February 7, 2020
New app brings The Canterbury Tales to life
by Amelia StymacksA team of researchers at the University of Saskatchewan have brought The Canterbury Tales to life with what’s sure to become every English major’s new favorite app.
Ellen Gutoskey, reporting for Mental Floss, reports that unlike his 14th century contemporaries, who generally chose to write in “highbrow” languages “like Latin or French,” Geoffrey Chaucer chose to write The Canterbury Tales in English. As Middle English is rather a headache to read now, there’s a good chance that when The Canterbury Tales crossed your desk in high school, it was a modernized version.
Well, this app provides audio in Middle English (just the General Prologue, 45 min, for now) as well as a digitization of the manuscript. While you listen, you can read along and see each line’s modern translation. I’m doing a terrible job explaining this, so screenshot above for reference.
The version of the “General Prologue” featured in this app is the Hengwrt manuscript, believed to be written by Chaucer’s own scribe, Adam Pinkhurst.
Cool! It’s surprisingly fun to peruse (maybe not so surprising if you’re the sort of person who reads book blogs) and it’s giving me flashbacks to those blessed Sparknotes books that had Shakespeare’s original on one side and the modern translation on the other, but significantly fancier. It also makes for nice background noise while writing a blog post.
According to Gutoskey, more stories, including “The Millers Tale,” are due to get their own apps.
An interesting side note: Monty Python member Terry Jones, who passed away just last month, was a key contributor. Turns out he was a medievalist? (Was that common knowledge??) Jones wrote a couple books on Chaucer and his translation of the “General Prologue” is used in the app.
“His work and his passion for Chaucer was an inspiration to us,” project leader Peter Robinson told Mental Floss. “We talked a lot about Chaucer and it was his idea that the Tales would be turned into a performance.”
Anyway, highly recommend checking it out. You can view on your desktop or download the app wherever you download apps.
Amelia Stymacks is the former director of digital marketing at Melville House.