Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Let's talk about The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, A Retelling by Peter Ackroyd

I have wanted to read The Canterbury Tales for years. The fact that next year I will be staying a night in Canterbury lit a fire under me to really want to get it read before then. 
However, I was told that I should read a translation of it first. The original is written in Middle English and therefore a lot harder to understand. 
I did a little research on the different translations and read one that was recommended by quite a few sources. It is a retelling by Peter Ackroyd. 
Peter Ackroyd is a renowned critic, historian, and biographer. He chose to translate the poetry to prose. 
One of the examples he gave in the introduction of the book is this: 
In the original work where it says, 

My Konnyng is so wayk, O blisful Queene,
For to declare they grete worthynesse,
That I ne may the weighte nat susteene;
But as a child of twelf month oold, or lesse, 
That kan unnethes any word expresse, 
Right so fare I, and therfore I yow preye, 
Gydeth my song that I shal of yow seye. 

He translated it to: 

My learning and knowledge are so weak, holy Virgin, that I cannot express your mercy or your love. your light is too bright for me to bear. I come to you as an infant, scarcely able to speak. Form my broken words uttered in praise of you. Guide my song. 

Definitely very different. 

The Canterbury Tales follow a group of pilgrims on their way to Canterbury. They take part in a storytelling competition along their way. They are all very different from many varied walks of life. 
It was not what I was expecting. 
Many of the tales are actually quite raunchy. 
I didn't know that going in so it surprised me but by the end I was used to it. 
There were many times reading it that I laughed out loud and a few times where I was quite bored and wishing for a certain tale to get over with. 
My very favorite tale happened to be the first one, A Knight's Tale. 
It told the story of two knights, brothers or cousins ( I was never certain which they were), in love with one woman. 
It was a great story and I was fully immersed and entertained by it. 
One of my favorite lines from the entire book was this, 

"And we all know that an hour's cold can suck out seven years of heat."

Overall, I enjoyed reading these and I will definitely be picking up the original at some point so that I can try my hand at the middle english text. I think now that I know the stories it will be easier to know what is going on as I read and there is a part of me that feels bad that I read a translation. 
But I wouldn't recommend it to everyone based on the content of some of the stories and language. 
Use your judgement before going into this. There is a lot of sexual language and what I can only compare in modern terms to Adam Sandler movie type humor.


The Kings said...

Trying to read the original would have had me close the book after the first page! Ackroyd did every one a favor! :-) Was the movie "A Knights Tale" based on the first story?

cheryl said...

I know. I really need to now that I have read this but it definitely wouldn't have been as easy for me the first time around.

cheryl said...

Oh- and no. They basically borrowed the title A Knight's Tale and a few of the characters- Chaucer himself as well as in the part when he is arguing with some guys and tells them that he will put them in a work of fiction to be humiliated for all time. Those two guys are two dorks in the book.
But other than that, even the tale is a completely different story than the movie. It is a really good story though. If you read any of it, I recommend that one!