Canterbury Tales App Features Middle English Audio, Work by Monty Python’s Terry Jones

An international team of Medievalists has released a free android and iOS app of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, featuring the digitized Hengwrt Chaucer manuscript and an authentic 45-minute dramatic reading of the General Prologue.

Canterbury Tales App, screenshot from PC versionAn international team of Medievalists led by University of Saskatchewan (USask) English professor Peter Robinson this week announced the release of a free android and iOS app of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. Focusing on the General Prologue, the app is the first in a series, with the creators also planning to launch an app for the Miller’s Tale and possibly other portions of the 14th-century masterpiece.

The app opens with a straightforward interface. Users are greeted with a digitized version of the Hengwrt Chaucer manuscript’s General Prologue, provided by the National Library of Wales. Tapping on “play” launches a 45-minute audio performance of the text by Colin Gibbings, a former USask English graduate student, who spent months working with Robinson to reconstruct what the language would have sounded like in 1389, ultimately developing his readings into a series of live performances.

"We want the public, not just academics, to see the manuscript as Chaucer would have likely thought of it—as a performance that mixed drama and humor," Robinson explained in an announcement. "We have become convinced, over many years, that the best way to read the Tales is to hear it performed--just as we imagine that Chaucer himself might have performed it at the court of Richard II."

Users can follow along line by line with the Hengwrt Chaucer manuscript. The app highlights lines and presents the original text accompanied by a modern English translation. Tapping on a menu button on the top left of the screen enables other options, including viewing a modern English translation, viewing the 14th-century text without the manuscript, or viewing extensive notes, while an unobtrusive box with single line text and translations follows along with the audio.

"While the app has material which should be of interest to every Chaucer scholar, it is particularly designed to be useful to people reading Chaucer for the first time,” University College London medievalist professor Richard North said in the announcement. “These include not only bachelor of arts university students and school children but also members of the public.”

In addition to the reading, the app also offers exclusive access to new scholarship, including new findings about the Canterbury Tales by North and a new edited text of the Prologue by USask lecturer Barbara Bordalejo.

“North's academic research on the project includes several new discoveries,” according to the announcement. “For instance, he has found evidence suggesting that Chaucer's Knight, one of the main characters of the Tales, is at the siege of Algeciras near Gilbraltar, in the south of Spain, in 1369 instead of the commonly assumed date 1342–44.”

Monty Python star and medievalist Terry Jones, who passed away on January 21, is described as “instrumental” in developing the content of the app. His translation of the General Prologue and his two influential books on Chaucer are featured prominently in the introduction and notes. "We were so pleased that Terry was able to see and hear this app in the last weeks of his life. His work and his passion for Chaucer was an inspiration to us," Robinson said.

The app is titled “General Prologue,” and is currently available for free in the Google PlayStore for Android and Apple’s App store, or via the web at sd-editions.com/CantApp/GP/.

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Matt Enis

menis@mediasourceinc.com

@MatthewEnis

Matt Enis (matthewenis.com) is Senior Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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