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Canterbury Tales Hardcover – November 6, 2007

4.2 out of 5 stars 323 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Chartwell Books, Inc. (November 6, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0785823123
  • ISBN-13: 978-0785823124
  • Product Dimensions: 11.8 x 9.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (323 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #819,875 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Michael Wischmeyer on July 15, 2000
Format: Paperback
Over some period I have read several translations of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. My first experience, selections in a high school text, was not promising. (Perhaps, I was not yet ready for Chaucer.) Translating poetry from one language to another is difficult and often unsuccessful. Translating Chaucer from Middle English is not much easier. English has changed dramatically in the last 600 years, to the point that Middle English is nearly indecipherable. For example, we read Chaucer's description of the Knight's appearance:

Of fustian he wered a gipoun (Of coarse cloth he wore a doublet)
Al bismotered with his habergeoun (All rust-spotted by his coat-of-mail)

A glossary, diligence, and time are required for reading the original Chaucer. If you choose to do so, the Riverside Chaucer edition (edited by L. Benson) and the Norton Critical Edition (edited by Olson and Kolve) are highly recommended. The Signet Classic paperback edited by D. R. Howard modernizes the spelling a bit, but largely adheres to the original Chaucer and is an easier introduction to Middle English.

Although in most cases the instructor assigns a particular version of Canterbury Tales, it can be exceedingly helpful to pick-up an additional version or two. A slightly different translation may entirely surprise you, even resonate with you, making Chaucer much more enjoyable. I suggest that you look for these versions:

Selected Canterbury Tales, Dover Thrift edition - provides a poetic, rather than literal interpretation, and is quite readable. The collection of tales is fairly small, however.

Canterbury Tales, Penguin edition, translated by Nevill Coghill, is an excellent poetic translation.
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Format: Paperback
The question is not whether to read the Canterbury Tales, but whether to read them in this translation -- or whether to go for the Middle English with all its difficulties.

I'm a purist. As a Chaucer teacher myself, I'd say read the tales in the Riverside Chaucer or in the Norton Critcal editon with lots of footnotes. But, yes, that is harder, and I'd rather see readers get some experience than none.

So, if you are going to compromise, Nevill Coghill's poetic translation is really as good a place to go as any. You will get the basic sense of Chaucer's verse; you'll get the basic rhymes and rhythms too. This is the translation that's used in most high school classes, and in many college survey classes that don't read the text in the original. It's really a fine compromise -- not only a good place to start, but also a decent trot if you are struggling with the Middle English.

You can find some closer translations of some of the tales online if you look up Michael Murphy's websites. But for all their virtues, they don't have the smoothness of Coghill's renditions; Murphy's translations are not the complete Tales; and it's clunky to print them out. This economical edition is probably still the best place to start with Chaucer, father of English poetry and the originator of comedy in the English language.
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Format: Paperback
The version of this classic I read was a translation into modern English by Nevill Coghill. As you can see above, I awarded Chaucer (and the translation) five stars; but I do have a criticism. This translation (and many other publications of Chaucer) do not contain the two prose tales ("The Tale of Melibee" and "The Parson's Tale"). These are rarely read and I understand the publisher's and the translator's desire to keep the book to a managable size. Still, that should be the readers decision and no one else's. I had to go to the University library and get a complete copy in order to read those sections. As I mentioned, this copy is a translation into modern English. However, I do recommend that readers take a look at the Middle English version, at least of the Prologue. Many years ago, when I was in high school, my teacher had the entire class memorize the first part of the Prologue in the original Middle English. Almost forty years later, I still know it. I am always stunned at how beautiful, fluid, and melodic the poetry is, even if you don't understand the words. Twenty-nine pilgrims meet in the Tabard Inn in Southwark on their way to Canterbury. The host suggests that the pilgrims tell four stories each in order to shorten the trip (the work is incomplete in that only twenty-four stories are told). The tales are linked by narrative exchanges and each tale is presented in the manner and style of the character providing the story. This book was a major influence on literature. In fact, the development of the "short story" format owes much to these tales.Read more ›
3 Comments 166 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Paperback
Over some period I have read several translations of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. My first experience, selections in a high school text, was not promising. (Possibly, I was not yet ready for Chaucer.) Translating poetry from one language to another is difficult and often unsuccessful. Translating Chaucer from Middle English is not much easier. English has changed dramatically in the last 600 years, to the point that Middle English is nearly indecipherable. For example, we read Chaucer's description of the Knight's appearance:

Of fustian he wered a gipoun (Of coarse cloth he wore a doublet)
Al bismotered with his habergeoun (All rust-spotted by his coat-of-mail)

A glossary, persistence, and considerable time are required for reading the original Chaucer. If you choose to do so, the Riverside Chaucer edition (edited by L. Benson) and the Norton Critical Edition (edited by Olson and Kolve) are highly recommended. The Signet Classic paperback (edited by D. R. Howard) modernizes the spelling a bit, but still largely adheres to the original Chaucer.

Although your instructor will most likely assign a particular edition of Canterbury Tales, it can be exceedingly helpful to pick-up an additional version or two. A slightly different translation may entirely surprise you, may even resonate with you, making Chaucer much more enjoyable. I suggest that you look for these versions:

Canterbury Tales, Penguin edition, translated by Nevill Coghill, is an excellent poetic translation. It is a complete collection arranged by Group A thru H. It also includes The Parson's Prologue, The Parson's Tale in synopsis, and Chaucer's Retractions. Coghill's translation remains my favorite.
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