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Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales [Hardcover]

Winthrop Wetherbee
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Nov. 24 1989 0521323312 978-0521323314
This textbook series is ambitious in scope. It provides concise and lucid introductions to major works of world literature from classical antiquity to the twentieth century. It is not confined to any single literary tradition or genre, and will cumulatively form a substantial library of textbooks on some of the most important and widely read literary masterpieces. Each book is devoted to a single work and provides a close reading of that text, as well as a full account of its historical, cultural, and intellectual background, a discussion of its influence, and a guide to further reading. The contributors to the series give full consideration to the linguistic issues raised by each text, and, within the overall framework of the series, are given complete freedom in the choice of their critical method. Where the text is written in a language other than English, full account is taken of readers studying the text in English translation. While critical jargon is avoided, important technical terminology is fully explained and thus this series will be genuinely accessible to students at all levels and to general readers.

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From Amazon

On a spring day in April--sometime in the waning years of the 14th century--29 travelers set out for Canterbury on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Thomas Beckett. Among them is a knight, a monk, a prioress, a plowman, a miller, a merchant, a clerk, and an oft-widowed wife from Bath. Travel is arduous and wearing; to maintain their spirits, this band of pilgrims entertains each other with a series of tall tales that span the spectrum of literary genres. Five hundred years later, people are still reading Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. If you haven't yet made the acquaintance of the Franklin, the Pardoner, or the Squire because you never learned Middle English, take heart: this edition of the Tales has been translated into modern idiom.

From the heroic romance of "The Knight's Tale" to the low farce embodied in the stories of the Miller, the Reeve, and the Merchant, Chaucer treated such universal subjects as love, sex, and death in poetry that is simultaneously witty, insightful, and poignant. The Canterbury Tales is a grand tour of 14th-century English mores and morals--one that modern-day readers will enjoy. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Like Charles Lamb's edition of Shakespeare, Hastings's loose prose translation of seven of Chaucer's tales is more faithful to the work's plot than to the poet's language. This is not a prudish retelling (even the bawdy Miller's tale is included here) but the vigor of Chaucer's text is considerably tamed. In the original, the pilgrims possess unique voices, but here the tone is uniformly bookish. The colloquial speech of the storyteller is replaced by formal prose; for example, while Cohen (see review above) directly translates Chaucer's "domb as a stoon" as "silent as stones," Hastings writes "in solemn silence." Cartwright's startling paintings skillfully suggest the stylized flatness of a medieval canvas, but often without the accompanying richness of detail. Like Punch and Judy puppets, the faces and voices of these pilgrims are generally representative but lack the life and charm of the original text. Ages 10-up.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Passable Version, but... June 13 2004
While this is one of the better translations of The Tales I've seen, it's still unfortunately a translation. Even with a perfect translation, much of the rhyming and character of the original is lost. On the other hand, you can also lose much of the essence of the story by reading the Middle English text simply because the vocabulary can be so different (even though most of the time you can guess the meaning). Your best bet is to buy a copy of The Tales that keeps the original text but adds a line-by-line translation. The book may be twice as thick, but this way you can both read it the way Chaucer intended it to be, and read the translation right under the original words in case you're completely baffled by the vocabulary. I recently found a copy like that at a garage sale for 50 cents. It was the best 50 cents I've spent in a long time.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Good Translation but still disappointed Dec 10 1999
By A Customer
This version of the Canterbury Tales in modern English is brilliant. Nonetheless I was deeply disappointed in finding that the Parson's Tale was omitted completely, the reason being that "it does not interest the general public". I disagree with such a sweeping statement.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable translation June 20 2004
I enjoy the translation. I think it's ideal for the classroom. I can appreciate the tales that are streamlined for ease. It's very easy to follow.
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5.0 out of 5 stars It's *Chaucer*, For God's Sake! Oct. 2 2003
By A Customer
Over the years, this book has been banned upways, sideways, and down. Thanks to the Comstock Law (1873), Geoffrey Chaucer's 'The Canterbury Tales' was prohibited for sale in the United States due to sexual situations and swearing. (In other words, the fun parts.) It continues to be abridged for content and language across the United States.
I read Canterbury Tales a while ago. It was an abridged edition. Severely abridged. Entire sections and tales were cut out, for PC and conservative reasons both. I reread it in an unabridged edition, and while even a truncated Chaucer is beautiful, I see how much I missed.
Yes, the Tales may be anti-semitic and sexist and Chaucer probably killed puppies just to see their expressions. It's still a beautiful example of writing. Rather than limit himself to portraying the upper classes and more refined manners, Chaucer elected to portray "low" manners and tastes as well, giving a more complete picture of life as he saw it. The completeness of the Tales for that time period blows me away.
It's long, but it's worth it. If you can, find an edition that keeps as much of the original language and slang as possible. It's slower reading, but his skill shines through.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Stories are good, but syntax is lacking Sept. 6 2003
Format:Audio Cassette
While the 'Tales' in this volume are no less amusing and relevant, I would have preferred for it to have been read in Middle English, maintaining the original flow and meter (which is not that hard to understand after hearing it for a while).
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5.0 out of 5 stars Classic Chaucer!! July 19 2003
By A Customer
When everyone says that Chaucer's Canterbury Tales are among the best of his time, I must agree. Chaucer was set with the task of creating tales told by "nine and twenty" people, and although these tales were never completed, the edition we do have is quite enjoyable. These twenty-nine characters, from the knight to the pardoner, describe everyday occupations during the medieval period. Chaucer uses sharp wit and occasional dirty humor to emphasize the moral lessons each tale teaches. Not only do the tales themselves teach us, but the characters that tell them. Chaucer has been brilliant to create the exalted knight, gentle prioress, rowdy miller, lively squire, and more! If you want to experience such an absorbing classic you must read it yourself!
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic! June 10 2003
This is a wonderful, hilarious book! Granted, it is not an easy read, but if you are a good reader or don't mind working through the old language, you will find this to be a very funny book. It also takes some understanding of the period it was written in. Without that understanding and the aforementioned traits, you may find this book to be "a waste of time". Rent the movie A Knight's Tale to see appearances by Chaucer, the Summoner, and the Prior. This movie, despite being somewhat fluffy and anachronistic, does have some elements of The Canterbury Tales which, after reading the book, you may notice.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Very Approachable! June 2 2003
Having tried to wade through a "non-modern english" version of The Canterbury Tales, I appreciate this book. It brings out Chaucer's playful language in a way that's more entertaining, because it's easier to understand. Re-reading some of the stories in this book, I was surprised by beautiful statements, amusing turns of phrase, and the sheer bawdiness of his writing.
However, I gave this book three stars first becuase I don't put Chaucer on a level with Spenser or Malory, and second because this is a standard Penguin book, which means it's more stripped down than I like. I prefer footnotes to explain references that I might not be able to take in context. In something as heavily alligorical as Chaucer's work, I believe this is very important.
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