This is not the Heath Ledger movie but we can see where the movie got its premise. The wrong guy wants the right girl, poof, there’s your story. It is very difficult to read in the original Middle English. “The Canterbury Tales” has been “translated” and made “easier to read” often. So often that my Kindle had pages of versions! This book shares that translation honor with “The Song of Solomon”.
“The Knight’s Tale” flows like poetry with sentences that end in rhyme, granted this “translation” may not be quite right but here’s an example from one of the last few passages:
“ ‘This ought to weigh with you, it seems to me,
For mercy ought to dominate mere right.’
Then said he thus to Palamon the knight:
‘I think there needs but little sermoning
To make you give consent, now, to this thing.
Come near, and take your lady by the hand.’
Between them, then, was tied that nuptial band,
Which is called matrimony or marriage,
By all the council and the baronage.
And thus, in all bliss and with melody,
Has Palamon now wedded Emily.”
“The Song of Solomon” (Or the original Hebrew name “The Song of Songs”.)
I question why this bit is even in the Bible. It seems little to do with a Holy Book and more to do with lusting after a lover than God. The version, (and who knew there were so many variations!) I read was from the Holman Christian Standard Bible. It was plain in speech and simple to understand. However, it is implied that King Solomon wrote this whole section.
In the HCSB it has broken down whether a female or a male wrote that section. There is some thought that this book of the Bible is allegorical. Was it meant that way? There is also other opinion that it could be a drama of some kind. We won’t ever truly know what this book is supposed to be.
The style of writing is very different from anything in “The Canterbury Tales”. There is no rhyming to speak of. It is argued that this book is poetic in nature, yet it’s a tale of love like “The Knight’s Tale”. This tale is a start to finish relationship. Some of the verses take on a very sexual nature. One that springs to mind is chapter 5:2 –4.
“(2) I sleep, but my heart is awake. A sound! My love is knocking! Open to me, my sister, my darling, my dove, my perfect one. For my head is drenched with dew, my hair with droplets of the night. (3) I have taken off my clothing. How can I put it back on? I have washed my feet. How can I get them dirty? (4) My love thrust his hand through the opening and my feelings were stirred for him.”
The two stories were quite obviously written several centuries apart. But the overall theme is the same. They speak of love.
In the time “The Song of Solomon” was written feelings between men were expressed differently. They were more affectionate to each other. Perhaps not as affectionate as the above verses may suggest but, if King Solomon did indeed write this passage why would it have been changed? Is it maybe the skewed version that a man can not love another man that Christians have? I find it hard to believe that if we are to buy that “The Song of Songs” was written by King Solomon that he would have written about anyone but himself.
The next passage is chapter 1:1-4:
“Solomon’s Finest Song. (2) Oh, that he would kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is more delightful than wine. (3) The fragrance of your perfume is intoxicating; your name is perfume poured out. No wonder young women adore you. (4) Take me with you – let us hurry. Oh, that the king would bring me to his chambers. We will rejoice and be glad for you; we will praise your love more than wine. It is only right that they adore you.”
The preceding passage does imply that someone other than King Solomon is speaking. Is that what the author intended? I doubt we will ever really know the answer to that question.
“The Canterbury Tales” seem to have been written as poetry. But to whom was it intended for? It seems that in the time it was written, the late 1300’s, it would have
been meant to entertain nobility. Nobility tended to be more educated and therefore literate.
Why did Chaucer write this massive work as poetry? It suggests that it may have been popular at the time. Due to the nature of how “The Canterbury Tales” was passed on, in handwritten manuscript, it is fragmented. There is no sure way to know what order the tales are supposed to go in or if they are all there. It reinforces what we all take for granted …technology. Chaucer didn’t have the printing press to help preserve his work.
“The Song of Solomon” was also hand written. Again, we take the printing press for granted. Neither the Middle Ages nor in the time of the Old Testament did they have that most modern invention.
“The Song of Solomon” could really have been written by anyone. Solomon himself or someone wishing to be noticed by the public. “The Canterbury Tales” we know was written by Geoffrey Chaucer. Yet we don’t really know the reason behind why either work was created. Nor do we know the intended audiences. Something both works have in common.
The societies in which these works were created were very different. “The Song of Solomon” is obviously very open about sexuality and how it was perceived at the time. It’s a love story but when it talks about being unclothed, kissing and how the lover’s touch ignites feelings … all things that lead to sexuality.
“The Canterbury Tales”, however, are very chaste in how love is presented. At the time love is fighting for the woman that you desire; showing that you are capable of providing for her; proving you can protect her. It is demonstrated when Theseus stops the duel between Arcita and Palamon. He allows each man to gather an army to come back and then fight for Emily. It is, after all, the age of chivalry. So, they return after the allotted time. Emily, Palamon, and Arcita all pray to different gods to get what they desire. In the end Palamon ends up on death’s bed but gets Emily anyway. Yet he is seemingly snatched from the fiery jaws of death or perhaps he was never really going to die. All things we don’t know just by reading the story. Man, I would love to chat with Chaucer about that!
“The Song of Songs” has none of the defending her honor stuff. It’s straight forward about the love between two people. No ‘Come back after you have gathered a hundred men willing to fight for you’ stuff. There was a certain sense of honor in this time period but it wasn’t about warfare. It was about really loving the person you were with. If indeed King Solomon wrote this book about how he felt … then it is not a tale but a truth. Again, a factoid we will never really know. Séance anyone?
“I am a wall and my breasts like towers. So in his eyes I have become like one who finds peace.” The Song of Songs 8:10.
In my search for better understanding of both works I used a variety of sources. Sadly, the only free sources I found were Wikipedia. I did not quote anything from them but used them to better understand the texts and the time periods.
Any similarities to “The Canterbury Tales” and “The Song of Solomon” are all contested. I’ve read that “The Song of Solomon” reads as erotica. Again, if it is, why would it be included in a Holy Book? Could be that’s how they did things back in the day. With writings from those time periods we will never know the purpose or the intent behind them.