I think I am rereading The Canterbury Tales, but I am unsure that I have read them in full previously. I know for sure that between AP Literature and World Literature I in college I have read some amount of this collection, it’s probably also true that I haven’t read all of it. As a piece of literature, in singularity, it’s possibly unparalleled in what it does here. The scope of the poetry, the stories, the prose, the history, and the catalog of language alone make this a truly monumental text. But when you also consider the artistry involved, and especially the moments that are simply hilariously enjoyable, it’s like nothing else.
The Common Prologue stands out as a piece of important exposition. Listing all the particulars, the setting, and the characters and giving them pithy little physical descriptors sets everything place. But as we move into the stories, the combination of the connective materials (the prologues and epilogues) turns this from poem cycle (mostly old in heroic couplets, but often also in prose) turns this into something. Reading “The Miller’s Tale” is hilarious and weird in its own right, but coming off the heels of “The Knight’s Tale” which is full of self-important high notions, so that the Miller is feeling more and more annoyed by it gives it a hilarious extra dimension. Having the Merchant tell a version of the Knight’s Tale in part, and then making fun of it does the same. “The Summoner’s Tale” which includes a scene of 20,000 friars in Hell, falling out of Satan’s asshole is the pettiest petty that ever existed. And so on.
It’s draining in general because of how much concentration is invovled, and of course required translation (I am reading Burton Raffel’s) makes it much better. It’s also draining because it’s not full, unedited in some ways, and several parts of it are boring, possibly on purpose.