Like the British accent today, Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales charms at first, but in the end sounds ridiculous. Buh-dumh-ching! Really, though, the book is just too old. Reading it under the tutelage of a doctoral professor of Middle Earth (or is it middle-English?) is the only way to do it, and even then it is slow going at best.
After finding out that the rape that appalled you was supposed to be funny, you’ll find yourself being chided for laughing at the next rape–because that one was not funny. The entire collection is a roller-coaster of meanings and double meanings, which all need to be explained step by step. They need to be explained not because they were written in another language, no, middle-English is actually the first version of English we are told; the reason they need to be explained is because life was so very different back in the 14th century. Well, no, that’s not right either. Or is it? Wait, what’s going on?
After three months of reading and studying, I am still not convinced why I should value so highly a work that requires so much explanation. Does the Mona Lisa require explanation? The pyramids of Giza? Plus, the apparent result of fully investing oneself in Chaucer’s genius leads only to wanting to sleep with the man. While intriguing to some, I can’t get there from here.
This review might have become more a review of the course or the way the Tales were presented than the Tales themselves. Oh well. While there were enjoyable moments, for any reader that hasn’t skipped reading books written in the last 700 years since the Tales, there was nothing new.
In the end, The Canterbury Tales may have been new in their day, but the serious reader need not feel guilty for skipping this seminal work.