If you want to understand the daily life and psychology of the Late Middle Ages, Neville Coghill's famous translation of The Canterbury Tales provides one of the very best means of doing so. Within its pages are to be found a broad range of society – high and low, male and female, rich and poor – who express their innermost beliefs and extravagant fantasies in a series of stories they tell as they make their way to Canterbury cathedral. Politics, religion, commerce, philosophy, love, sex, honor, alchemy and just about everything known at the time is discussed with gusto and sincerity by these lively pilgrims.
From the pious tales of nuns to the bald ribaldry of common tradesmen, the full panoply of Medieval man is on display here. And it is done with a genius unmatched in any work of its time.Chaucer, who was active in the second half of the 14th century, lived in a dynamic and epoch-changing period. He was a participant in the Hundred Years War and knew the great King Edward III personally. He was an eyewitness to events of the time and his wry wit was put to brilliant use in service to his poetry, among the best ever written by an Englishman.
©1951 Neville Coghill (P)2010 Audio Connoisseur
I grew up on Golden Age Radio, and while I love to read, I typically consume more books via audio thanks to a job that lets me listen while I work. As an aspiring writer, I try to read a great deal of non-fiction in addition to a variety of fictional genres. I especially love history, historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and old-style gothic horror.
The Canterbury Tales has withstood the test of time because within them, Chaucer paints character portraits of the kinds of people he met in his time. I have read both modern translations and translations that are closer to Chaucer's original, keeping in mind that English was a foreign language back then compared to anything we understand now. It's the kind of thing that makes Shakespeare far easier to understand. In fact, I had the same problem with Shakespeare and Chaucer both back in school in that I felt like I was missing a vital ingredient in truly being able to understand and appreciate them.
While it took some time to get through this because I was constantly comparing the audio with the printed versions I have, I found that the extra time was well spent. I have a love for the printed word, but I tend to learn and retain information better through audio. As much as I hate to admit it, reading something like this is more akin to literary scholarship than it is reading an anthology of short stories as it might have been in Chaucer's day. I found this audio version to be of immense value in that I could hear the stories perhaps as Chaucer himself might have told them to other people that he met along the way. The character studies become people, even if they are perhaps exaggerated here and there, and that sort of thing helps to bring both this work - and the history of the time in which it was written - to vibrant life. And now that my appreciation has grown enough to catch up to my curiosity, I can truly say that I understand now that it's not simply the age of the work that makes The Canterbury Tales the classics they are. It's the character studies and the stories that make them the classics they are.
As with any translation, there is the risk of potentially losing something. Advanced scholars might be more inclined to try the original versions after hearing this. As it is, maybe it's the style, but it seemed to me pretty close. Most of what I didn't translate well for me was more a case of not understanding some of the vocabulary of the age, which is why I kept comparing the printed texts; I had to keep looking things up as some things that were common in Chaucer's time simply do not exist in ours. Again, well worth it, I think, though I understand most won't take that kind of time or effort. Audio will probably help considerably. There's something about hearing things in context that help a reader to fill in the gaps. If you love old literature, or if you have a fascination with the Middle Ages as I do, this is positively a must-read, for through the arts we better understand our histories.
Charlton Griffin does a phenomenal job narrating this long tale. Such vivid and picturesque imagery!
The tales are read in the poetic manner of their writing, but in modern day English.
The reader, or preparer of his text, included over sixty minutes of critique and historical data on Geoffrey Chaucer and his varied writings. I slipped back fifty years to relive the horrors of English Literature 101. A brief historical intro would have sufficed quite nicely, thank you.
"Lovely timbre - some shocking mispronunciations!"
Mr Griffin's voice is a mellifluous baritone and easy on the ear. However, he appears to be an American assuming a very odd English accent.
This includes some rather irritating vowel sounds, e.g. 'off' as 'orf' 'dog' as 'dawwwg' - akin to Loyd Grossman's idiosyncratic Boston accent, which I suspect is odd to both the American and English ear. Very wearing after a while.
It presume he is not attempting a Middle English accent as this is a translation!
Most disconcerting is his apparent lack of research into the correct pronunciation of English words. He falls into the trap many Americans (of the 'Lye-ses-ter Square' variety) do of pronouncing some English words as they are written, rather than how an Englishman - especially a Londoner - would pronounce them. e.g. Michaelmas (he pronounces 'Michael' as in the name, not 'Micklemas' as it should be; Southwark should be 'Suthak'; 'Derby' should be 'Darby' etc.
Also, he sometimes seems not to quite to understand the actual meaning of some phrases and sentences, rather relying on his beautiful voice instead of taking time to understand his material.
In retrospect, I would have preferred to have had these wonderful tales read to me by a good English actor - or at least someone who had taken the trouble to do adequate research.
There is no question that Mr Griffin has a fine voice - but I consider this particular reading to be a little slapdash.
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