Critical Insights: The Canterbury Tales

Critical Insights Series

The series focuses on an individual author's entire body of work, a single work of literature, or a literary theme.

At a Glance
  • 1 Volume; 300 Pages
  • 10-14 essays offering Current Critical Analysis by Top Literary Scholars
  • Introductory Essay by the Editor
  • Chronology of Author's Life
  • Complete List of Author's Works
  • Publication Dates of Works
  • Detailed Bio of the Editor
  • General Bibliography
  • General Subject Index
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Editor: Jack Lynch, Rutgers University
October 2010 · 1 volume · 488 pages · 6"x9"

Includes Online Database with Print Purchase
ISBN: 978-1-58765-723-8
# of Pages: 488
# of Volumes: 1
Print List Price: $105
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e-ISBN: 978-1-58765-724-5
eBook Single User Price: $105

Outstanding, in-depth scholarship by renowned literary critics. A great starting point for students seeking an introduction to The Canterbury Tales and the critical discussions surrounding it.

It would be impossible to exaggerate the influence, popularity, and prestige of The Canterbury Tales. Considered one the English language's most masterful works, Geoffrey Chaucer's series of tales has managed to stay relevant and prominent for more than six hundred years. By combining sharp wit with an acute awareness of human nature, Chaucer produces some of literature's most unforgettable characters, such as the Wife of Bath, the Knight, the Miller, and the Prioress. Though he intended to give each of his thirty characters four tales, Chaucer left his great work largely unfinished. Nevertheless, the twenty-four narratives that make up The Canterbury Tales stand complete as an artful array of stories that critique and satirize fourteenth-century English society.

Accessible to first-time readers and Chaucerians alike, this volume provides an enjoyable approach to the complexities of The Canterbury Tales, with expert discussions of the stories that have enraptured, stunned, and enlightened six centuries of readers. Edited and with an introduction by Jack Lynch, Associate Professor of English at Rutgers University, it presents original essays along with classic and contemporary criticism to provide a unique insight into Chaucer's richly layered tales.

Lynch's introduction describes the image of Chaucer as seen through the eyes of familiar poets such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Matthew Arnold. In highlighting the density of The Canterbury Tales, Lynch points out that the interpretations of Chaucer's work are both extensive and infinite. A biographical sketch of Geoffrey Chaucer by Judith Laird follows, along with a perspective by Benjamin Lytal, who, writing for The Paris Review, outlines Chaucer's career as an author and the shaky reception of his work that preceded his exquisite collection of tales.

Four original essays then provide an introduction to the background and key themes of the tales. Dominick Grace surveys contemporary criticism of the Tales, Matthew J. Bolton discusses Chaucer's ability to incorporate earlier classical works into his material while managing to keep his own writings original, Rosemary M. Canfield Reisman presents an overview of feminist readings of The Canterbury Tales, and Lewis Walker examines how the culture and events of fourteenth-century England influenced Chaucer as he wrote his masterpiece.

Also included in this volume is a broad collection of previously published essays written by esteemed scholars. E. Talbot Donaldson, Donald R. Howard, H. Marshall Leicester, Jr., and Barbara Nolan discuss the narrative voice within The Canterbury Tales and the distinct figures of Chaucer the pilgrim, Chaucer the man, and Chaucer the poet. Glending Olson addresses the work as a kind of a game, reminding readers that the pilgrims tell their tales as part of a contest.

Douglas Brooks and Alastair Fowler begin the analysis of Chaucer's individual tales by exploring the organization and characterization of The Knight's Tale. Martin Stevens turns his attention to The Merchant's Tale and Chaucer's recurring use of irony, while Katharina M. Wilson digs further into the precise misogynistic occurrences within the work. Susan Crane continues with a feminist reading of The Wife of Bath's Tale, and Cathy Hume uses The Franklin's Tale to explore the challenges faced when a stable marriage finds itself in a tumultuous world.

Greg Wilsbacher considers how modern readers can respond to the anti-Semitism of The Prioress's Tale, and Steven F. Kruger focuses on the representation of Jews and the physical body in the same. Mark Miller provides insight into the topics of gender identity and eroticism within The Miller's Tale. Rita Copeland discusses the rhetoric of The Pardoner's Tale and the sexuality of its teller, and Lawrence Warner inspects the intricacies of The Man of Law's Tale and its Christian background. David Wallace concentrates on the meaning behind Chaucer's choice to start the pilgrimage in Southwark rather than London. Finally, Alice Miskimin discusses the illustrated editions of The Canterbury Tales that began to appear in the eighteenth century, providing a new angle from which to see Chaucer's works.

Accompanying these new and classic essays are a chronology of Geoffrey Chaucer's life, a listing of his works, and a comprehensive bibliography of critical works to aid in the further study of Chaucer and his masterpiece.

The essays are approximately 5,000 words in length, and conclude with a list of "Works Cited," along with endnotes. Finally, the volume's appendixes offer a section of useful reference resources:

A chronology of the author's life
A complete list of the author's works and their original dates of publication
A general bibliography
A detailed paragraph on the volume's editor
Notes on the individual chapter authors
A subject index