An international team of scholars and coders have come together to present a remarkable feat of literary digitization: a web and mobile app that explores the manuscripts of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, including research into the historic text, a full range of expert commentary and a new audio performance in Middle English. The app is the first edition in a planned series, and is available free in both the App Store and the Google Play Store.
“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,” project leader Peter Robinson said in a release Sunday. “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.”
The app’s featured performance is a 45-minute reading of The General Prologue of the tales. It’s an offshoot of Robinson’s work digitizing The Canterbury Tales over the last 25 years, and contains new research on the material.
Another notable inclusion comes from the. A medievalist who wrote two books on Chaucer, Jones was instrumental in the app’s development. His books and translation of The General Prologue feature in the app’s introduction. The app’s release date was just after Jones’ Feb. 1 birthday, and is thought to have been his last major academic project before his Jan. 21 death.
“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 in the release. “We talked a lot about Chaucer and it was his idea that the Tales would be turned into a performance.”
Since Chaucer left The Canterbury Tales unfinished at his death, no single text of the Tales exists. Scholars have to reconstruct the text from over 80 distinct manuscripts, mostly written by hand before 1500. Robinson said the team of researchers now has enough material to develop at least two more apps, including one for The Miller’s Tale, the second story in the Canterbury Tales.