The Canterbury Tales - Geoffrey Chaucer. A complete modernisation by A. S. Kline with illustrations by Mary Eliza Haweis.
The Canterbury Tales is a collection of stories, written in the Middle English vernacular, supposedly told among a group of pilgrims travelling from London to Canterbury. Chaucer uses the form, possibly based on knowledge of Boccaccio’s Decameron gained on a visit to Italy in 1373, to provide a highly varied portrait of his society, both secular and religious. The journey of the pilgrims, unlike that of say Homer’s Odysseus or of Dante in the Divine Comedy, is relatively unimportant compared to the tales themselves where Chaucer’s true interest lies. Entertaining, and lively, these stories though primarily intended for a literate and courtly audience, exhibit Chaucer’s wide love of character and humour, and his mix of narrators allows him to reveal both the scope and complexity of his times. His interest in religion and spirituality is muted, while his secular delight in the varied lives of men and women is to the fore. A founding master of English literature, Chaucer was highly valued by subsequent writers, and set the tone for the later tradition through his social inclusiveness, his pleasure in the everyday, and his introduction of European cultural elements to an English setting.
This and other texts available from Poetry in Translation (www.poetryintranslation.com).
Ackroyd's retelling of Chaucer's classic isn't exactly like the Ethan Hawke'd film version of Hamlet, but it's not altogether different, either. Noting in his introduction that the source material "is as close to a contemporary novel as Wells Cathedral is to an apartment block," Ackroyd translates the original verse into clean and enjoyable prose that clears up the roadblocks readers could face in tackling the classic. "The Knight's Tale," the first of 24 stories, sets the pace by removing distracting tics but keeping those that are characteristic, if occasionally cringe-inducing, like the narrator's insistence on lines like, "Well. Enough of this rambling." The rest of the stories continue in kind, with shorter stories benefiting most from Ackroyd's treatment, though the longer entries tend to... ramble. The tales are a serious undertaking in any translation, and here, through no fault of Ackroyd's work, what is mostly apparent is the absence of the original text, making finishing this an accomplishment that seems diminished, even if the stories themselves prove more readable.