Bawdy, pious, erudite, absurd, tragic, comic: here in Dryden's words is 'God's Plenty.' It wouldn't be too much to say that most Western literature after Chaucer is based on or influenced by The Canterbury Tales. Besides having some of the best opening lines ever (the orginal text reads: "Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote/The droghte of March hath perced to the roote/And bathed every veyne in swich licour/Of which vertu engendered is the flour"), ol' Geoff was no slackhand when it came to amazing plots, either. Take "The Friar's Tale," for instance: a summoner meets a demon posing as a farmer and eventually gets whisked away to hell after trying to extort money from an old woman. Or the perennially bawdy "Miller's Tale" about the wrong man getting in the wrong bed, even though the bed he gets in is his own. With their astonishing diversity of tone and subject-matter, The Canterbury Tales have become one of the touchstones of medieval literature. The tales are told by a motley crowd of pilgrims as they journey for five days from Southwark to Canterbury. Drawn from all levels of society and all walks of life (from knight to nun, miller to monk), the pilgrims reveal a picture of English life in the fourteenth century that is robust as it is representative. If you're worried these stories have nothing to offer the modern reader, you're wrong.
The following tales in red text are included in this volume:
This Dover edition, first published in 1994, is a new selection of unabridged tales as they originally appeared in Canterbury Tales: Rendering into Modern English by J.U. Nicolson, published by Garden City Publishing Company, Inc. New York, in 1934. New footnotes are included in this edition.