Canterbury Tales: A Quick Link Roundup

Canterbury Tales: A Quick Link RoundupLiteracy Weblog)

Online Google searches for Chaucer typically point to watered-down “study guides.” There is a real need for good online material on Chaucer, and there are good sites online that attempt to more than serve the lowest common denominator.

A student backed out of an oral presentation topic late yesterday, so I’m trying to fill in the gap a little.

  • When tackling a new topic, I often start my search in Wikipedia, but the page is loading very slowly…
  • I found a good bibliography on the structure of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and a
  • course website on “Chaucer’s Narrative Art,” but since I wasn’t planning a trip to the library, I’ll just blog the links for future reference.
  • Luminarium has some quality links to Chaucer work (including audio clips)
  • Brother Anthony of Taizen’s Introduction to The Canterbury Tales
    • (Brother Anthony writes:)At Chaucer’s death, the various sections of the Canterbury Tales that
      he was preparing had not been brought together in a linked whole. His friends
      seem to have tried as best they could to prepare a coherent edition of what was
      there, adding some more linkages when they thought it necessary. The resulting
      manuscripts therefore offer slight differences in the order of tales, and in
      some of the framework links. The tales are usually found in linked groups known
      as ‘Fragments’. The customary grouping and ordering of the tales is as follows
      (the commonly accepted abbreviation for each Tale is noted in parentheses):

      Fragment I (A)
         General Prologue (GP), Knight (KnT),
      Miller (MilT), Reeve (RvT), Cook (CkT).
      Fragment II (B1)

         Man of Law (MLT)
      Fragment III (D)
      Wife of Bath (WBT), Friar (FrT), Summoner (SumT).
      Fragment IV (E)

         Clerk (ClT), Merchant (MerT).
      Fragment V (F)

         Squire (SqT), Franklin (FranT).
      Fragment VI (C)

         Physician (PhyT), Pardoner (PardT).
      Fragment VII

         Shipman (ShipT), Prioress (PrT), Chaucer: Sir Thopas
      (Thop), Melibee (Mel), Monk (MkT), Nun’s Priest (NPT).
      Fragment VIII

         Second Nun SNT), Canon’s Yeoman (CYT).
      IX (H)

         Manciple (MancT).
      Fragment X (I)

         Parson (ParsT).

      There is great variety in different manuscripts but I and II, VI and VII, IX
      and X are almost always found in that order while the tales in IV and V are
      often spread around separately.

    • Brother Anthony critiques the value of taking too literally the “contest” framework of the narrative. “Is this Tale the best Tale? The Host’s proposal of a contest invites the reader to judge all the Tales but at the same time requires the reader to reflect on the criteria by which the Tales are to be judged. What is the purpose of tale-telling, indeed of all discourse? Sentence or solas? Wisdom or pleasure? The value of a tale becomes more and more related to the value of life, and the Parson is not simply a kill-joy when he declares: ‘Thou getest fable noon ytoold for me’ (you get no fable told by me) and instead offers a treatise on sin and salvation. Chaucer leads the reader to the point where the ability of any fictional tale to tell the truth is challenged, though not necessarily as radically denied as the Parson would wish. The Parson himself is a fictional character, after all, a part of a Tale.”
    • “Modern editions are usually based on one of two manuscripts, both written by the same scribe: the Hengwrt Manuscript and the Ellesmere Manuscript. The former, in the National Library of Wales, is the oldest of all, probably copied directly from Chaucer’s own disordered papers, but it lacks the Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale and the final pages have been lost. The latter, now preserved in California, is more complete, and beautifully produced with illustrations of the different pilgrims beside their Tales, but it shows the work of an editor who has removed some of the roughness from Chaucer’s lines. “
  • Brother Anthony of Taizen’s Introduction to the General Prologue
    • “More recent criticism has reacted against this approach, claiming that the portraits are indicative of social types, part of a tradition of social satire, “estates satire”, and insisting that they should not be read as individualized character portraits like those in a novel. Yet it is sure that Chaucer’s capacity of human sympathy, like Shakespeare’s, enabled him to go beyond the conventions of his time and create images of individualized human subjects that have been found not merely credible but endearing in every period from his own until now.”
    • The title “General Prologue” is a modern invention, although a few manuscripts call it prologus. There are very few major textual differences between the various manuscripts.”
    • While I distinctly remember being taught that the pilgrims were introduced in order of their social prominence (see Klein’s notes, III B), Brother Anthony notes what had always troubled me — this order breaks down very rapidly. It won’t help us understand medieval society to take this list of pilgrims as an index to social ranking.