Literature Commentary: The Canterbury Tales

31 Aug

(Originally published April 14, 2009)

Wow. It has seriously been a long time since I posted a literature commentary…things have just been crazy with debate, schoolwork, etc. From now on I think I’ll keep these commentaries confined to works of classic literature only…so no more thriller reviews. πŸ˜‰

Having seeing Chaucer’s classic “Canterbury Tales” on numerous “reading lists for college-bound students,” I figured it was time to read this work of poetry. After reading numerous “lighter” books, it was high time I once again enjoyed a classic.

“The Canterbury Tales” has gotten some bad press due to a few of the bawdier elements in some of the stories. Medieval crudities and adult humor are certainly present in several of the tales – most notably the “Miller’s Tale” and the “Reeve’s Tale.” These shortcomings, however, are more than overcome by the surpassing beauty of some of Chaucer’s other tales, especially the “Knight’s Tale” and the “Franklin’s Tale.”

Here’s an excerpt from the “Knight’s Tale” (and yes, this is the same “Knight’s Tale” from which Philip Rosenberger and Ethan Bonin derived their Duo last year πŸ˜‰ ):

“Up spring the spears to twenty foot in height
Out go the long-swords flashing silver-bright
Hewing the helmets as they shear and shred
Out bursts the blood in streams of sternest red…”

As you can see, Chaucer doesn’t hold for any fluff about flowers and trees and the sun – his work is about the reality of medieval life, both good and bad.

Religion – more specifically the Christian faith – plays a prominent role in many of Chaucer’s stories. For the most part (with one exception), Christianity is treated with dignity and respect, and moral lessons play a large role in many of the tales. This is a fascinating look into the minds of medieval townspeople from all walks of life, and is perhaps the most interesting element of the “Canterbury Tales’

So is this book worth your time? Probably so, especially for fans of medievalism like myself. Do be aware that some of the stories are certainly not appropriate for most readers (in other words, skip the “Miller’s Tale” the “Reeve’s Tale” and the “Merchant’s Tale”). Duly warned, it is possible to richly enjoy Chaucer as one of medieval literature’s grandest poets.

A work of exquisite poetry marred by some bawdy elements.

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Posted by on August 31, 2009 in Classic


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