The Canterbury Tales- Geoffrey Chaucer (1478)
*Genre: Mediaeval Framework (=Middeleeuwse raamvertelling)
1.) The Pardoner’s Prologue:
The Pardoner is a knave (=schurk) who let people pay for false relics and pardons (=aflaten). He tells his story when the pilgrims are taking a rest from their long journey. He begins with an argumentation of the different ways he betrays people. He thinks he can speak now heart-to-heart (=openhartig spreken) in this company. To illustrate his argumentation he starts to tell a story, which is a moralistic example of his argumentation (exemplum).
The Pardoner’s Tale:
First he begins to tell something about the great wrongdoers in the world. These are gluttony (=vraatzucht). “Gluttony has corrupted all the earth.” The other things are drunkenness, wine and gambling. He gives examples of the negative influences.
Then he says that the bible is against swearing (=vloeken) and that you should abandon curses. The actual tale begins now.
The story is about 3 rioters in a tavern who see a funeral procession passing by. They hear from a servant that the death body was a friend of them and that he suddenly was surprised by “Death”. In drunken recklessness they decide to kill Death. They met an old man. They ask him why he hasn’t died yet. The old man answers that during his pilgrimage he was not able to find someone who would change his youth to have his age. Not even death would take his life and Maria wouldn’t let him in heaven. He’s angry with the boys who spoke so roughly against him. They ask if the old man knows where Death is. He shows them the way to a tree where they will find the Death. Under the tree they find a pile of gold. They are happy with the gold and they don’t think about Death anymore. To celebrate it they draw lots. The youngest of them draws the longest and he has to run to town to buy bred and wine. During his absence they are plotting to kill him when he’s back, so that they don’t have to share the gold with him. The idea is that the youngest will be welcomed with a wrestle, the other put his dagger through his back and the first will do the same. The youngest had a similar thought, he bought poison in an apothecary and he lent 3 large bottles where he put the wine and the poison in. When he returns the others stab him. They are thirsty and drink the poisoned wine.
The 3 rioters find now indeed the Death, which they looked at the beginning of the story.
Now the Pardoner tries to sell the false relics. First he wants to sell it to the Host, because he committed the most sins according to the Pardoner. The host reacts roughly and he remember the others what kind of man the Pardoner actually is. The Pardoner is very angry and a sharp quarrel is about to start. The Knight intervenes (=grijpt in) and they make it up (=leggen het bij).
*Moral: Gluttony, drunkenness, gambling, greed (=hebzucht) and deceit (=bedrog) have only negative influences and are the great wrongdoers in the world.
*Kind of story: exemplum (moralistic example)
2.) Words of the host to the Shipman and the Prioress
The Shipman has just told his story. The Host asks if the Prioress wants to tell a story. She will try.
The Prioress’s prologue
She is praising the Lord and Mother Maria. She says that she isn’t able to tell a story, because her telling skills are very weak. She asks God and Maria to help her with her speech.
The Prioress’s Tale
The story is set in a Christian town in Asia with a Jewish ghetto. The Jewish people were hateful to the Christ there. There was a Christian little school in this town and among these children was a widow’s son. He was very pious (=vroom) and every day when he went to school he knelt down for an image of Christ’s mother and said, “hail Mary”. He had this learnt from his mother. Once when he sat at school he heard the other children sing O Alma Redemptoris from their books. He listened so carefully that he knew the opening verse by heart. He didn’t know what this Latin meant. He asked a comrade what it could mean and the schoolfellow answered that this song was to salute (=groeten) Our Blessed Lady, so that she would help/comfort you on your dying day. He wanted to learn the song for Christmas Day for her honour; if he failed they should scold (=een standje geven) him. So every day his comrade taught it him by rote (=van buiten). Daily he sang this song when he walked through the Jewish street. Satan convinced the Jewish people that the boy did sing the holy song to spite (=”pesten”) them and that it was against the reverence (=eerbied) of their holy laws. He made them so angry that one of the Jews grabbed the boy and slit his little throat and cast him in a pit (=gooide hem in een kuil). The widow had waited all that night for her child, but he didn’t return. She decided to search him. She searched at school and than she got the news that he was last seen in the street of the Jews. She asked every Jew if he had seen her child go by. Everybody said “No”. Suddenly she saw her death child in a pit, who began to sing O Alma.The Christian people were drawn to the singing boy. They asked the Provost to come and he couldn’t believe his eyes. They brought the child to the nearest abbey with the weeping (=treurende) mother who followed them. The Provost then did his judgement on the man, who did the murder. He had to serve a shameful death in torment (=schaamtelose marteldood) and the other Jews were chased away. The boy was laid on an altar and the abbot spread holy water on his head, but the boy kept singing O Alma. The abbot asked why he sang this song, while his throat was cut. The boy answered that he had to sing this song for the honour of Christ’s mother and that she bade him to do it till his time of burying. Later the Virgin said to him that he would stop singing when a grain of seed is taken from his tongue. The abbot took away the grain and he died. He was buried and he met God in heaven.
*Moral: If you love and obey God you will go to heaven. And be faithful to God and a miracle might happen.
*Kind of story: pious story about a Christian martyr (=martelaar)
3.) Words between the Host and the Miller
The Knight has just told his story. It went very well. The Host asks: “Who will tale another tale?” The Miller is drunk, but wants to tell his story. The Host has objection against it, because he’s drunk. The Miller reacts very angry and he gets permission from the Host to tell his story. The Reeve interrupts his story and he says that he mustn’t tell a story, which would slander a man or would bring a scandal on wives in general. The Miller convinces the Reeve that this story will not and that this is a good story.
The writer than regrets that he has to write down this story and says that he is only rehearsing tales. So they can’t blame him for the stories. He also says that if they don’t like the story, they can always choose another story.
The Miller’s Tale
The story is about a carpenter, named John, who has married a girl, who’s much younger. A student, Nicholas the Gallant was a lodger (=kamergenoot) in the house of the old carpenter. He studied astrology and geomancy (=meetkunde), he played on the harp and he could sing very well. He was secretly in love with the carpenter’s wife. Her name was Alison. She was only 18 years old, wild and very beautiful.
One day, when the carpenter was being out, Nicholas caught this young woman and certified his love for her. He also told her all the things he could. Alison swore that she would love him. They both wanted to get rid of the carpenter. Nicholas had to contrive a plan.
There was also a clerk, serving the church, whose name was Absalon. He was very jolly (=vrolijk), played the guitar very well and was also in love with Alison.
That evening he went to the carpenter’s house and played a song for her beside the window, where she slept. From day to day he did that and he even sent her gifts, but Alison was in love with Nicholas, not with him.
On a Saturday Alison and Nicholas contrive a plan to get rid of the carpenter. Nicholas locks himself up with enough food and drink for two days. In case her husband asks for him, she has to answer that she has no idea and that she doesn’t know if he is ill and that the maid had given a call, but that no answer came at all. The carpenter was very worried and on the Sunday-morning he sent a serving-boy upstairs. He looks through a hole in the door and sees Nicholas lying on his bed. The carpenter thought that he was fallen into a fit (=een beroerte heeft gehad). He breaks the door open with the serving-boy and clears the room from ghosts. When Nicholas is awake he says that he has to tell him something and that he shouldn’t repeat it to others. He begins a story that he found out by his astrology that another Noah’s flood will come, only twice as bad. John can rescue himself, his wife and Nicholas by hanging three tubs in the roof below the thatching (=nok) and provide them from enough food for a couple of days and an axe (=bijl) to hack the ropes apart. They shall be lords for the rest of their lives. Tomorrow night they’ll have to creep into their tubs waiting for the flood and they mustn’t speak. The carpenter tells the story to his wife and while he thinks what could happen to her he put everything in order, he climbs in his tub and falls asleep.
Alison and Nicholas go happily to the bedroom.
On the Monday morning Absalon goes to the carpenter’s house. He certifies his love for her, but Alison is not interested in him. Then Absalon only wants a kiss from her. If that happens he will go away. Nicholas puts his naked arse (=kont) out of the window and because it’s very dark Absalon doesn’t notice that it is an arse. He kisses it and only then he notices that these are not lips. He goes away and will pay him back for it. He goes to his friend Gervase the smith and comes back with a burning hot bar (=staaf). He says that he has a golden ring for Alison and that he will give it to her for a kiss. Nicholas puts again his naked arse out of the window and he lets fly a fart (=laat een scheet). Then Absalon presses his iron on his arse and Nicholas cries: ”Water, water!” John wakes up with a start (=schrikt wakker) and thinks that it has started raining, that Noah’s flood has come. He hacks the ropes apart and falls with his tub on the dry ground. He breaks his arm double and all the neighbours come and are staring at the wretched man. Nicholas and Alison told them what the carpenter had done and the entire town held him for mad.
*Moral: John is punished for having a much younger wife, Nicholas has a pain arse, Absalon had to kiss his arse and Alison wouldn’t love him and so gets Alison off without a scratch (=komt er zonder kleerscheuren vanaf). Absalon, Nicholas and John are all punished, except Alison. It is always like that; the one who is actually guilty gets off with a whole skin.
*Kind of story: a boorish farce (=een boertige klucht)
I think the pardoner’s and the miller’s tale were very fun to read. They were not so difficult, except some difficult words. They were very funny and the rhyme was very beautiful. All the tales have a moral, which is also a strong point. All the stories reflect the whole medieval literature. For example you have a romantic Knight story, a farce, an exemplum etc. The stories have also different styles and subjects. The subject and the way the story is told are all adapt to the character that tells the story. These are very strong points in this book.
The pardoner’s tale was very comic, because the three persons are searching for the death in the beginning, at the end they “find” the death, because they die.
The prioress’s tale was very emotional, because the throat of the pious child was slit and he was still singing to God. It was also a cruel and a faithful story and I think a little boring.
The miller’s tale was very comic, because Alison and Nicholas contrive a funny plan to pull the carpenter’s leg and they are making a fool of Absalon too by letting him kissing the hairy arse (=billen) of Nicholas. Absalon takes then revenge and presses his burning hot bar on the arse of Nicholas.
That’s why I liked these three stories so much and I advise them to everyone. When you read them use an abstract (=uittreksel) and a dictionary and it will be not so difficult.
P.S; they were also very short, it took a short time to read them.
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