In having the characters tell stories to while away the time en route, Chaucer provides the perfect framework for a series of narratives, told in a wide variety of styles and genres, that together mirror all human life. It has been universally celebrated for its dramatic qualities and inimitable humour. The work, however, was never completed and Chaucer died leaving it unrevised.
It survives in ten fragments; there are no explicit connections between these or any real indication of the order in which Chaucer intended that they should be read. Even modern editions today differ in the order in which the tales are presented. Over eighty complete and fragmentary manuscript copies of the poem survive today. The colophon of this volume supplies the information that it was made by Geoffrey and Thomas Spirleng and completed in January Written on paper in an ordinary business hand, the manuscript's leaves are generously sized but the layout of the text is economical with no attempt at expensive decoration.
Geoffrey Spirleng was a civic official in Norwich. He and his son probably copied the poem out for their own use. Their version is somewhat eccentrically ordered; they originally missed out two tales that then had to be added in at the end.
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Shown to the left is the page with the original colophon, crossed out by Spirleng after he realized that he had not quite finished after all. It is followed by the first of the appended tales, that of the Clerk shown below right. As well as inadvertently omitting part of the text, Spirleng furthermore copied out the Shipman's and Prioress's tales twice. Shown below are the beginnings of his two versions of the tale of the Shipman. Such mistakes unwittingly offer us a fascinating glimpse into late medieval scribal practises. Copying the same tales out twice indicates that Spirleng worked on his manuscript over a long period of time, while his problems with ordering have been attributed to the fact that he used two separate and differently ordered manuscripts as copy texts for his own book.
It consists of a series of stanzas addressed to the Virgin, each celebrating a different aspect of her particular qualities and power. The title comes from the fact that each verse begins with a different letter of the alphabet, going from A-Z. It was probably written in the s, at a time when Chaucer was beginning to experiment with the pentameter. It follows the prose text without a break.
This edition from was printed by Richard Pynson. One of his first issues, The Canterbury Tales brought Pynson instant fame. He went on to publish some four hundred works, and his books are technically and typographically the finest specimens of English printing of their period. This edition is enlivened by woodcuts that portray the different pilgrims. Moreover, he is shown caryying a distinctly unscholarly bow and arrows. Woodcuts were expensive to produce and, in fact, in this work occasionally the same cuts have been used to represent different pilgrims. For further information about this copy of The Canterbury Tales see the May Special Collections 'book of the month' article.
Both books are from the library of William Hunter. Hunter bought his other copy shown above at the sale of John Ratcliffe in Incunabula were much sought after by collectors at the time and Hunter paid two pounds and four shillings for it. It is not known when or from whom he acquired this second copy of the work, but it is nonetheless very interesting for its annotations and other signs of use by past owners. The fact that it is incomplete - lacking several pages at the start and end, and with several pages torn and missing internally - is indicative of the wear and tear it was subject to by a succession of readers over a period of three hundred years before reaching Hunter's hands.
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Hunter chose not to have this volume rebound and therefore its front pastedown survives. Its inscriptions provide some clues of ownership prior to Hunter. More intriguing, however, is a note that ascribes its ownership to J. Herbert, who lends it 'to Mr Urry for his use in setting out a new edition, Sept.
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John Urry actually died in March, and his edition of Chaucer's works, which was a collaborative effort anyway, eventually appeared in Its title-page does state that he compared the texts of former editions and 'many valuable manuscripts' in its compilation, but most scholars were ultimately dissatisfied with the end result. This book appears only in the web version of the exhibition. The volume is augmented by the inclusion of Troilus and Criseyde and The Book of Fame , each introduced by fine woodcuts.
The House of Fame , The Parliament of Fowls , and other shorter works were also included in the final section. Lacking a general title-page, it seems that these parts were originally intended to be sold separately. The opening of Troilus and Criseyde is displayed to the left. An historical romance, its tragic love story takes place during the Trojan War, an event favoured by many medieval writers. It has been suggested that this is the work by which Chaucer himself would have liked to have been remembered. It was certainly written when he was at the height of his career and public fame as a poet, and, according to Pearsall, it is self-consciously and deliberately his masterpiece.
It was based on the Filostrato by Boccaccio, a work which would have scandalized its contemporary readers as being both thoroughly modern and quite wicked in its unrestrained depiction of sexual love. It contains only the text of The Canterbury Tales. In this copy, a seventeenth-century reader has annotated the list of tales found at the end of the printers' 'proheme'.
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He comments that the Miller's and Merchant's tales are 'baudy' and that the Wife of Bath's Tale is good. Sadly there are no further expressions of opinion marked in the margins of the tales themselves. Throughout the work, Pynson made the most of his investment in the woodcuts of his edition by using them again. However, he also had some new blocks made up, including the woodcut of the pardoner displayed to the left. Pynson's text of The Canterbury Tales is based upon his edition. As has already been noted, this earlier edition closely follows Caxton's version of the text.
All these different editions do contain unique variations, however. In this work, for instance, Pynson consistently regularises Caxton's spellings, changing 'hem' for 'them' and 'thise' for 'those'. In it, he included everything found in the first, augmenting The Canterbury Tales with the addition of The Plowman's Tale. Thynne revered Chaucer and aimed in his editions to give him the respect that humanist scholars had bestowed upon the writings of the classics.
Like Chaucer, he was primarily employed as a functionary in the royal household, and Blodgett suggests that the time consuming nature of his duties perhaps did not leave him sufficient periods of leisure in which he could work on Chaucer's texts with complete satisfaction.
There is nonetheless plenty of evidence to show that he took considerable pains in tracking down a variety of manuscripts including the copy of The Romaunt of the Rose now in Glasgow to compile his editions and that he 'rescued' previously neglected works of Chaucer for posterity. Unfortunately, he also included several spurious works in his canon, and was also guilty of misreading and misunderstanding Chaucer's language on occasions. Thynne was not alone, however. That Chaucer's Middle English was increasingly found to be archaic by the time his edition was being read and used is suggested by a number of annotations to The Canterbury Tales in this copy, where a reader has underlined antiquated words and supplied their more modern synonyms in the margins.
Hunterian Bu. In this copy, the colophon records 'Rycharde Kele' as being its printer. According to Hammond, various copies of this edition bear the names of different booksellers; indeed, the copy Hammond describes cites Thomas Petit as the printer. This was the last edition that Thynne produced.
Although far from perfect, his work influenced later editions throughout the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, including those of John Stow and Thomas Speght. They copied the works that Thynne ascribed sometimes spuriously to Chaucer, and also maintained his tradition of including poems by authors associated with Chaucer, such as Gower and Scogan. On folio , the following is underlined, presumably by the same reader:. Throughout euery regyoun Went this foule trumpes soun As swyfte as a pellet out of a gonne Whan fyre is in the pouder ronne. His first edition of Chaucer's works appeared in It was printed by Adam Islip and brought out in three impressions: this one was printed 'at the charges of Thomas Wight'.
Strictly speaking, it may be more correctly described as an augmented reprint of John Stow's edition of However, its additions are noteworthy in including the beginnings of editorial apparatus. This is quite clear from the title-page's list of new features: these include Chaucer's 'portraiture and progenie shewed'; 'his life collected'; 'arguments to every booke gathered'; 'old and obscure words explained'; 'authors by him cited, declared'; 'difficulties opened' and finally, 'two bookes of his, never before printed'.
The biographical material was the first life of Chaucer to appear in English, and its details provided the basic facts of his standard biography until the middle of the Nineteenth Century. Neither of these works are now credited as being by Chaucer. This copy was presented to the library in Francis Thynne the son of the former editor of Chaucer, William Thynne had sent Speght a long letter of 'Animadversions' on the edition of Speght took these criticisms - many of which were misguided - in good part and incorporated Thynne's suggestions into his second edition.
He thanks Francis profusely for his help in improving the text in his rewritten preface 'To the Readers. The appendix of Chaucer's 'old and obscure words It was revised and augmented for the reprint. Chaucer's language was becoming increasingly difficult for readers to understand by the end of the Sixteenth Century and it was a striking and necessary addition. Consisting of some 2, words, most of the entries simply give explanations in the form of synonyms.
In its original form it was not a particularly scholarly peice of work, and most of the meanings seem to have been supplied through guesswork from their context. The revised glossary for the second edition also incorporated some etymologies. Part of the Library and University Services. Read our interview with A. Davis, recommending one of the stories from this collection.
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Read our interview with Ramona Ausubel about what bodies do in secret and read a short story from the collection here , introduced by Manuel Gonzales. As a queer Southerner, who wrote about his experience at conversion camp in his debut novel, White both respects and sees right through the tropes of Southern fiction. Read an interview with Nick White. This stunning debut collection offers a perspective on black life that acknowledges, but does not require or rest on, suffering and grief.
She also produced this weird and wonderful collection of stories about the eponymous state. We asked Lauren Groff about ugly feelings, climate change, and using dread to create effective fiction. Mark his name—and read our interview. Enjoy strange, diverting work from The Commuter on Mondays, absorbing fiction from Recommended Reading on Wednesdays, and a roundup of our best work of the week on Fridays.
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