[RGC 31.] The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer

[read: the Middle Ages gettin’ freaky]

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» Must haves: Old English dictionary. Really any reading guide that can help you work through Chaucer and what is really a different language.» Pairs well with: some whimsy. I thought tunes would help, like Regina Spektor or Zee Avi, by keeping me on track and merry for more.


This British Literature class has got me feeling some type of way: freaked out about the Middle Ages. Things were weird. Social norms were wildly different. Not just different, extreme.

Take the Wife of Bath, for example. Chaucer writes her a prologue and tale, as one of the many travelers on a pilgrimage. {Pilgrimage, for the Wife of Bath (spelled ‘wif’ in the Norton edition) wasn’t necessarily religious, if you get what I mean.} Her story is basically one without conventional morals, even ones that were strange for the Middle Ages. Some consider her ideology that men are there to serve women to be feminist [read: “tried to domesticate ya” was her motto, no matter how much I hate that song], but seeing as how all of the tales are a parody on existing class structures, it might just be a comment by resident mysogynist Chaucer.

Regardless, it was something for a clerk like Chaucer to write in these narrative forms ranging from noble Knight’s tale to raunchy Miller’s tale. Chaucer actually did not complete the entire collection he had planned for The Canterbury Tales, reaching only 22 of a projected 120. At least we only had to read that many in relative Middle English, limiting my pain by many many hours. It’s not so bad when you’re reading it for class, but I believe my motivation level would’ve plummeted if this was done on my own. It’s not my pick of light reading as a genre, though it’s interesting to learn about, and it might not be yours either unless you’re all about medieval tales you need to decipher.

3 out of 10 would recommend.

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