The Canterbury Tales (Mass Market)

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Staff Reviews

About a year ago, a dear friend of mine recommended reading this staple of medieval literature. I had a limited familiarity with Chaucer's writing. Beside a general sense that the language might be challenging, I really had no idea what to expect before hopping in. After a comfortable introduction to the charming cast of characters who serve as the storytellers through Chaucer's words, I was pleased to discover the remarkable variety of their tales. Not only are these stories variable in length and pacing, but the breadth of subject matter, ranging from religious morality to sexually charged humor, somewhat shocked me, in the best of ways. Despite their diverse qualities, many of the tales deal with similar themes. Unfaithful lovers, tricksters, murderers, and pious saints abound– all told of for the entertainment of the pilgrim party on the road to Canterbury.

For the most part, each tale opens with an introduction by the character doing the telling and an afterward detailing the general reception by the group. Occasionally, the narrative will also be interrupted midway, creating a break that is often only remedied by the host's intervention. The host serves as the instigator of the storytelling game as well as a playful enforcer– seeing that each person gets a chance to speak. It is left to him to casually decide who will speak next, and he sometimes even provides a suggestion of tone or subject to meet the perceived emotional needs of the group. Beyond this loose format, each tale takes a completely different approach.

Literature written in Middle English can be daunting to read, and for those with hesitation towards such a thing, there are modernized versions of this book. In my case, I wanted to delve into the original version for my first experience, and I was not disappointed. As difficult as it can be to comprehend (I certainly had to repeat sections while reading), this text is immensely enjoyable to read aloud. I often found that the vocabulary and spelling challenged my comprehension until I heard them sounded out and spoken. Overall, this quality made for a silly but rewarding read.

On top of it all, sections of the book made me laugh, sometimes merely from disbelief at the content, and that is enough for me to recommend it to anyone.

— Thomas Moore


Lively, absorbing, often outrageously funny, Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales is a work of genius, an undisputed classic that has held a special appeal for each generation of readers. The Tales gathers twenty-nine of literature’s most enduring (and endearing) characters in a vivid group portrait that captures the full spectrum of medieval society, from the exalted Knight to the humble Plowman.

This new edition includes a comprehensive introduction that summarizes some of the most important historical events and movements that defined the world of Chaucer and his pilgrims; two additional tales (Reeve’s and Shipman’s); introductions for each tale designed to prepare the reader for a better understanding and enjoyment of the tale; newly written and conveniently placed explanatory notes; and a new, more easily understood system for learning to pronounce Chaucerian Middle English.

About the Author

Geoffrey Chaucer was born in London about 1340, the son of a well-to-do and well-connected wine merchant. In 1360, after his capture while fighting in the French wars, Edward III paid his ransom, and later Chaucer married Philippa de Roet, a maid of honor to the queen and sister-in-law to John of Gaunt, Chaucer's patron.

Chaucer's oeuvre is commonly divided into three periods: the French (to 1372), consisting of such works as a translation of the Roman de la Rose and The Book of the Duchess; the Italian (1372-1385), including The House of Fame, The Parliament of Fowls and Troilus and Criseyde; and the English (1385-1400), culminating in The Canterbury Tales. In 1400, he died, leaving 24 of the apparently 120 tales he had planned for his final masterpiece. Chaucer became the first of England's great men to be buried in the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey.
Peter G. Beidler is the Lucy G. Moses Distinguished Professor of English at Lehigh University. He is the author of a dozen books and more than 150 articles. In the summer of 2005 he directed a seminar for high school teachers on Chaucer's Canterbury Comedies (the seminar was supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities). He and his wife Anne have four children.

Praise For…

“A delight . . . [Raffel’s translation] provides more opportunities to savor the counterpoint of Chaucer’s earthy humor against passages of piercingly beautiful lyric poetry.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Masterly . . . This new translation beckons us to make our own pilgrimage back to the very wellsprings of literature in our language.” —Billy Collins

The Canterbury Tales has remained popular for seven centuries. It is the most approachable masterpiece of the medieval world, and Mr. Raffel’s translation makes the stories even more inviting.”—Wall Street Journal

Product Details
ISBN: 9780553210828
ISBN-10: 0553210823
Publisher: Bantam Classics
Publication Date: February 1st, 1982
Pages: 688
Language: English
Series: Bantam Classics