My online book club read The Canterbury Tales. (original-spelling Middle English edition) I got started late due to inertia, grading, and packing, but I did get started. I was daunted by the bulk of my edition – over 800 pages.
But once I discovered that this edition by Barnes & Noble had the Middle English on the left and a modern version on the right, I became more enthused.
I had read the Canterbury Tales in high school and in college (twice) and I do appreciate the humor and how groundbreaking it was to write in English rather than French, the language of the court. Yet this time around I wasn’t in the mood. I read the Prologue and thought, “Yes, these characters are funny and Chaucer is poking fun at them, but they’re all rather one dimensional. Shakespeare would give them more complexity.” Perhaps that’s not fair, but it’s what I thought.
I did enjoy listening to BBC 4’s In Our Time: Chaucer, which is my new find on unlocking philosophy and culture, etc.
As I got into the Knight’s Tale my mind drifted often. I did remind myself that there is an alternative interpretation of the staid, good guy knight but Terry Jones of Monty Python fame. When in college, I read his Chaucer’s Knight: Portrait of a Medieval Mercenary which contends that we just don’t get the allusions and satire directed at this character. If one’s more familiar with the history and culture of the day, you’d view it as a portrait and tale of a hypocrite. Warning: when I mentioned this book in my survey of English literature class the professor got incensed. He would not consider this thesis and immediately deemed me a trouble maker, rather than a student with a curious mind who went the extra mile. My grade suffered as a result. I vividly remember that class when I shared this alternative view and got eviscerated for it.
In the end, I learned to shut up. I did write to Jones and got a rather encouraging letter about how it takes a long time for new ideas to percolated throughout the halls of the academy. That was a thrill.
Anyway our discussions’ come and gone. I chimed in with some thoughts, but no one else in the online group read it, so I will but it aside till the fall. One thing that is cool about the book, or maybe just distracting is the language. For example, Chaucer doesn’t use “go” he uses “wend” as they did in that day. Doesn’t wend make more sense since “went” is the past tense? For some reason we pretty much abandoned “wend” (seems only rivers “wend” now) for “go” which had no past tense. Makes no sense to me.