Note: If you haven’t read the Canterbury Tales, there might be some context missing, so please read it. I also might spoil shit. Oh well. Hopefully readers of it, find this blog.
I finished reading the unfinished Canterbury Tales a couple months ago. I thought it would fun to rank the tales and choose a winner, as the host in the book was never able to. I’ve ranked the stories from worst to best based on my own personal preference. I considered writing this whole thing in Middle English similar to “Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog,” but it would be too tedious for me. This will be written in my natural, sincere, and informal style. Anyways, enjoy. Tell me why I’m stupid in the comments.
24. The Parson’s Tale
What a shitty way to end a book. I had to google the full text because my edition had a summary instead. To feel like I truly completed the Canterbury Tales, I read the entirety of this boring ass penance. This isn’t even a tale and shouldn’t be treated as one. I take it Chaucer finishing the Canterbury Tales like this was a sign of the times. Seriously, read the actual bible instead. It makes sense why a summary was included instead of the text. It would be a waste of paper.
23. The Tale of Melibee
I had to google the full text of this one for the same reason as well. What ranks this above the Parson’s tale is the humor of it. I can’t say I enjoyed reading it, but the idea behind the joke is amusing. It’s pre-Tim and Eric, pre-Gordon Lish, pre-Andy Kaufman, pre-Monty Python, etc. After the host interrupts his story, Chaucer’s character retaliates by telling the most pointlessly dragged out Seinfeldian story. It predates the Wonder Showzen episode, “Patience.” The reader gets the joke a few minutes into it. But Chaucer continues on long after the joke stops being funny. I have always had a sense of admiration and respect towards those who are that committed to pissing people off and testing their patience for the sake of a lousy joke. The man and his wife argue about the moral, religious, and philosophical reaction to handling a violent break-in for what is the longest tale in the book. It’s anti-comedy at its finest.
22. The Monk’s Tale
This tale is technically several small tales. This is the equivalent of hearing a very dense conspiracy theorist talk about various moments in history and focusing on small insignificant detail they all have in common, which proves his entire worldview.
What makes Chaucer so brilliant is that by having various characters and multiple narratives, he gets to present many different points of view, while hiding what he specifically believes in. Bonus points for making his author avatar such a silly goofball.
Anyway, I think the Monk is meant to be annoying. The stories are boring, but are nowhere near as long as the two tales above.
21. The Clerk’s Tale
This story pissed me off. A man emotionally tortures his wife for many years to test her faithfulness and loyalty. He keeps knocking her up and having someone “kill” their children, while having someone secretly raise them somewhere else. Then he ditches her to marry another woman. When she remains loyal to him in spite of everything, he says, “Just kidding. I’m not marrying again. I love you. Oh and your children are still alive.” The moral of the story is that a loyal wife is a good wife or something like that. The prick of a husband faces no consequences for his actions. Not a very interesting story.
20. The Second Nun’s Tale
This is a boring generic religious tale about faith. The lady never gives up her faith or something like that. She spreads her faith and in a Joan of Arc fashion refuses to renounce her beliefs and continues to spread the word against the will of the rulers of the area. After reading many of the much better stories of the book, this one was just me waiting for something unpredictable to happen. It didn’t.
19. The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale
I vaguely even remember this one, which as it goes, makes me wish that I wrote this right after I read it. I think I read this one on a plane on the way back from San Francisco, so I didn’t have my notebook with me. There was this fat guy sitting next to me on the flight. He peered over and asked, “whatcha reading?” I showed him my book, after which he pompously bragged, “I prefer to read Classic books like Atlas Shrugged and Moby Dick.” I told him the book was from the 1300s, after which he pulled a wrapped hot dog from his pocket and stuffed it into his mouth.
18. The Tale of Sir Topaz
Again, I think it’s cute that Chaucer gives himself the dumbest stories to tell in the collection. The story is told in a very simplistic rhyming pattern. This one is about a knight that goes off on a fairy tale-like quest. He starts off looking for a sexy elf woman, and almost nothing happens in the story before it is interrupted by the host on account of the story being too stupid. This stylistic suck is better than the stories above.
17. The Summoner’s Tale
This one is an overelaborate joke, where someone blowing a fart on someone is the punchline. I retold this one in detail to a friend of mine, only for him to scratch his head. This is the Terrence and Philip of the middle ages. If this is your thing, enjoy? This is also a jab at people who knock on doors asking for religious donations.
16. The Nun’s Priest’s Tale
The way this story is told is a little strange. It is two fables in one. First, it’s a variation of “you knew damn well I was a snake (fox) before you took me in” and second, of “fool me once, shame on me, fool me twice, shame on you.” The reason I say it’s a little strange is because there quite a few details we are told that seem irrelevant to the overall tale.
One, the protagonist is a cock (like literally a rooster), and he has seven wives. He loves one in particular, more than the others. He opens up to her about an issue he is having, only for her to emasculate him, telling him he is not a “real man.” This hardly motivates anything or adds a layer of purpose to anything in the story.
Second, he has a premonition warning him exactly what will happen in the tale. The next day when it comes true, he stupidly doesn’t even think about the premonition.
When the rooster triumphs in the end, it feels less satisfying, and more like a non-sequitur.
15. The Physician’s Tale
A man has a hot fourteen year-old daughter, who another man lusts after. The second man uses his legal power to fuck over the father, and legally become owner of the man’s daughter. The father, reasonably worried that his daughter will be raped by this man, chops her head off. The End.
14. The Manciple’s Tale
Now that I’ve pissed off everyone by talking shit about old tales through modern eyes, I can finally get to the stories I liked. I think this one is pretty fun. This one is the inverse of “don’t kill the messenger.” It’s more, “If you catch a man porking your friend’s hot wife, you don’t have to tell him.”
13. The Friar’s Tale
This tale was the friar’s jab at the summoner, casting the profession as a bunch of greedy thugs abusing their power, who hate people more than they love God. The protagonist has no qualms with teaming up with a demon from hell to suit his own motives. The tale is both a variation of “don’t deal with the devil” and “don’t be a dick.”
12. The Shipman’s Tale
I’m not sure I fully understand the context of this story. What I get is that the merchant’s wife in the story uses sex with people to get what she wants, the monk manipulates others to get what he wants (sex with the man’s wife), and the merchant doesn’t like spending money on his wife.
Is the merchant supposed to be more respectful to his wife? Or is the wife lying about her man to get money from the monk? I don’t know if I’m supposed to be happy or sad that the monk tricks her at the end. When the wife tells her husband with a wink at the end, “I can repay you in bed”, is that supposed to be a “funny” joke? Is the story trying to say the only power the woman has is her sexuality? Or is she just supposed to a bitch? Are her actions of true desperation? Why can’t the merchant and his wife just communicate better? I have no idea if the merchant cares about his wife or not.
There are many different character interpretations in this tale, which give it more edge above the rest for me. The only thing I am certain of is that the monk is a dick to both his friend and that woman. Maybe the tale’s goal is for the reader to smile as the sneaky trickster monk manipulates two people. The story doesn’t really end with him, though. The “I can repay you in bed” ending is so abrupt.
I’ve looked up analyses and interpretations of this tale and even though it explains the historical positions of each of these characters, it still leaves things a bit ambiguous for me.
11. The Pardoner’s Tale
This one is kinda funny. The plotting of this tale is very Coen Brothers-ish. It might not be the most original story by today’s standards, but I still won’t spoil any details because it might ruin the fun of it. Think Fargo.
10. The Merchant’s Tale
This is one of the more humorous cuckold stories in the book. An alternate title for this story could be The Gods Must Be Making It up as They Go Along. The divine intervention in this makes me smile.
9. The Prioress’s Tale
Let me get out the way that this tale is anti-Semitic. The antagonists are evil Jews who celebrate the murder of gentile children. To be extra clear, these aren’t Jews who happen to be evil, the text strongly implies that they are evil because they are Jewish. If you mentally replace the word “Jewish” with “wicked”, as reading this tale, you can understand the context better without rolling your eyes at the six hundred year old racism.
Okay, so the tale is unexpectedly touching. A happy kid wanders off into the bad part of town. He gets murdered and dumped in an alley. God/the Virgin Mary causes a miracle to make sure everyone finds out about the boy’s death, to show that he was never truly abandoned and is never alone. I thought it was sweet.
8. The Man of Law’s Tale
What I liked about this one is that it was a longer story with various things happening, so the tale was fun to read, so as to see the direction the tale was going in. It doesn’t have the boring repetitive nature of some of the other tales such as the Clerk’s tale. Constance’s adventure takes her across the sea and back, meeting different people and getting into wacky shenanigans such as having her wedding crashed, becoming suddenly single, going on a luxury cruise, and applying for a job as a maid despite having no previous work experience. Constance teaches us meaning of faith and love as she gets mixed up with a few quirky bachelors as she searches for Mr. Right.
7. The Miller’s Tale
Chaucer really loves cuckoldry stories. I think it’s a major plot point in five of these stories and is mentioned regarding a minor character in a sixth story. Anyways, this is Chaucer’s most famous and most retold cuck story.
I watched the BBC modern retelling of this story and it made me cringe very hard. The main guy is supposed to be some badass who seduces a man’s wife by pretending to be a record producer. There is a scene where he makes a snappy comment only for Soft Cell’s tainted love to be played in the soundtrack. I’m American and I thought most American TV was crap, but after having seen some of the UK’s programming, the writers of The Big Bang Theory are starting to seem like geniuses.
Speaking of which, what is the appeal of Doctor Who? Whenever I ask my friend, who is a fan, about it, he says mundane things like “I fell for this show.” Nobody can give me any answers when I ask them about it.
If the guy can’t die, what are the stakes? The actors too seem to be aware of the show’s crappiness as none of them want to stay on the show. That’s how little faith the actors have in the character.
Also, why are the garbage cans evil? I jokingly asked some Doctor Who fans I’ve met, “What are the odds of Woody Allen playing the part of the next doctor?” They each got pissed and started violently screaming in my face. “HE’S NOT BRITISH!!! THE SHOW WOULD NEVER HAVE AN AMERICAN PLAY A BRITISH!!!” Things only got worse when I brought up Mr. Peabody.
Television definitely has to be the lowest art form, below poetry, comic books, webcomics, street performing, popular music, con art, the art of war, porn, and YouTube tutorials.
Hell, I think television commercials have more artistic value than television shows.
My point is if TV sucks and Doctor Who is one of the suckier TV shows, what does that make it? If there’s a word for that, please let me know.
Anyways, the miller’s tale is comical. I tend to like stories where most of the characters are jerks.
6. The Squire’s Tale
My love for this tale has a lot to do with my love for Shaggy dog stories. The story is seemingly aimless and meaningless, planting the seeds of what seems to be a long narrative. The story is all buildup to what will hopefully be a long fulfilling tale, only for some idiot to interrupt the storyteller saying, “wow! Great job! You are so smart! This is so good! Anyway, I have a better story.”
I love this almost as much as I love Sancho Panza’s tale of the goats in Don Quixote.
5. The Franklin’s Tale
The idiot interrupting the previous tale actually did end up having a better story to tell. It asks questions about morality, the importance of staying true to your word, considering the situation of others involved when making decisions, and to think before you speak.
4. The Cook’s Tale
Again, I really love shaggy dog stories. I can sum up this unfinished tale in one sentence. A black guy gets fired from his job for partying too much, so he moves in with his friend whose wife happens to be a prostitute. There is so much promise as to what can happen in this story even if it doesn’t deliver. I’m a sucker for ambiguity.
3. The Knight’s Tale
This is the first tale in the book, and if this tale didn’t capture my attention so well, having me turn the pages, I don’t know if I would have bothered reading the rest of the tales. There’s a lot of old fiction and poetry that is so medieval it’s boring. I’m looking at you, Spanish literature. This was pretty fun though. Maybe, I’m a simpleton, but both of the protagonists were almost on equal footing. Seeing them become rivals made me curious as to how their arc would resolve. The ending was a little disappointing, because it feels like Chaucer just had to have an ending, but the journey up to that point is great. This is the perfect tale to start off one’s reading of the Canterbury Tales.
2. The Reeve’s Tale
I shouldn’t have found this one as funny as I did. It serves as a good reminder of how specifically to get even with someone.
1. The Wife of Bath’s Tale
I’m going to ignore the wacky stuff the wife of bath says before the tale and focus on the tale itself. This tale is probably a great example of early feministic themes. A rapist learns a lesson in empathy and respect. While the shrug of the resolution gives the story a Hollywood ending, the man is forced to spend a year trying to learn from his mistake. He’s sent on a quest to find what women want most and must report it in one year’s time. If he fails to find out what women want most, he is to be executed. It’s funny because when he specifically asks various people, they each say contradicting things, only adding to his confusion. This tale had something more interesting to say compared to everyone else’s and especially looks progressive when you consider the time period this was written. Whether Chaucer actually held these beliefs or not is a different story. It’s still interesting for this perspective to have been told.
I think this is the best tale in the bunch, but the host in the story might have thought differently, considering his crappy taste.