Friday, 26 October 2012

Canterbury Tales

I had one of the pages from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales appear in my feed, so it's compelled me to go off and do more research as the artwork is truly stunning.  It's odd; I remember being in class reading through it all in 11th Grade AP English, being actually quite bored by it, but I think that part of the problem was that we were focusing solely on the stories, not the art or the social importance of the piece.  I'm a bit sad that I decided that "Mr. Cliff and his notes" would be an awesome shortcut, but then again, what do you know when you're 16, you're in High School, and your love of your life has just broken up with you after three months?  How times change...

Anyhow, here are some awesome pictures I've dug up from various places online.  The first page of the tales is quite gorgeous and actually, very readable given it's in archaic English:

"Ere begynneth the book of tales of Canterburye compiled by Geffraie Chaucer of Brytayne chef poete"

Although Chaucer wrote his tales between 1387 and 1400, this is a copy of his tales made around 1450.  Sadly, according to the British Library, no copies exist today that Chaucer wrote himself.  However, the fact that at least 80 copies from the 15th century do still exist points to his works being incredibly popular.

They were popular for many reasons.  Firstly, he wrote about a cross-section of society from dyers to nuns and it was a work of social commentary, which always grabs attention.  He also chose to write the stories in English, which was pretty rare in England at that time.  The ruling classes spoke French seeing as the Normans had invaded a few centuries before, with the normal, everyday classes speaking English.  This is probably another reason it was popular -- it was actually the language many people spoke.

A picture of Chaucer as a pilgrim from the Ellesmere Manuscript.  "Heere Bigynneth Chaucers Tale of Melibee" 

That's not to say that people were particularly literate, but that is to say that English was a popular spoken language in England (who'd've thought it?).  As this was one of the first times that the English language had been written down for this purpose post-invasion, Chaucer also got a chance to sculpt it and capture it, showing that different classes spoke in different manners.  What I really like though is the portraits of some of the people telling the tales.  The Prioress, for example is really quite a beautiful illumination:

I also like the Ellesmere version of the Man of Law, however it's smudged now, sadly:

I still find it beautiful.  I think I'm going to end up doing a few posts about this one...

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  1. Interesting, do you write your own stories? I mean to publish..Groet, Frank

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