Monday, December 27, 2010

The Canterbury Tales: The Rough Guide

The Knight’s Tale: A tough opening act, this is the longest tale and one of the dullest. It’s a very formal tale about two young cousins in love with the same woman, whom they’ve never met, but all the same they decide to fight to the death for her.  Apparently the basis of The Two Noble Kinsmen, which goes a long way to explaining why that play is seldom listed next to, say, Othello, Hamlet, and the Tempest. * *

The Miller’s Tale: Now we’re talking. A nice ribald tale of cuckoldry, people kissing each other in the wrong places, a rake getting “branded on the bum,” and an old humbug convinced that Noah’s flood has come again. Awesome. * * * *

The Reeve’s Tale: A pair of college boys from up North, insulted by a local tradesman, get revenge by nailing his wife and daughter while he is sleeping in the same room. Very naughty, and therefore also awesome. * * * *

The Cook’s Tale: Looks like it is going to be naughty, but turns out to exist only as a fragment. n/a

The Man of Law’s Tale: A Roman princess is married off to a Syrian sultan, who is killed with his entire court by his mother because he has converted to Christianity. The princess is set adrift on a boat and washes up in Northern England (!) where she converts the locals, is married to the duke, is elaborately framed by the duke’s jealous mother, is set adrift in the boat again.  She ends up back at Rome (!), where the duke, traveling to ask absolution from the Pope for killing his mom (in punishment for framing his wife) runs into her again, and they live happily ever after. The whole thing seems frankly a bit forced. * *

The Shipman’s Tale: Even though it is another cuckolding story, it isn’t very amusing. * *

The Prioress’ Tale: A quaint little folk story about a little boy who just can’t stop singing the praises of the Virgin Mary, even after he’s been murdered. Marred by virulent anti-Semitism. Open question: is Chaucer virulently anti-Semitic, or is he casting aspersions on Prioresses? Not rated.

Chaucer’s Own Tale: A rambling nonsense story that the host soon interrupts. Not rated.

The Monk’s Tale: Not a tale, but a collection of “tragedies,” vignettes about successful people who came to bad ends. Heaps of fun. Not. * *

The Nun’s Priest: Sex, vanity, and learned debate on the veracity of dreams. Among chickens. Funny! * * * *

The Physician’s Tale: A knight, a beautiful yet virtuous daughter, a corrupt judge, and comeuppance. Pretty good. * * *

The Pardoner’s Tale: The Pardoner cheerfully gloats about his own corruption, then, as an example of the pious rubbish he uses for sermons, tells a story about how three lads who conspire against each other all end up perishing. * * *

The Wife of Bath’s Tale: The Wife talks forever about her five late husbands, then finally gets to a tale about a knight condemned for rape who is given a chance to live if he can figure out, within one year, what it is that women really want. It’s difficult for me to work out Chaucer’s attitude towards the Wife – I’d be interesting in learning more about what people have thought about this – but her story itself is kind of a one-liner. * *

The Friar’s Tale – Brutally lampoons Summoners. * * *

The Summoner’s Tale – Brutally lampoons Friars, with fart jokes (which are however found in many of the other tales as well). The Friar and the Summoner don’t get along, see. * * *

The Clerk’s Tale – One of those stories where a man decides to test his gal’s loyalty, but in this one the testing is really taken to distasteful extremes. I mean, even the other pilgrims are a little appalled. * *

The Squire’s Tale – A Tatar king receives magical gifts from a mysterious envoy as the beginning of what seems to be shaping up as a multi-volume fantasy epic. The Franklin gets bored and butts in. Not rated.

The Franklin’s Tale – One of the genre of tales in which personal honor is taken to weird extremes. Essentially a knight’s wife tells a pursuer that she’ll sleep with him when hell freezes over, the pursuer contrives to freeze hell over, and the woman and her husband are all like “well, a deal’s a deal.” Whatever. * *

The Second Nun’s Tale – Pious but rather dull story of St. Cecilia converting Romans to Christianity. * *

The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale – A jolly expose of alchemists and their sneaky tricks. * * *

The Manciple’s Tale – A tale of cuckoldry which, oddly, isn’t very jolly. Explains why the crow is black, and illustrates the rule that if you tell your buddy that his gal has been cheating on him, he’s not going to thank you for your trouble. * *

Alternative Opinions? Bring ‘em on!

Next on The Reading List: Crime and Punishment.  But I'm saving off starting it until a week or two into the new year.  And it might take a while.


Elaine said...

Giggle, giggle. Even at 13 I was totally convulsed by the Miller's Tale! Not to mention very, very curious.

Aviatrix said...

Silly Michael, you forgot the spoiler warnings again. For that, I'll forget to mail your postcard again this week.

Rebel said...

I think we read the Wife of Bath's tale in school, and as a result I've never been particularly interested in reading the rest... despite it being one of those classics that I feel obligated to at least attempt to read. Glad to know that maybe that one tale wasn't the best to start out with.