The Canterbury Tales

Adaptations and homages

The Two Noble Kinsmen, by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher, a retelling of "The Knight's Tale", was first performed in 1613 or 1614 and published in 1634. In 1961, Erik Chisholm completed his opera, The Canterbury Tales. The opera is in three acts: The Wyf of Bath’s Tale, The Pardoner’s Tale and The Nun’s Priest’s Tale. Nevill Coghill's modern English version formed the basis of a musical version that was first staged in 1964.

A Canterbury Tale, a 1944 film jointly written and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, is loosely based on the narrative frame of Chaucer's tales. The movie opens with a group of medieval pilgrims journeying through the Kentish countryside as a narrator speaks the opening lines of the General Prologue. The scene then makes a now-famous transition to the time of World War II. From that point on, the film follows a group of strangers, each with his or her own story and in need of some kind of redemption, who are making their way to Canterbury together. The film's main story takes place in an imaginary town in Kent and ends with the main characters arriving at Canterbury Cathedral, bells pealing and Chaucer's words again resounding. A Canterbury Tale is recognised as one of the Powell-Pressburger team's most poetic and artful films. It was produced as wartime propaganda, using Chaucer's poetry, referring to the famous pilgrimage, and offering photography of Kent to remind the public of what made Britain worth fighting for. In one scene a local historian lectures an audience of British soldiers about the pilgrims of Chaucer's time and the vibrant history of England.[61]

Pier Paolo Pasolini's 1972 film The Canterbury Tales features several of the tales, some of which keep close to the original tale and some of which are embellished. The Cook's Tale, for instance, which is incomplete in the original version, is expanded into a full story, and the Friar's Tale extends the scene in which the Summoner is dragged down to hell. The film includes these two tales as well as the Miller's Tale, the Summoner's Tale, the Wife of Bath's Tale, and the Merchant's Tale.[62]

On April 26, 1986, American radio personality Garrison Keillor opened "The News from Lake Wobegon" portion of the first live TV broadcast of his A Prairie Home Companion radio show with a reading of the original Middle English text of the General Prologue. He commented, "Although those words were written more than 600 years ago, they still describe spring."

English rock musician Sting paid tribute to Chaucer and the book with his 1993 concept album Ten Summoner's Tales, which he described as ten songs (plus an epilogue number) with no theme or subject tying them together. Sting's real name is Gordon Sumner, hence the reference to the "Summoner" character in the record's title. In essence, the collection of songs was composed as "a musical Canterbury Tales".

Several more recent films, while they are not based on the tales, do have references to them. For example, in the 1995 film Se7en, the Parson's Tale is an important clue to the methods of a serial killer who chooses his victims based on the seven deadly sins.[63] The 2001 film A Knight's Tale took its name from "The Knight's Tale". Although it bears little resemblance to the tale, it does feature what Martha Driver and Sid Ray call an "MTV-generation" Chaucer who is a gambling addict with a way with words. Scattered references to the Tales include Chaucer's declaration that he will use his verse to vilify a summoner and a pardoner who have cheated him.[64]

Television adaptations include Alan Plater's 1975 re-telling of the stories in a series of plays for BBC2: Trinity Tales. In 2003, BBC again featured modern re-tellings of selected tales.[65]

The 2014 young adult short novel Anaheim Tales by M.L. Millard was inspired by and references The Canterbury Tales.


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