While Geoffrey Chaucer composed several magnificent works of poetry, his reputation as “the father of English literature” rests mainly on The Canterbuy Tales, a group of stories told by assorted pilgrims en route to the shrine of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. From the mirthful and bawdy to the profoundly moral, the tales reflect not only the manners and mores of medieval England, but indeed, the full comic and tragic dimensions of the human condition. Considered the greatest collection of narrative poems in English literature, The Canterbuy Tales was composed in the Middle English of Chaucer’s day (1300s), possibly to be read aloud at the court of Richard II. However, their grandeur, humor, and relevance are timeless, as readers of this authoritative edition will discover.
Originally published in 1969, the Signet Classic edition has extensive footnotes and a new normalized spelling system for easier reading and pronunciation. It includes a preface by Frank Grady, a full introduction by Donald R. Howard, a note on this edition, an afterword by Paul Strohm (new in 2013 edition), bibliography, a special section on pronouncing Chaucer, chronology, and a glossary of middle English words. This is part of Hewitt’s Lightning Literature & Composition curriculum. From our Guide by Michael G. Gaunt:
The tales told by these twenty-nine pilgrims to St. Thomas Becket’s shrine are generally traditional stories, legends, and fables. They are essentially individual and unrelated, though some of the travelers try to get at each other with the stories they tell. (For example, the Miller tells a story of a Reeve who is tricked; and then the Reeve, in turn, tells a story about a Miller who is tricked.) . . . each story should be seen as a reflection on the particular character who is telling the story. The stories chosen, and the way those stories are told, are key to Chaucer’s purpose in putting together this collection – as a sort of social commentary.