Sunday, 2 November 2008

The Canterbury Tales

In 1400 Geoffery Chaucer (c1340-1400) died, having failed to complete his 14 year old project, The Canterbury Tales. In ten fragments, 17,000 lines long, this was a collection of tales, written in English prose and verse told by different pilgrims (including Chaucer himself). They met at Tabard Inn, Southwark then told their stories on their way to Thomas Becket's tomb in Canterbury. By the time of Chaucer death twenty-four tales had been told. The English poet had intended 31 pilgrims would tell two tales each on their way to Canterbury and another two on their way back. Despite not completing it, The Canterbury Tales became the best known and most innovative piece of medieval English literature.

Here are six reasons why Chaucer why was the greatest and most influential English poet of the Middle Ages:

(1) Chaucer produced the first real English poetry. Many call him the Father of English poetry & English literature.

(2) The popularity of Chaucer's work, especially during his spell as court poet, ensured the dominance of the southern English dialect (London area) in literature.

(3) Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde (1385) is a tragic, witty love story adapted from a Boccaccio romance. Some have called it the first modern novel, so complex is it's characterisation.

(4) Among the phrases we use today that Chaucer originated are:

"Thanne is it wisdom as it thinketh me to make virtu of necessitee." Canterbury Tales Knights Tale 3v11 (The origin of "necessity is the mother of virtue.")

"Winsinge she was , as is a jolly colt/ Long as a mast and upright as a bolt." Canterbury Tales Miller's Tale 7v7 (The origin of "upright as a bolt.")

"Whoso first cometh to the mill/ First grint." Canterbury Tales The Wife of Bath prologue. (The origin of "first come first serve.")

"It is not good a sleeping haind to wake/ Nor yeve a wight a cause to devyne." From Troilus and Criseyde. The origin of, "let sleeping dogs lie.")

(5) On 8th July 1998 a first edition of Canterbury Tales was sold for £4,621,500. A little bit more than the paperback Penguin edition. This broke the record for the most expensive book.

(6) William Caxton, who introduced the printing press to England, evidently was an admirer of Chaucer. He described the poet as "The worshipful fader and first fondeur and embellisher of ornate eloquence in our englissh."

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