The Canterbury Tales


Offered up as a curiosity: an excerpt from the Wife of Bath sequence from Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1972 film, I racconti di Canterbury. This barely passes as “adaptation,” but it’s gaudy and ridiculous, and maybe those qualities indirectly capture some of the tale’s bawdy spirit. Also, the great Italian actress Laura Betti plays the Wife of Bath — and, as part of the curiosity, Tom Baker, better known as one of the best incarnations of Dr Who, plays one of her husbands

Geoffrey Chaucer recited the Canterbury Tales in the court of Richard II for the first time on this date in 1397.

Here’s Frye’s stark assessment of Chaucer’s Retraction:

Then we find a Retraction at the end, where Chaucer, with a dismally pious snuffle, pleads forgiveness for having written his poetry. Now this is no joke. There is no room in the same poem for both this Retraction and the rest of the work: the most eclectic reader could not extend Chaucer’s moral standards for that. To us The Miller’s Tale is great art and thoroughly good in the Platonic sense of the word: it is the Retraction that appears to us as a grotesquely leering obscenity. It is, of course, customary to invoke the Middle Ages at this point, and say that Chaucer lived at a time when it was generally considered meritorious to make such an exhibition of oneself. But that is far too easy-going. When Chaucer started out he made no concessions to medievalism: he defended his own coarseness by saying that Jesus Himself did not hesitate at coarseness when occasion demanded, and that those who wished to be holier than Jesus could simply read something else. Morally, this defence and its retraction are mutually exclusive. The man who made the Miller, Reeve, Friar, Summoner, and Pardoner was a creator, a worthy servant of the Creator-God who presumably looked, in the Garden of Eden, upon the hinder parts of a she-ape and saw that it was very good. The writer of the Retraction is accepting the moral standards of the Summoner and Pardoner at their face value, with all the hypocrisy and vulgarity they imply. This is something absolutely different from the conclusion of Troilus and Cresyde: there, the great artist rejected the world; here, a canting Worldly Wiseman is rejecting great art. (CW 10, 135)

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