'As you know, it's a long way to Canterbury. You need to stay happy on the journey. I've got an idea. You must all tell a story on the way. We'll give a free


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Introduction

'As you know, it's a long way to Canterbury. You need to stay happy on the journey. I've got an idea. You must all tell a story on the way. We'll give a free dinner to the person who tells the best story. Now, put up your hands if you agree.'

The pilgrims all held up their hands and cried out, ' Yes!'

A group of pilgrims are travelling together for five days from London to Canterbury. On the way, each pilgrim has to tell a story. Some stories are happy, and some are sad. But they all have a message, and we can learn from them.

The writer of these tales, Geoffrey Chaucer, was born in London in about 1342. We do not know exactly when he was born. His father, John, and his grandfather, Robert, worked in the wine business. They probably also worked for King Edward III. The family earned quite a lot of money and had a comfortable life.

When he was a young boy, Chaucer went to school in London. He then worked for an important lady in the king's family. It was a very good job and he met some very interesting people.

In 1359 Chaucer was sent abroad as a soldier. He was fighting for the king against France in part of the Hundred Years'War. He was taken prisoner by the French near Rheims, but after a year the king paid money for his return.

When he returned to England, Chaucer worked for the king, his family and friends. In about 1367 he married Philippa de Roet, a lady who worked for the Queen.

Chaucer was a great reader and he had an excellent memory. He learned to read in Latin, French, Anglo-Norman and Italian. He knew a lot about literature, history and science.

The king often sent him to other countries on important business for him. On two of these journeys Chaucer went to Italy; first to Genoa, in 1372, and then to Milan, in 1378. People think that Chaucer became interested in Italian story-tellers on these journeys. He probably met the Italian writer, Boccaccio, when he was in Italy. We can be sure that he read Boccaccio's book, the Decameron (1348—58).

Chaucer became a rich man during this time, but in December 1386 he lost his job. John of Gaunt, the king's son and Chaucer's friend, left England to fight in Spain. The Duke of Gloucester took his place and he didn't like Chaucer. He gave Chaucer's job to his friends. So Chaucer had more time for writing, and he began work on The Canterbury Tales.

In 1389 John of Gaunt returned to England and gave Chaucer an important job again. Chaucer was growing old. He felt that his writing was getting worse. He died on 25 October, 1400, and his body was put in Westminster Abbey.

We do not know exactly when Chaucer started writing poems. It was probably when he returned from the war in France.

Chaucer wrote a lot of poems, and some of his great books are ^ The Book of the Duchess (1369—70), The House of Fame, The Parliament of Fowls (between 1372 and 1382), and Troilius and Criseyde (between 1380 and 1385). His most famous work is The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer worked on this from 1386 or 1387, but he never finished the book.

Printing was introduced in Germany in about 1450. In 1477 Caxton made the first machine which could print in England. He printed ^ The Canterbury Tales in 1478.

The Canterbury Tales was not the first book of short stories. Chaucer's idea — a group of people who each tell a story — wasn't a new idea either. In Boccaccio's Decameron, ten people escape to the country from a terrible illness in Florence. Each person tells a story to pass the time.

In ^ The Canterbury Tales, the story-tellers are pilgrims. Their stories are interesting, but the pilgrims also seem very real to us. We feel we know them personally by the end of their stories. They are ordinary people — rich and poor, intelligent and stupid, young and old, from the town and from the country. They do not do the same jobs as we do today. But we all know people like them. The pilgrims' stories help us to understand English life in Chaucer's time.

The pilgrims' stories are all completely different, and they come from all over Europe. Some of the stories even come from countries in the East. At that time, people in Europe loved stories which taught them something — stories with a message about life or a new idea.

The stories in ^ The Canterbury Tales are told like poems, and they are written in Chaucer's English. For this Penguin Reader we have chosen seven of the pilgrims' stories, and we have written them in modern English.

The Prologue

At the Tabard Inn

Pilgrims are people who travel to special places because they want to please God. Their journeys are often to places where a saint lived or died. Thomas a Becket was a saint. He was killed in Canterbury, in a great old church. Years ago, pilgrims went to Canterbury to visit this church.

This book tells the story of some pilgrims who travelled from London to Canterbury together. On the journey each person had to tell a story — a tale.

The pilgrims met at a place called the Tabard Inn in London. The fat owner of the inn was always happy. He told amusing stories which made the pilgrims laugh. They had a good meal at his inn, with a lot of excellent food and drink.

After the meal, the fat man stood up and said,' Friends, I'm very pleased to meet you. As you know, it's a long way to Canterbury. You need to stay happy on the journey. I've got an idea. You must all tell a story on the way. We'll give a free dinner to the person who tells the best story. Now, put up your hands if you agree.'

The pilgrims all held up their hands and cried out,' Yes! Yes! That's a good idea. And you can decide which story is best.'

The next morning they all got up very early and started on their journey. After a time, they stopped and gave their horses water. Then the fat man said,' Now, who's going to tell the first story ? Sir Knight, will you ?'

The knight was travelling to Canterbury for a special reason. He wanted to thank God because he was safe after a dangerous war.

' Yes, all right,' he said.' I'll begin.'

And he started to tell his story.

^ The Knight's Tale

Palamon and Arcite

Many years ago in Greece, there was a great soldier called Duke Theseus. He and his wife, Queen Hippolyta, were the most important people in Athens. The queen's beautiful younger sister, Emily, lived with them.

One day, a soldier brought the duke some bad news.

' Creon has begun a war against you, Duke Theseus. And he has won Thebes already.'

When he heard this, Theseus and his knights rode to Thebes. There they fought Creon and killed him.

Two rich young knights in Thebes fought for Creon. Their names were Palamon and Arcite and they were hurt in the fighting. They were taken to see Theseus at the end of the war.

'Your families will pay a lot of gold if I free you,' the duke said to them. ' But you're my enemies. You fought against me, and you'll never be free again.'

The two knights were locked in a high tower in Athens. Then the duke rode home to Queen Hippolyta and her sister, Emily.

Palamon and Arcite were prisoners in the tower for many years.

One morning, Palamon got up early and looked out of the window at the duke's garden. There he saw the queen's beautiful sister, Emily. She was walking in the garden with flowers in her hair.

When Palamon saw her, he cried out. She was so beautiful.

'Dear Palamon, what's the matter?' asked Arcite in a worried voice.' Your face has gone white! Why did you cry out ?'

' I've just seen the most beautiful lady in the world,' Palamon answered.' Please God, get me out of this prison. If I can't make her my wife, then I want to die!'

Arcite jumped up quickly and looked out of the window. When he saw Emily he also fell in love with her.

' If she can't love me, I don't want to live,' he cried.

Palamon was very angry when he heard this.' But you can't steal my lady like that! I fell in love with her first, and I'll love her for ever. You must help me to win her.'

' You saw her first, but I love her as much as you do!' answered Arcite angrily. 'And how can you or I win her? We're prisoners in this terrible tower.'

' Perhaps we'll be free one day, and then the best man will marry her,' said Palamon sadly. Life seemed very hard to both the young men.

Duke Theseus had a good friend in Athens called Duke Perotheus. Perotheus knew the young knight, Arcite, and liked him very much. When he heard that Arcite was a prisoner in the tower, he said to Theseus, 'I'm very sorry that Arcites your prisoner. He's not like Creon, you know. He's a good young man. Dear friend, please free him so he can live in the real world again.' Duke Theseus thought hard and then answered, 'Perotheus, you're my good friend, so I'll free Arcite for you. But he must leave Athens, and never return. If he does return, I'll cut off his head!'

Before Arcite left the tower, he talked to Palamon.' I must leave Athens, but you can stay here and look at my beautiful lady in the garden. You're luckier than me.'

But Palamon was as sad as Arcite.' You'll be free. Perhaps you'll return to Athens with soldiers one day and fight Theseus. And if you win, my beautiful lady will be yours.'

Then the two knights said goodbye and Arcite left the tower.

The young knight went back to Thebes, but he was very sad without his beautiful Emily. He thought about her every day and every night, and soon he became very ill.

One night, the god Mercury visited him in his sleep and said, ' Go back to Athens, Arcite. Then you'll be happy again.'

Arcite jumped out of bed and cried, 'Yes, I'll go back immediately! If the duke catches me, he'll cut off my head. But I'm not afraid of death if I can see my beautiful lady again.'

Then he looked at his face in the mirror. He looked very different because of his illness.

'Nobody will know me now,' he thought. 'I can go to Athens safely'

So Arcite went back to Athens. Nobody knew who he was. He became one of Emily's servants - he got her water, cut wood, and worked very hard for her. He stayed in Emily's house for seven years and he was soon very popular. Even Duke Theseus began to notice him.

All this time, poor Palamon was a prisoner in the tower. He was very unhappy but he couldn't escape. A man watched him all day and all night.

One day, one of Palamon's friends had an idea. He put some poison into this man's drink. The man fell asleep and Palamon took his key, opened the great door, and was free at last!

' I'll return to Thebes now,' he thought. 'But I'll come back to Athens soon with a lot of soldiers and kill Theseus. Then I'll marry Emily.'

He ran away from the tower as fast as he could. He planned to walk all night and hide during the day. When the sun came up, he rested in a wood.

That morning, Arcite was riding in the wood, singing in the sunshine. He didn't know that Palamon was hiding there.

'Emily still doesn't know me,' he said to himself sadly. 'I'm only her servant. She's got no idea who I really am. What can I do to win her love ?'

Palamon was hiding behind a tree near Arcite. When he heard this, his face went as white as death. 'Arcite!' he shouted. ' I'm going to kill you! You were like a brother to me once, but you still love my lady. You or I must die!'

Arcite was very surprised, to see Palamon. But he answered quietly, 'Love is free, isn't it? I'll always love Emily, but let's fight for her tomorrow. I'll meet you here. If you win, the lady will be yours.'

'Good! I'll see you here tomorrow!' answered Palamon, walking away angrily.

The next morning, Palamon and Arcite met again and the great fight began. Duke Theseus, Queen Hippolyta and Emily were riding in the wood and heard the sound of fighting. Soon they saw the two knights.

' Stop !' shouted Theseus.' Why are you fighting like this ?'

' Sir, we're two unhappy men,' answered Arcite in a tired voice. 'You're our lord. Kill me first. Then kill my friend.'

' This is Arcite,' Palamon said. ' Do you remember him ? He works in Princess Emily's house. But he isn't really a servant. He's worked in her house all these years because he loves her. And I am Palamon. I escaped from your tower. I love Emily too. I'm happy to die now at her feet. Kill me, but kill Arcite too.'

The duke was very angry. He wanted to kill them both.

' Yes! You must both die!' he shouted.

But the queen, Emily and all their ladies began to cry.' No! No! These two fine young men mustn't die!'

Then the ladies all fell on their knees in front of the duke. ' Oh, sir! Please don't kill Palamon and Arcite!'

'All right,' Theseus said. 'You can live. But you must promise me that you'll never make war on my land. You must always be my friends.'

' We promise, sir,' the knights said.' We'll always be your friends.'

' Emily can't marry both of you,' continued the duke, ' but I've got a plan. Go home to Thebes and come back in one year. Each of you must bring a hundred knights, ready to fight for you. Emily will marry the winner. Do you agree ?'

Palamon and Arcite both looked at Emily on her horse. They fell on their knees and thanked Theseus again and again. Then they went home to Thebes and began to get ready for the great fight.

Duke Theseus was busy too. He built a place outside Athens for the fight. It had stone walls, with white gates on the east and west sides. The duke built three temples - a temple of Venus, the goddess of love; a temple of Diana, the goddess of the moon; and a temple of Mars, the god of war.

There were beautiful pictures in the temple of Venus, and a garden full of flowers. The temple of Diana had a picture of the moon. The temple of Mars was very different. It was an unhappy place with pictures of wars and burning towns. In the middle was a picture of Mars with a fire in front of him.

After a year, Palamon and Arcite returned to Athens, and each of them had his hundred knights. When they heard about the temples, they both wanted to visit them.

Palamon thought, ' I'm going to the temple of Venus. She'll help me. I'll ask her for a quick death if I lose.'

So he went to Venus s temple and the goddess seemed to move her head.

When Palamon saw this, he cried out, 'Oh, I'm so happy. Venus has moved her head. That means she's going to help me!'

Arcite went to the temple of Mars, the god of war.

' Mars, please help me to win,' he said in the temple.

Suddenly the temple doors began to move and the fire in front of Mars burned strongly. Then a low voice said,' You will win, Arcite!'

Arcite was very happy when he heard this.' Mars is going to help me! I'm going to win!'

Now, pilgrims, you're going to hear how Mars and Venus kept their promises.

The next morning everyone in Athens went to see the great fight. There were lords and knights in fine clothes, and beautiful ladies in wonderful dresses. Duke Theseus, Queen Hippolyta and Emily sat and watched it all.

When everyone was quiet, a soldier cried out,' Duke Theseus doesn't want anyone to die today. If you are hurt, you will become a prisoner. If Palamon or Arcite become prisoners, then the fighting will end. Now, let's begin!'

Arcite then came onto the field through the west gate, near the temple of Mars. His clothes were all red. Palamon came through the east gate, near the temple of Venus. His clothes were all white.

Pilgrims, I can't tell you everything about the great fight. Horses fell to the ground, brave men were hurt, servants brought food and drink to the fighters. Then, at the end of the day, Palamon was hurt and the fighting stopped.

'Arcite can marry Emily now,' said the duke.' He's won her in this long day's fight!'

'Arcite's the winner!' shouted the people. 'Arcite! Arcite!'

There was loud music and Arcite rode proudly across the field towards Emily. She looked down at him and thought,' He's so brave and handsome! I'm sure I can love him!'

But suddenly something frightened Arcite's horse. The horse fell to the ground and Arcite was thrown off. People ran to him and carried him carefully to Theseus's house. They put him on a bed and waited for the doctor.

' He's very ill,' said the doctor when he came.' I'm afraid he's going to die.'

Arcite sent for Palamon and Emily.' I've loved you so much, Emily,' he said sadly.' I've been unhappy and ill because of you. And now I'm going to die for you. If you want a husband, marry Palamon. It will make me happy when I'm dead.'

Then he closed his eyes. Just before he died he looked up at Emily. He said her name.

When they heard the news, the people of Athens felt very sad. They cried for many days.

Months passed. Time makes most things better. The people of Athens were tired of all the fighting and they wanted to be friends with the people of Thebes. So Duke Theseus decided to send for Palamon.

When Palamon arrived in Athens, he was wearing black clothes for his lost friend, Arcite.' Don't be sad,' the duke said to him. 'You'll never forget your dear friend but you can still be happy. Remember what Arcite said to Emily: " If you want a husband, marry Palamon." Does that make you feel happier?'

Then the duke called for Emily and took her hand.' Emily, all my people want to be friends with the people of Thebes. If you agree to marry Palamon, then we'll stop being enemies. Take good Palamon, Emily, and marry him. He's loved you for a long time.'

Then he turned to Palamon,' Sir, take this lady by the hand. She'll be your dear wife.'

So Palamon and Emily were married and lived happily together. And the people of Athens and Thebes were never enemies again.

At the end of the story, all the pilgrims said,' That was a beautiful story, Knight!'

Some of the other pilgrims told their stories. Then the fat man turned to the Clerk of Oxford.' You haven't said a word since we started our journey, Clerk. Perhaps you're thinking about your books. Well, now think about us. Have you got a good story to

tell us?'

The Clerk of Oxford was very poor and his clothes were old.' He and his horse never had enough food. But he loved books and he loved teaching people. He was happy to begin his story.
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