268. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (1387-1400)

A group of pilgrims of various professions and social standings in life fall together travelling from The Tabard Inn in Southwark to Canterbury. The innkeeper decides to accompany them and proposes a contest where each will tell a story and the winner will be feasted on their return to London. Highly regarded as it provides windows into many different aspects of 14th century life across English society.

There is a mix of stories, some moral and others quite comic and ribald. It is thought Chaucer initially intended each pilgrim to tell four stories in total, two on the way and two on the way back, making a longer work than The Decameron.

Source :  My copy was a nicely produced hardback Penguin Classic, translated into modern English by Nevill Coghill.

Thoughts :  I must confess I always lean towards the comic, so naturally these were the ones I enjoyed most, and were more unique to this collection – some of the other courtly romance tales were retellings from Boccaccio or Ovid.

Notable favourites were therefore The Miller’s Tale, where two young lovers trick the woman’s unwanted serenading suitor to kiss their arses poking out the window in the dark, although the suitor gets his revenge on the male with a red hot poker; and The Summoner’s Tale, which shows how a fart may be distributed equally between thirteen worthy recipients.

There was also a tale of a miracle in The Prioress’ Tale, where a young boy continues to sing  praises to the Virgin Mary though he is dead with this throat slit. To me this was more of a tale of horror on a par with some of the grotesque scenes from Dante’s Inferno.

Personal rating:  7/10. Difficult to gauge an overall score for a mix of stories of such variety. Definitely better than The Decameron, but I was pleased to reach the end.

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