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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Friday — April 16, 2004

Weekend Living

On the road with
‘The Canterbury Tales’

Express Staff Writer

"The Canterbury Tales" by Geoffrey Chaucer will be discussed at the next Great Books Book Club gathering 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 27, at The Community Library in Ketchum. This group of poetic stories is considered one of the classics of English literature.

Written between 1387 and 1392, "The Canterbury Tales" depicts a pilgrimage by 30 strangers, unknown to each other, and from differing spheres of society.

It begins thusly:

"Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,

And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,

To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;

And specially from every shires ende

Of Engelond to Caunterbury they wende,

The hooly blisful martir for to seke,

That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke."

In other words, folks like to go on pilgrimages to shrines where they may pray to and beseech certain saints, especially ones that helped when they were sick. In this compendium, Chaucer and 29 others set off for the shrine of the martyr, St. Thomas Becket, once the powerful Archbishop of Canterbury.

In the book, Chaucer is a character who encourages the others to tell two tales each, one for the ride to Canterbury one for the ride back.

Among the band of pilgrims are a knight, a sailor, a monk, a prioress, a plowman, a miller, a carpenter, a merchant, a clerk, and a fancy widow from Bath.

The stories are linked by conversations between the characters. As well as offering a sense of the language of the times, the book also gives a glimpse into the rich tapestry of medieval social life. Consequently, there is humor, romance and intrigue involved.

"The Canterbury Tales" is recognized as the first book of poetry written in the English language. Before Chaucer’s time, even poets who lived in England wrote in Italian or Latin. Therefore, poetry was only understandable to wealthy people of the educated class. English was considered low class and vulgar. To a great degree, "The Canterbury Tales" helped make it a legitimate language in which to work.

As the printing press had yet to be invented when Chaucer wrote the tales, "The Canterbury Tales" has been passed down in several handwritten manuscripts.

All are welcome to join the discussion.


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.