CT-GP and "Truth"
Our readings for today are the General Prologue to Chaucer's Canterbury tales and his short lyric, technically a "balade." Ah, titles. The group of "frame-tale narratives" known to modern readers as The Canterbury Tales bears no such title in most surviving medieval manuscripts, but Chaucer once refers to "my tales of Canterbury," and William Caxton, England's first printer, packages the first edition between 1476 and 1478 without a title page or other apparatus, and the second in 1483 with a sort of prologue in which he writes:
I purpose temprynte by the grace of god
the book of the tales of caun
tyrburye / in whiche I fynde many a noble hystorye / of euery asta
te and degre / fyrst rehercyng the condictiōs / and tharraye of eche
of them as properly as possyble is to be sayd / And after theyr
tales whyche ben of noblesse / wysedom / gentylesse / Myrthe / and
also of veray holynesse and vertue (see images of the originals of both at the British Library site: http://molcat1.bl.uk/treasures/caxton/search.asp)
The phrase, "the tales of cauntyrburye," later turns into a "title" as the tales themselves become seen as a whole composition, probably in the later C16-17, certainly by Dryden's time. But earlier the individual tales are still translated separately into EModE, given commentaries, and in general treated as if they are stand-alone compositions. Reading this "work" properly means wrapping your brain around what this peculiar form of composition was before the "short story collection" had been invented. See the main web page for CT-GP for help.
The General Prologue is different from the tales, themselves. It always precedes the other tales, and is always connected to the "Knight's Tale," "Miller's Tale," "Reeve's Tale," and "Cook's Fragment." But to make sense of the GP itself, as a composition, treat it like Chaucer's "deck of cards" from which he will "deal" the tales which follow, short profiles or portraits of a series of pilgrims identified by occupation, dress and other attributes of physical appearance (warts, bad breath, a lisp, etc.), and habits or famous/notorious acts they have performed. Because you will not be able to remember them all, try being a "specialist in three or four of them. Choose one from each major group and you will have a nice representative sample of Chaucer's idea of the English between 1380 and 1400.
The lyric is called by modern scholars "Truth," but is labeled in at least two out of twenty-three surviving C15 manuscripts "Balade de Bon Conseyl" and by three others, "Balade that Chaucier made on his deth bedde." Treat the later titles as readers' responses to the poem rather than author-given titles. What values is Chaucer promoting here? Can you see any of those values, or their opposites, in the GP pilgrim portraits?