I find myself once again to be massively behind in book reviews, so I am catching up. I actually finished reading The Canterbury Tales almost two months ago. Slogging through it was something of a challenge, given the Middle English text, which takes some getting used to, but fortunately, I am good with new languages (and yes, I consider Middle English to be something of a new language), and there are plenty of footnotes in the text to help the reader out. Also, the tales are generally fun and interesting to read, and like the King James Bible and Shakespeare, Chaucer is a font of famous phrases that have become part and parcel of the general culture of the English-speaking world.
I would recommend my version of Chaucer’s classic because it is the complete version of The Canterbury Tales, and because however daunting it may be to have to go through the Middle English, Chaucer cannot be properly read unless it is in his native tongue.
Of course, in addition to the fascinating tales, the varying rhyme schemes, the occasional use of prose to tell a tale, and the brilliance of the concept behind the making of The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer offers us a glimpse into the nature of class associations and relations in 14th century England. For those who wish to study the history of England, and its societal personality during Chaucer’s time, reading and fully appreciating The Canterbury Tales is a prerequisite. The work has led to the invention and popularization of various metrical methods, including the rhyme royal. It helped popularize the art of satire. And Chaucer’s work has powerfully influenced the development of the English language itself. Not many authors can make such a boast.
There are relatively few literary works that one can call indispensable. The Canterbury Tales is one of them. Again, reading Chaucer is a challenge, especially if the reading is for the first time. But it is well worth the effort.