Competition

Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales retold

29 May 2021

9:00 AM

29 May 2021

9:00 AM

In Competition No. 3200, you were invited to retell one of Chaucer’s tales in the style of another author.

The voices that dominated, in a medium–sized entry, were those of the Wife of Bath, the Pardoner, the Miller and the Nun’s Priest. Chaucer’s pilgrims were offered a free dinner for the best yarn, but this week’s winners will have to make do with a prize of £25 each. Nick MacKinnon, Frank McDonald, David Shields, Janine Beacham, Rosemary Sayer and Victoria Owens earn honourable mentions.

Wilt thou forgive those sins whereby, misled,
 A wonton wife, betroth’d four times before,
 Did, at the fourth one’s funeral, choose to wed
 A clerk possessed of vigour and allure?
 This woman then did justify her lust
 By citing such as Solomon who took
 More wives than one and thereby bid us trust
 All that is writ in God’s most Holy Book;
 Forgive thou wilt, as thou forgave the knight
 Who raped a maiden fair and yet was spared
 By learning that a wife knows best what’s right,
 And thus, by Grace, in God’s forgiveness shared.
 Bathed in baptism’s pool this Wife of Bath
 And errant knight were destined both to win
 Joys due to those who find the narrow path
 And turn their backs on sacrilege and sin.
 Alan Millard/John Donne/The Wife of Bath

It was the tolling Bell, for Death,
 Aroused three angry Friends.
 ‘Let us kill Death and rid the World
 Of him who plots our Ends.’
 
 They asked an Old Man where Death dwelt;
 ‘That tree’, so they were told.
 But in Death’s place was Treasure, heaped.
 They planned to seize the gold.
 
 ‘Let’s stay the night, then: equal shares!’
 For Wine went one (of three),
 While two resolved on his return
 To kill him greedily.
 
 They did the Deed, drank deep, unknown
 How poison’d he the Wine
 All three men died; triumphant Death
 Achieved his Great Design.
 D.A. Prince/Coleridge/The Pardoner

Three tramps: Bim, Bam, Bom. Set out to find Death, of all things. Discover a tree — Christ, what stinking artifice! — beneath which, bags of gold they cannot but steal. Though not by daylight for fear of witness. Wait for concealing dusk deemed interminable without liquid sustenance. Hence straws produced. And drawn. Bom, else Bam or Bim, draws scantest. Sent to town to procure and return replete with libations. Whereupon Bim’s absence — or that of Bam or Bom, according to precise permutation pertaining — prompts remaining pair to connive at his murder. Bam, else Bom or Bim obtains wine and, deploying the vile perspicacity of the realist, poison from narratively convenient conurbation. Returns. Is murdered by conniving pair. Who celebrate with aforementioned wine. Also, unknowingly, with aforementioned poison concealed therein. Hence, soon, Bim dead, Bam dead, Bom dead. Beside gold. Beneath tree. Further permutations impossible.
 Adrian Fry/Samuel Beckett/The Pardoner

The miller was pretty drunk, if you want to know the truth, and there was a bunch of dirty stuff in his story. This college student plays a crumby trick on his rich old landlord, who has a beautiful wife so much younger that it’s kind of disgusting. The student and the wife fool the old guy into sleeping in the barn one night so they can have his bed. But there’s this other young guy who also wants some action with the wife, and he comes to the window asking for a kiss. She sticks her bare rear end out the window and he practically loses his mind when he kisses her there. He gets a red-hot poker and comes back for revenge. This time the student moons him and toots a loud one in his face. But the guy gives him the damn poker instead of a kiss.
 Chris O’Carroll/J.D. Salinger/The Miller

Whether the Anglican community of Bruges looked with greater reservation upon the monastic vocation of the apparently aristocratic Sir John, or upon the family association with him claimed by the mercantile Mr St-Denys, I cannot say. The loan of a specific sum from the latter to the former to purchase livestock seems beyond doubt. The subsequent emergence of Mrs St-Denys from a dowdy cocoon in a glorious array of gowns, shawls and bonnets is well-recorded. The acquisition of the livestock was, apparently, deferred. However, even those who considered most intensely the nature of the informal chaplaincy supplied by Sir John to the family, could not but rejoice in the subsequent reconciliation, spiritual and, seemingly, otherwise, of husband and wife, and their consequent marital felicity. Sir John, to his acknowledged credit, and the nobility in his blood, and the austerity of his calling notwithstanding, had not, apparently, forsworn the personal touch.
 Nick Syrett/Anthony Trollope/The Shipman

‘Let the Games begin! May the Gods be ever in your favour!’ The anthem plays. I see myself on screens around the arena. They’re watching in Thebes and the other Districts. The crowds cheer. ‘Arcite!’ ‘Palamon!’ Theseus, gold eyeliner and Minotaur tattoos glinting in the sun, banters to the gallery. ‘A love triangle! Don’t we ancient Greeks love triangles — ask Pythagoras! There’s nothing Platonic about these lovebirds and fair Emily! But JOUST a minute — the tournament commenceth!’ Dodging fireballs, landmines, mutts, killer-bees, I think: ‘Sir Lancelot didn’t have to contend with this.’ Then I think: ‘Sir who?’ Is this Greece or medieval England? What sort of Greek name is Emily anyway? Why ancient Greeks? Who’s Pythagoras? I’m hallucinating. The venom of the tracker-jacker wasps is playing with my brain. Then I hear the cannon. Arcite’s been upended by a mutt from the Underworld. I’ve won! ‘Get in!’ I fist-pump, chivalrously.
 David Silverman/Suzanne Collins/The Knight

No. 3203: the third way

You are invited to provide an extract from the newly discovered Shakespearean play Charles III. Please email entries of up to 16 lines to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 9 June.

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