So, I’m looking to buy a copy of The Canterbury Tales, and want to make sure I get a good translation. I’d like something as close to the original as possible. It’d be a plus if the modern English is verse, but not necessary. And ideally, I’d like a parallel edition, with the modern English on one page, and the middle English on the facing page, since I like the way the Middle English reads, and with effort, I can mostly understand it. Oh, and since I’m planning on buying from Amazon, it should be something still in print and available. Suggestions?
The only one I’ve read is the Penguin edition. aside from being very readable and in verse, it doesn’t meet all your specifications – it doesn’t have facing page Middle English vs. modern (which suits me fine. I don’t find the older english easily read or edifying) and I don’t know hoe scholars view it. It’s not complete – one or more tales are summarized (surprising for a company with the prestige of Penguin). But it’s still in print AFAIK, and not expensive.
Instead of a translation, I’d go with a heavily annotated Middle English version of selected tales like this.
You’ll find yourself really getting the hang of ME after a while, and the annotations will help you get the jokes.
I’d go with this, too.
Or, if you really want a modern translation, the Penguin edition, which is the Nevill Coghill translation, is your best bet. But, as CalMeacham said, it does not meet all your criteria.
I would also recommend a heavily annotated edition of the ME original. Get the Riverside, if you can afford it, though.
While you’re at it, check out Chaucer’s blog!
That will give a lot more than just the Canterbury Tales and is a pretty hefty investment. Probably around $100.
Where the Norton can be had for about $15.
I have the Dover Thrift edition, which is a nice translation. Super cheap too, between $2-4. The first page is a section of the untranslated text, which is cool. I wish they had included more than one page though!
There’s another Penguin edition that is (according to the review) in the original Middle English, heavily glossed, and complete.
I may have to put it on my wish list.
They also have Cantebury Tales: Side by Side, which meets your request for one side original, one side modern. It only has 9 of the tales, however, and the modern version is prose, not verse.
Hm, that ME Penguin edition looks like it might be closest to what I’m looking for (depending on just how heavily is “heavily glossed”… I like the ME, but I’m no scholar). I’m kind of surprised, though, that so many of the editions are incomplete: I mean, it’s a public domain work, and while it is in a different language, it’s one very closely related to modern English, such that a translation should be very easy and smooth.
One thing I have learned while studying Chaucer and Middle English in general is that it can be very challenging to read if you’re not used to it. Even if your edition is heavily annotated, it can really disrupt the flow of reading to have to glance at the margins every couple of words.
If you do choose to go with an untranslated text and you’re interested in Middle English as a language, I suggest that you pick up an audiobook of the tales too. It was immeasurably easier for me to read the Tales while listening to someone speaking the Middle English with the proper pronounciations. Reading it all by yourself, especially if you don’t have a lot of knowledge about how to pronounce Middle English words, can be an exercise in frustration. Listening, however, can be a lot of fun. Chaucer was truly a master of verse.
And why not use the free SparkNotes study guide.
It’s actually not all that easy to translate Middle English into modern English and keep both the rhythm and the sense. As a small mental exercise to keep myself from going stir crazy during one particularly boring job I had, I used to translate, in my head, the first twenty lines of the Prologue from Middle into modern English (that was all I had memorised).
It was actually quite difficult, unless go for a very literal translation of the content and ignore the poetry of it (and even then there are phrases which are sufficiently ambiguous not to lend themselves to direct translation).
There’s a great saying that’s supposed to be a Rusdsian proverb (but I’m always suspicious of things too good to be true): A translation is like a mistress: Either beautiful and not faithful, or faithful and ugly." Very true, but if true, it disproves itself. Applies to the Canterbury Tales, too.
What I don’t understand is why it’s so hard to find a complete Tales. You’d think that the Penguin edition would be, but even they wimp out and summarize one or two tales. Maybe the newer translation (which I haven’t seen) is complete.
Another way I’ve seen it stated is that a translation of a poem might be a poem, and it might even be a good poem, but it is not the same poem. And I’ll grant that the best translations often have to sacrifice the verse structure of the original, and also that in any translation, there will be some things that just don’t translate well. But while these issues do exist in translating Middle to Modern English, it still seems to me that they’re a lot less extreme than for languages further separated, like (say) Spanish or Greek to English.
Actually, if it said “… :may* be either beautiful or faithful,” it would disprove itself. The more faithful translation is a little clunky.
*I’d like to add that I am glad this board does not have the collagen injection smiley.