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 ("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 Pardoner's Tale," for instance: Three men set out to find and kill Death—they eventually find him, though not how they expected. 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.
Tales in red are included in this volume:
Both the Canturbury Tales and Troilus and Cressida are presented complete in this anthology, in fresh modern translations by Theodore Morrison that convey both the gravity and gaiety of the Middle English originals. The Portable Chaucer also contains selections from The Book of the Duchess, The House of Fame The Birds' Parliament, and The Legend of Good Women, together with short poems. Morrison's introduction is vital for its insights into Chaucer as man and artist, and as a product of the Middle Ages whose shrewdness, humor, and compassion have a wonderfully contemporary ring.
Some of the bawdy (crass) medieval conversation in at least two of the stories here is not—in our estimation—suitable for children. If you are planning on using this as a read-aloud, please peruse the stories beforehand!