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Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343-1400), born in London, England, is often considered the greatest English poet of the middle ages and the 'father of English literature'. Throughout his life, Chaucer maintained a successful career in the civil service, including roles as a noblewoman's page, a courtier and a diplomat, and later achieved fame for his extensive body of poetry and philosophy. Perhaps the best known of these is his unfinished work The Canterbury Tales, a collection of stories told by 24 fictional pilgrims in a story-telling competition as they journey to Canterbury to visit the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket.
I haven't read all 24 stories from The Canterbury Tales, however I did study a number at A Level, and all these years later they are still with me. I initially marched over the words, puzzled the meaning, took the structure apart, but, but… Then the moment arrived when it all became clear! I actually saw five of the tales performed in a play using traditional language and a vivid, vibrant clarity appeared and gave meaning. From then on I would read the stories out loud and I could understand the pattern, the feel, the thoughts, the greed, corruption and saucy moments. These are wondrous tales, let yourself fall into them as they come to life in a way that could well open your eyes, they certainly opened mine.
This facsimile edition is a complete reproduction of the most reliable of the medieval manuscripts of The Canterbury Tales-the Hengwrt Manuscript (or Peniarth 392 D), now in the National Library of Wales, in Aberystwyth, Cardiganshire. Because it is to serve as the basic text of the Tales for the projected multivolume Variorum Edition of Chaucer's complete works, much deliberation was given to the choice of the Hengwrt Manuscript. Scribed in the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century, it is one of the earliest extant manuscripts of the Tales.
Part TwentyOf all Chaucer's tales in the Canterbury Group, The Prioress's Tale of the Virgin Mary and the murdered child ranks among the most popular and surely the most admired for its artistry. Nonetheless, it has encountered its fair share of somewhat hostile criticism on purely social and cultural grounds, owing in part to a negative evaluation of the Prioress herself (she is seen by some as a shallow person who does not recognize the harmful implications of her utterances), in part to the anti-Semitic cast of the tale. Beverly Boyd's tough-minded, crisp approach to the tale enables her to present an overview of the great diversity of scholarship in both the sympathetic and hostile approaches to the work; to examine its strongest ingredients, the liturgical borrowings that form a kind of subtext; and thus to offer a balanced view of one of Chaucer's most carefully crafted poems. Her examination of the sources and analogues, of Miracles of the Virgin, of considerations of style and structure, along with a full treatment of the textual tradition of the Prioress's Sequence and an unusually full corpus of explanatory notes, taken together, provide a rich and complete edition of the tale, one that will prove to be of exceptional value for the teacher and the scholar.
Part TwelveIn the list of scholarly problems it presents, The Squire's Tale ranks among the highest in The Canterbury Tales. Being incomplete and coming to a halt on a baffling note-was it in fact evolving into a tale of incest?-the tale has undergone the most remarkable shift in critic acceptance of any of Chaucer's works. This tale of oriental wonder, with its strong base in magic, excited the admiration of Chaucer's contemporaries and inspired Spenser's imitative speculation and Milton's famous desire that the old poet be summoned up to finish his task. It retained for the eighteenth and most of the nineteenth centuries its Gothic fascination, being ranked with the very best of Chaucer's work. In the second half of the twentieth century, it has been seen from a number of provocative perspectives. Is it a parody of the long Eastern romance? Is it a satire on the values of an aristocracy whose time is past? Is it a rhetorical joke on Chaucer's part, extending the character of the young Squire into an earnest and somewhat naive competition with his father, the Knight? The concerns of contemporary scholarship reveal as much about the critical temper of the time as about the work itself. On its own merits The Squire's Tale compels our attention as an example of Chaucer's wide-ranging and sometimes inscrutable genius. It provides us with an exotic literary type not otherwise represented in the Tales. It reverberates, in its discussion of 'gentilesse' with other such discussions in Chaucer's poetry; it demonstrates, in its use of the love-vision and the complaint, the experimental ways in which Chaucer handles the conventions of French poetry. Perhaps most fascinating is the range of Chaucer's mind revealed by the casual uses of the science of his time: its knowledge of meteorology, optics, glass and metal work, astrology, and astronomy. The tale offers yet one more example of Chaucer's genius at work, speaking to us in a voice that is at once suggestive, provocative, and mystifying as always.
Part SevenOnce reviled as an example of Chaucer at his most tasteless and omitted from some editions of The Canterbury Tales, this scatological anecdote has over time been accorded genuine admiration, first grudging and finally unabashed. As in The Miller's Tale, Chaucer has elaborated a simple fart joke into pungent satire against human foibles. Here too, through subtle references to religious lore, Chaucer transforms mere vulgarity into a truly clever jest and, in the opinion of some critics, a serious commentary on important issues. The particular target of the tale's satire is a friar who is so blinded by greed, hypocrisy, and anger that he cannot see how others perceive him.
Part OneThis monumental edition, in two volumes, presents a full record of commentary, both textual and interpretive, on the best known and most widely studied part of Chaucer's work, The General Prologue of The Canterbury Tales. Part One A contains a critical commentary, a textual commentary, text, collations, textual notes, an appendix of sources for the first eighteen lines of The General Prologue, and a bibliographical index. Because most explication of The General Prologue is directed to particular points, details, and passages, the present edition has devoted Part One B to the record of such commentary. This volume, compiled by Malcolm Andrew, also includes overviews of commentary on coherent passages such as the portraits of the pilgrims.
A Treatise the Astrolabe by Geoffrey Chaucer is the work of an avid amateur astronomer who happened also to be England's greatest medieval poet. A user of the astrolabe can plot the movement of the stars, tell time, and calculate numerous other results. Chaucer translated and revised a standard Latin treatment of the astrolabe. His treatise, which is generally regarded as one of the first technical manuals in English and a model of how technical manuals should be written.Not since 1872 has a free-standing edition of A Treatise the Astrolabe been published. Thanks to the expertise of its editor, Sigmund Eisner, who supplies sixty-eight illustrations, this Variorum edition provides a more detailed exposition than previously available. Eisner's extensive labors result in the first complete record of textual variants found in the thirty-two surviving manuscripts of the work and in all the major printed text published between 1532 and 1987. This landmark edition also presents a thorough digest of all published commentary on Chaucer's treatise. Amplified by sixty-eight illustrations, this variorum edition of Chaucer's A Treatise on the Astrolabe provides a more detailed exposition of the treatise than has ever before been available.
The Romaunt of the Rose translates in abridged form a long dream vision, part elegant romance, part rollicking satire, written in France during the thirteenth century. The French original, Le Roman de la Rose, had a profound influence on Chaucer, who says he translated the work. From the sixteenth century to the mid-nineteenth, scholars assumed that the Romaunt comprised large fragments of that translation. Subsequent debates have divided the Romaunt into two or three segments, and proffered arguments that Chaucer was responsible for one or more of them, or for none. The current consensus is that he almost certainly wrote the first 1,705 lines.Charles Dahlberg's edition of the Romaunt provides a full summary of scholarship on the question of authorship as well as other important topics, including a useful survey of the influence of the French poem on Chaucer.
The Wife of Bath is the most vibrant character in The Canterbury Tales - and arguably the most famous. In creating his brilliant portrayal of the talkative wife, Chaucer weaves a dazzling array of allusions to biblical, classical, patristic, and vernacular sources. These two volumes - the most recent contribution to the Variorum Chaucer series - integrate six hundred years of scholarship on The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale. Editors Mark Allen and John H. Fisher present a comprehensive record of the textual traditions of the tale and of the critical commentary from the earliest manuscripts to the mid-1990s. Part A (the first volume) includes the text of Chaucer's poem, accompanied by exhaustive collation of the ten most valuable manuscript witnesses to the text and all twenty-two of the major editions. Also included in Part A are an introduction to the text, and extensive discussions of sources and analogues, genres, theoretical approaches, and major themes. A bibliographical index concludes the scholarly apparatus in Part A. In Part B (the second volume), the editors present a line-by-line, often word-by-word, record of the legacy of Chaucer's text, including variants, glosses, editors' notes, and observations by scholars through the ages.
Assembling at the Tabard Inn in Southwark, a group of pilgrims begin their journey to Canterbury Cathedral. To entertain themselves on the long road, their host suggests that they regale each other with stories, with the teller of the best tale set to earn a free supper. The pilgrims correspond to all sections of medieval society, from the crusading knight to the drunken cook, and their tales span a range of genres, including the comic ribaldry and deception of 'The Miller's Tale' and the story of chivalry and courtly romance told by the Franklin. Unfinished at the time of his death, The Canterbury Tales is widely regarded as Chaucer's masterpiece and one of the greatest and most influential works in English literature. This edition contains a wealth of material and over 3,000 notes which will help all students of Chaucer's masterpiece.