April 17th: Chaucer Day

April 17th: Chaucer Day

English · 17 April 2021

“Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licóur
Of which vertú engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye,
So priketh hem Natúre in hir corages,
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages […]”

This introductory quote taken from the General Prologue of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales (c. 1400) marks the beginning of a competitive storytelling competition of 30 pilgrims on their way to Canterbury. April 17th is quite an extraordinary day that, for once, doesn’t mark a birthday but peculiarly the first reading Chaucer performed of his Canterbury Tales at court in 1397. Being his greatest work, even though he died before he could finish it, it is special because he wrote and performed it in English. As the common language spoken at court was French, using the Vernacular, the language of the peasants, was unusual. The Canterbury Tales are still widely read and loved because of its wit and social criticism, and on top, it is possible to read and to understand without any special training.

Of course, there is a considerable number of easy-reading editions and video summaries that also provide an excellent insight into these famous satiric short tales. Geoffrey Chaucer ingeniously found the right tone and speech repertoire for each of his pilgrims according to their class and characteristics creating humorously exaggerated personalities. If someone would ask me about my favourite literary work was, I couldn’t possibly choose a single text but The Canterbury Tales definitely make the shortlist and an amusing pastime.

If you too want to get your mind out of the present for a little while and peek through a window into the past, look into the one or the other story!