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The Canterbury Tales: The First Fragmentby Geoffrey Chaucer
Synopses & Reviews
A selection of the best-loved and most frequently studied of The Canterbury Tales
This collection is the perfect introduction to one of the cornerstones of English literature. The General Prologue provides picturesque character sketches of the colorful band of pilgrims who gather at a London inn on their way to Canterbury. The nine tales chosen range from the noble Knight’s story of rivalry in love to the boastful and hypocritical Pardoner’s moral treatise, and from the exuberant Wife of Bath’s Arthurian legend to the Miller’s worldly, ribald farce. Incorporating every type of medieval narrative—bawdy anecdote, allegorical fable, and courtly romance—the tales selected here encompass the blend of universal human themes and individual personal detail that have enthralled readers for more than six hundred years.
Few students read the whole of "The Canterbury Tales, but "Fragment I", which contains the general prologue, "The Knight's Tale", "The Miller's Tale", "The Reeve's Tale" and "The Cook's Tale", raises many of the topics that arise from studying the tales as a whole.
The First Fragment of The Canterbury Tales contains some of Chaucer's most popular and widely enjoyed work. Chaucer introduces his pilgrims in The General Prologue, a set of speaking portraits drawn with a loving clarity that makes no attempt to conceal imperfections. The pilgrims represent human society, and the tales of the Knight, Miller, Reeve and Cook reveal a variety of human preoccupations, particularly romantic and sexual love. Each tale is alive with Chaucer's skills as a poet, as a storyteller and as a creator of comedy. This edition is designed so that the First Fragment can be read as a unit. A very full glossary faces Chaucer's text, and a detailed set of explanatory notes follows it, so that students and readers approaching The Canterbury Tales for the first time can enjoy and appreciate the language of Europe's first great English poet.
About the Author
Geoffrey Chaucer was born in London, the son of a wine-merchant, in about 1342, and as he spent his life in royal government service his career happens to be unusually well documented. By 1357 Chaucer was a page to the wife of Prince Lionel, second son of Edward III, and it was while in the prince's service that Chaucer was ransomed when captured during the English campaign in France in 1359-60. Chaucer's wife Philippa, whom he married c. 1365, was the sister of Katherine Swynford, the mistress (c. 1370) and third wife (1396) of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, whose first wife Blanche (d. 1368) is commemorated in Chaucer's ealrist major poem, The Book of the Duchess.
From 1374 Chaucer worked as controller of customs on wool in the port of London, but between 1366 and 1378 he made a number of trips abroad on official business, including two trips to Italy in 1372-3 and 1378. The influence of Chaucer's encounter with Italian literature is felt in the poems he wrote in the late 1370's and early 1380s – The House of Fame, The Parliament of Fowls and a version of The Knight's Tale – and finds its fullest expression in Troilus and Criseyde.
In 1386 Chaucer was member of parliament for Kent, but in the same year he resigned his customs post, although in 1389 he was appointed Clerk of the King's Works (resigning in 1391). After finishing Troilus and his translation into English prose of Boethius' De consolatione philosophiae, Chaucer started his Legend of Good Women. In the 1390s he worked on his most ambitious project, The Canterbury Tales, which remained unfinished at his death. In 1399 Chaucer leased a house in the precincts of Westminster Abbey but died in 1400 and was buried in the Abbey.
Table of Contents
The general prologue — The knight's tale — The miller's tale — The reeve's tale — The cook's tale.
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