Quick Classics: The Canterbury Tales (Geoffrey Chaucer)

31 May 2013

In Sum

A group of pilgrims, of backgrounds high and low, hold a story-telling competition. The trip to Canterbury is passed in sledging, blaspheming, and storifying: pilgrimy piety is largely (mercifully) absent.

Why The World Thinks You Should Read It

The first modern (-ish) English work to canvass the great and glorious grottiness of man, giving voice to the plebs rather than the rich and famous and weirdly be-wiggled.

Read It If

You have a general interest in your fellow human beings. Or, a specific interest in 14th century toilet humour.

Don’t Read It If

your reaction to either “human interest” or “rhyming couplets” involves nausea.


If in modern English (rather than Chaucer’s middle), the text isn’t awfully taxing, but the ceaseless rhyming (though extraordinarily deft) can be.


A Knight’s Tale bears no relation to the Tale’s story of the same name, but there’s a character called Chaucer and frankly this movie is so great, so tragically underrated, that this tenuous link more than justifies EVERYONE watching this movie right now. Also, Heath.

So, Should You Bother?

Yes, but a couple of stories (and the bits inbetwixt) will serve to get the gist; try The Miller’s Tale (the canon’s only literal arse-kissing?), and The Knight’s Tale for good old-fashioned chivalry. Read the modern English or it’ll take 4,000 years, BUT do look up some Middle English original because it’s very good fun–sikerly, don’t fnorteth or gale folily, but stop your likerousnesse eftsoones and go ful swithe to get a glymsyng of this mullok!*


*My profound apologies to any students of Middle English.

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