A portly Miller, barely sober enough to sit on his horse, rambles on about the flighty wife of a crotchety old carpenter and a scholar she takes as her lover. To get some time alone together, the scholar and the wife play various tricks that involve feigning madness, staging a biblical flood, and exposing themselves in public.
But the parish clerk is also lusting after the wife. He comes by every night to sing outside her house. This becomes so tiresome that she tries to scare him away by hanging her rear end out of the window for him to kiss. When this appears not to work, her scholar decides to try farting in the same position. But this time the clerk is waiting with a red hot poker.
This might all sound like a bawdy joke, but it's part of one of the most esteemed works of English literature ever created—The Canterbury Tales, which seamlessly blends the lofty and the lowly. The work consists of 24 stories, each told by one of Chaucer's spirited characters. Narrators include familiar medieval figures, such as a Knight, a Clerk, and a Nun, and the less recognizable, Reeve, and Manciple, and others.
這也許聽起來就像是個低級的黃色笑話，但這故事其實出自於英國文學史上一部備受推崇的作品－－《坎特伯里故事集》，一部完美融合高雅和庸俗的著作。這部作品包含了 24 個故事，每個都是由喬叟筆下生動的角色敘說。敘事者包括大家比較熟悉的中世紀人物，像是騎士、學者、修女，除此之外還有管家、伙食經理等較不知名的人物。
The tales are written in Middle English, which often looks entirely different from the language spoken today. It was used between the 12th and 15th centuries and evolved from Old English. Due to increased contact with European Romantic languages after the Norman Conquest of 1066, most of the Middle English alphabet is still familiar today, with the inclusion of a few archaic symbols, such as yogh, which denotes the y, j, or gh sound.
這些故事是由中古英語撰寫，看起來跟現代英語很不一樣。中古英語用於 12 到 15 世紀間，由古英語演變而來。中古英語在 1066 年「諾曼征服」後與歐洲羅曼語族的接觸更為頻繁，也因此大部分的中古英語字母至今依舊可以辨識，其中包含了一些古老的符號，像是 yogh，代表 y、j 或是 gh 的音。
The loquacious cast of the tales first meet at the Tabard Inn in Southwark. They have a journey in common, a pilgrimage to Canterbury to visit the shrine of St. Thomas Becket, a martyred archbishop, who was murdered in his own cathedral. Eager and nosy for some personal details, the host of the inn proposes a competition: Whoever tells the best tale will be treated to dinner.
故事中這些健談的角色第一次相遇是在倫敦南岸薩德克的泰巴客棧。他們正踏上一趟相同的旅程，也就是到坎特伯里朝聖，參訪聖徒 Thomas Becket 的聖堂，這位主教因為在自己的教堂被謀殺而殉道。為了探聽八卦，客棧主人提議來場比賽：誰能講出最棒的故事，誰就能獲得免費的晚餐。
If not for their pilgrimage, many of these figures would never have had the chance to interact. This is because medieval society followed a feudal system that divided the clergy and nobility from the working classes, made up of peasants and serfs.
By Chaucer's time, a professional class of merchants and intellectuals had also emerged.
Chaucer spent most of his life as a government official during the Hundred Years' War, traveling throughout Italy and France, as well as his native England. This may have influenced the panoramic vision of his work, and in the tales, no level of society is above mockery.
Chaucer uses the quirks of the characters' language, the ribald humor of the Cook, the solemn prose of the Parson, and the lofty notions of the Squire to satirize their worldviews. The varied dialects, genres, literary tropes also make a work of a vivid record of the different ways medieval audiences entertained themselves.
For instance, the Knight's tale of courtly love, chivalry, and destiny, riffs on romance,
while the tales of working-class narrators are generally comedies, filled with scatological language, sexual deviance, and slapstick. This variation includes something for everyone, and that's one reason why readers continue to delight in the work in both Middle English and translation.
While the narrative runs to over 17,000 lines, it's apparently unfinished, as the prologue ambitiously introduces 29 pilgrims, and promises four stories apiece, and the innkeeper never crowns a victor. It's possible that Chaucer was so caught up in his sumptuous creations that he delayed picking a winner, or perhaps he was so fond of each character that he just couldn't choose. Whatever the reason, this means that every reader is free to judge.
The question of who wins is up to you.
儘管這部作品長度超過一萬七千行，但顯然並未完成，故事序言野心勃勃地介紹了 29 個朝聖者，並承諾每個人會各說四則故事，但客棧主人卻沒有選出獲勝者。喬叟有可能過於沉溺在他精彩的故事創作中而遲遲沒選出贏家，也或許是他太喜愛每個角色而選不出來。不論原因是什麼，這代表每個讀者都能自行判斷。由你選擇誰才是贏家。
註一：這裡的英文用 biblical flood 是因為用到了舊約聖經中諾亞方舟的典故。故事中的學者聲稱比聖經中的大洪水還要大兩倍的洪水即將襲來，以欺騙老木匠。