments Chaunticleer's fate. Hyman's meticulous drawings not only evoke the rich panoply of 14th century England, but they are faithful to the text in the smallest detail. Each pilgrim is made particular: we see the Pardoner's limp hanks of hair and the Wife of Bath's gap-toothed smile and dainty ankle. One could not ask for a more enticing introduction to Chaucer's world. Ages 10-up. (Oct.)
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
November 17, 2008
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
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.