Editing Chaucer

canterbury tales chaucerEditing Chaucer

By Sarah Beach

Harlaxton College Undergraduate Essay (2012)

Introduction: Over the centuries many authors have attempted to re‐write or adapt the work of Geoffrey Chaucer, including John Dryden, Alexander Pope, and William Wordsworth. This trend has continued into the 21st century, as Chaucer has been reaffirmed as an English literary icon. Some of these adaptations are faithful renditions, while others are wildly disloyal. The present work seeks to serve as a literary comparison between a traditional rendition of Chaucer’s, “The Canterbury Tales” and Peter Ackroyd’s “modern retelling,” with a specific focus on the General Prologue.

The more traditional text in use here was edited by F. N. Robinson. Robinson’s version, though containing a few amendments and explanatory notes, is closely based on a collection of original manuscripts of “The Canterbury Tales”. In his preface, Robinson notes that he has “meant to supply the reader, either in the notes or in the glossary, with all the necessary help for the understanding of the text”. Other than these small differences, Robinson’s text serves faithfully as an authentic stand‐in for Chaucer’s original.


Ackroyd’s retelling states in his prefacing note on the text that he believed his “task was essentially to facilitate the experience of the poem—to remove the obstacles to the understanding and enjoyment of the tales, and by various means to intimate or express the true nature of the original”. This retelling was completed in 2009 and offers many stark contrasts to both Robinson’s and Coghill’s versions.

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