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The Knight’s Tale

February 14, 2011 Leave a comment

And so the poem begins. The pilgrims have been introduced, some at length, some thrown in together with one sentence. Yet regardless of the length or description given to their introduction, each one is on the same pilgrimage and has a tale to tell. This strikes me as odd, for The Canterbury Tales have been accredited with being accessible to all men, regardless of their status or creed – and it does seem to be giving very definite variations of both so far – but then why are these men and women all traveling together for the same purpose? Apparently, pilgrimages were very different in the 1300s than they are today.

The Knight draws the short straw (literally) and begins. It is odd that he is described by the narrator to be very concise and yet his tale is anything but (although not the worse for it). At one point he offers 44 lines of description for one scene immediately after saying he lacks the time to describe the details.

The Knight’s Tale centers around nobility and death for a noble cause. The cause being a beautiful woman whom two cousins fall in love with almost simultaneously. At first it struck me as simply a ruse for story-telling that they would fall in such terrible love for the same woman whom they had never met. But to give the benefit of the doubt, they had been locked away together for years and the tale implies this was the first woman they had seen since they had been imprisoned.

Now let’s assume that each of the characters is an actual human and go from there. For some reason my brain is screaming against this. I don’t know if it is me, or if it is because these stories are almost fairy tales. No, not fairy tales, but something else… something like Aesop’s tales. Spoken to teach a moral. Most definitely NOT character studies. For instance, what I was trying to say before – two cousins fall for the same girl. That, and some loose following of a knightly ethical code are the ONLY driving force in these guys. In fact, I am more drawn to the poor girl, begging to Diana to spare her all of this and let her live her life doing what she enjoys and also what she must. This is the only time in the entire tale that anyone alludes to actually enjoying something. Alas, her prayer is the only time we get to witness this humanity. After that, she says nothing more and indeed is only a pawn in a morality tale.

The moral being:

“God grants us a life fulfilled, no matter how long that life may be or what anyone else may deem ‘fulfilled’.”

——-

The fact is, I really enjoyed the Knight’s Tale. I thought some parts (including the premise) were goofy, but that’s okay. I enjoyed hearing the gods’ reactions to the knight’s prayers. I enjoyed the descriptions of the temples. I especially enjoyed the inevitability of it all.

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Introduction

February 8, 2011 1 comment

I will be listening to the audio book of The Canterbury Tales (BBC Audiobooks America, translated by Burton Raffel) and using my paperback copy (Penguin Classics, translated by Nevill Coghill) as a reference.

As I am a bit of a literary purist, I often feel that I am cheating in some way when I listen to an audiobook. Combine that with having to use a version that has been translated from something that sounds so simple as “Middle English” and I feel rather ashamed of myself. Thankfully, the introduction quickly put my shameful misgivings to rest.

First off, many older books have a strong background in oral tradition, told and retold aloud before ever being committed to the written word. Raffel (the translator) even goes so far as to say that one would miss something of The Canterbury Tales without reading the poem aloud, even if it is just to oneself.

Secondly, Middle English is not so easy as it would seem. It starts off very simple: “Here bygynneth the Book of the Tales of Caunterbury”. And even the first three lines are doable: “Whan that Aprille, with hise shoures soote, The droghte of March hath perced to the roote, And bathed every veyne in swich licour,”. Something about April showers taking away the dryness of March and making everything green and intoxicating. Then we come to lines four and five: “Of which vertu engendred is the flour; Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth,”. Okay, I think the plants are pollinating in the nice breeze. Really, though, what it comes down to is that I will miss a lot of what Chaucer is saying if I attempt to read the book in its original language. And to further put my mind at ease, Raffel says, “A great story doesn’t change, but the language it was written in does.” So there we have it. And I tell myself I can always go back and read the Middle English version once I’m familiar with the story.

Useful web resource: http://www.thegreatbooks.org/. This website offers a side by side comparison of the Middle English version and a translated version. Also fun to check out their library of other authors.