Friday, April 16, 2021

"Whan that Aprille..."

Think fast! What language is this story written in? If you guessed, "English," you're right. If you guessed, "Middle English," then we're really impressed! Middle English was a form of the English language that was spoken from the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066 until the late 1400s. It eventually morphed into Early Modern English, which is what Shakespeare and his ilk spoke.⁠

The arrival of a Norman ruling class in England in 1066 meant that Old Norman, a dialect of Old French, quickly became the preferred language of the island's elite. It wasn't until the late 1300s, when Geoffrey Chaucer began writing in Middle English instead of Old French or Anglo-Norman, that the English language regained some measure of respectability as a vehicle for intellectual and artistic expression⁠

Tomorrow is National Chaucer Day, which celebrates the anniversary of the first time that Geoffrey Chaucer read his Canterbury Tales aloud to the Court of King Richard II in 1371. To celebrate we're sharing an image of a page from the first printed edition of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. The book was printed in London in the 1470s by William Caxton, who is reputed to be the first person to introduce the printing press to England. ⁠

To see our single leaf of this landmark work of book history, ask for Hickmott 201.