This version was devised to be done by an ensemble of only 7-8 actors thus featuring a heightened theatricality. This, combined with a musical score for a balladeer, makes for a visually exciting production. A large cast can extend the roles with ease. The music is optional and mostly performed by a Balladeer.
It should be also noted that though Chaucer never finished writing his Tales, the adapter has written an Epilogue which brings the Pilgrims to the steps of Canterbury Cathedral. Included from the original Tales are The Prologue, The Wife of Bath’s Tale, The Miller’s Tale, The Man of Law’s Tale, the Pardoner’s Tale and The Nun’s Priests Tale.
The Wife of Bath and The Miller are the two bawdiest characters in The Canterbury Tales. Ribald and witty, they tell stories of comic debauchery and pranks. Before the Wife begins her tale, she shares information about her life by announcing that, having had five husbands, she is an expert and cannot understand Jesus’ rebuke to the woman at the well who also had five husbands. Instead, she prefers the biblical command to go forth and multiply.
“The Miller’s Tale” is the story of a carpenter, John, his wife Alisoun, something of a local beauty, and two clerks who are eager to get her into bed. To make a bit of extra money, John rents out a room in his house to a poor but clever scholar named Nicholas, who has taken a liking to Alisoun. Another scholar, Absolon the parish clerk, also has his eye on Alisoun. Hijinks ensue.
The Pardoner begins his Prologue by telling the company about his occupation—a combination of itinerant preaching and selling promises of salvation. His sermon topic always remains the same: Radix malorum est Cupiditas, or “greed is the root of all evil.” He gives a similar sermon to every congregation and then breaks out his bag of “relics”—which, he readily admits to the listening pilgrims, are fake.
“The Man of Law’s Tale” is the story of a virtuous Roman Christian woman named Custance. When married off into a community of pagans, she undergoes just about every kind of adversity possible at the hands of two evil mothers-in-law. Her lot in life is pretty much the worst. And yet.Despite being twice cast out in a rudderless boat into the open ocean, and twice washing up on foreign shores unprotected, Custance survives with her virtue intact.
The Pardoner tells the company how he tells his congregation “olde stories” from long ago, “for lewed peple loven tales olde”. He will, he says, work with hands and make baskets, but get money, wool, cheese and wheat for himself, even if it is from the poorest page or poorest widow in a village. He will drink “licour of the vyne”, and have a “joly wenche” in every town. “Now hold your pees!” he shouts to the company, and begins his tale.
The Knight asks that someone tell a tale that is the opposite of tragedy, one that narrates the extreme good fortune of someone previously brought low. The Host picks the Nun’s Priest, the priest traveling with the Prioress and her nun, and demands that he tell a tale that will gladden the hearts of the company members. The Nun’s Priest readily agrees, and begins his well-known tale of Chanticleer the rooster.
These tales are followed by an epilogue provided by Elvgren that bring the pilgrims finally to Canterbury.
From the Play
The original cast of CANTERBURY TALES used: 3 Women/5 Men
As is evident, a great deal of doubling is required, even to the point of having men playing women’s parts and vice versa. The specific choices that you make will be up to the exigencies of your individual casting and the type and numbers of actors that you select. If you want to cast twenty actors, that’s up to you, but part of the fun of the production is seeing a smaller cast challenged in a variety of roles.
(The cast enters and begin reciting lines in Middle English from the opening of Chaucer’s THE CANTERBURY TALES. Music under. )
ACTOR #1: What that Aprille with his shoures sote,
ACTOR #2: The droghte of Marche hath perced to the rote,
ACTOR: And bathed every veyne in swich licour
ACTOR #3: Of which vertu engendered is the flour,
ACTOR #4: When Zephirus eek with his swete breeth,
ACTOR #5: Inspired hath in every holt and heeth,
ACTOR #6: Tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne,
ACTOR #7: Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
ACTOR #1: And smale foweles maken melodye. . .
HOST: Then people long to go on pilgrimages
To seek the stranger strands
Of far off Saints, hallowed in sundry lands, . . .
(The cast does a lively pole dance to a Medieval folk tune.)
At night there came into my hostelry
Some nine or twenty in a company
Of sundry folk happening then to fall
In fellowship, and they were pilgrims all,
That towards Canterbury meant to ride.
WIFE OF BATH: I’m a worthy woman from Bath City.
In Company I like to laugh and chat,
And I know the remedy for love’s mischances,
An art in which I know the oldest dances.
HOST: She’d had five husbands, all at the church door,
Apart from. . . uhem. . . other company at youth.
No need just now to speak of that, forsooth.
The Miller is a chap of sixteen stone. . .
MILLER: I have a master hand at steal. . . handlin’ grain.
I feel it, like this, with my thumb and thus I knew
It’s quality. . .
HOST: For he took three times his due.
MILLER: A thumb of gold, by God, to guage an oat.
You cast aspersions my way and I’ll smote
You here to kingdom come, ya ‘ear?
HOST: His nose displayed a wart on which there stood a tuft of hair,
Red as the bristles in an old sows ear.
And then there is the Pardoner,
With a brimful of pardons come from Rome.
PARDONER: And here a holy relic, from the catacombs
In an ancient glass filled with St. Peter’s bones.
ACTOR: A Knight there was