Saturday, August 08, 2009

"The Canterbury Tales"

I've just finished reading "The Canterbury Tales," slightly abridged and thank goodness...as interested as I am to receive undiluted impressions of various time periods, there's only so much I can handle.

And it isn't just the middle English that is alienating; there's the combination of repetitive themes (cuckolded husbands) and a tendency to name-drop Biblical and Classical references in long, boring lists. I got so tired of lusty wives and silly husbands that it was actually a relief when the Jewish people got all Satanic and killed a child.

Still, though, it was a worthy and occasionally fun slog. It's interesting how easy it is to read this form on English once you're on a roll (and how impenetrable the English becomes when it dives into philosophy or morality). I'm REALLY thrilled at how downright raunchy some of the tales were...like, if you heard a guy in a bar talking like this today you'd be shocked and somewhat put off your chicken wings...you'd never want to kiss HIS relics!

Thanks, Chaucer, for writing these stories, even if you stole most of the plots. I wanted to know how people spoke in the 14th century, and now I know: they spoke in rhyme.

5 comments:

jj said...

What do you think of Thomas Wolfe?

I recently read the EXCELLENT Liars Poker - which struck me as superior to "Soul of the new machine" but maybe that is because Lewis is talking about a world that is alien to me and I honestly can't figure out why anyone would be interested (like Tracy) in how fellow nerds work. :)
I ask, because Liars Poker led to curiousity about Wolf, which led to http://www.lukeford.net/Images/photos3/tomwolfe.pdf (ignore the site, site belongs to a pervert. :)

and Wolfe's manifesto and points are something I can relate to. :)

Gary said...

Isn't it wonderful how virulently and unapologetically anti-Semitic the English were in that era?

The blood libel is a centuries-old canard usually involving the killing of a Christian child to use his blood in a ritual, often the baking of Passover matzohs.

Usually it's not a relief when the Jews were charged with such a killing. Massacres and pogroms often followed, and woe to any "infidel" who may have had even the remotest connection to the child!

Chaucer was probably just passing along the hate of his time (which follows the expulsion of the Jews from England in the 1200's).

I was never quite sure if Shakespeare meant what he wrote (Macbeth's witches, Merchant of Venice), or if he was twitting everyone by playing on their underlying intolerance of anything outside the mainstream (also Othello).

That being said, Chaucer is "literature" and as such can be read today, but with the above in mind.

genxmike said...

With all due respect to Gary, I've tried Passover matzohs with and without the blood of a Christian child and I have to say I vote for with. Much tastier.

industri studios said...

I skipped Chaucer after banging my head against Pilgrim's Progress some years back... something about the nacent novel form that just winds up irritating me more than providing enjoyment.

That being said, your review does put another tick in the "give it a shot" column... murdered children can sell ANYTHING.

GeoX said...

I would not swear by this, but let me put forward a theory: the prioress is an altogether silly, overly sentimental person, in a way that isn't at all appropriate for her supposedly religious role. For her, the death of the kid provides her the same kind of cheap, maudlin emotion that she gets when something happens to one of her lapdogs--nothing more. That's why she tells the story. For that reason, I don't think you can automatically assume that it represents overt anti-Semitism on Chaucer's part so much as him making fun of the character, even though this would of course go over the heads of most of his audience.

As I said, just an idea--I'm not claiming that Chaucer necessarily WASN'T an anti-Semite; it certainly would have been unusual for the time. But you can't automatically assume that everything in his characters' stories represents his own opinions. Nabokov wasn't actually a pedophile, you know.