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Terry Jones is coming to Saskatchewan!

… Or at least, he’s arriving via Skype.

The Departments of English, CMRS, and Drama are hosting the launch of the University of Saskatchewan’s digital application of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales on April 9th. In the South Studio of the Greystone Theatre, the culmination of several months’ work will be revealed to the university community. One of the exciting things about this digital edition is the visual representation of the text by Chaucer, the audio readings by Colin Gibbings, and a translation by Terry Jones of Monty Python fame. I’ve seen the “app” in its infancy, and the process of putting the text together in all of its forms and then working through bugs, interface, and design, was an interesting process, even in those early stages. I would highly recommend going to the launch, just to see the project.

In the meantime, however, some of you may be wondering what a Python has to do with the Canterbury Tales. As a kid, I loved watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail (probably much to the distress of my friends’ parents), and I knew that the troupe were highly educated and highly intelligent, but I did not know that Terry Jones was a scholar of pre-modern history until recently.

For anyone who wants to know what brings Terry Jones to Saskatoon in his capacity as a scholar of Chaucer, here is some information straight from the Ministry of Silly Walks:

  • His first book was Chaucer’s Knight: The Portrait of a Medieval Mercenary (1980), a controversial critique of the current reading of The Knight’s Tale, which suggests that the eponymous character is less than a “parfit gentle knight,” and more of a bloodthirsty mercenary.
  • In 2003, he wrote Who Killed Chaucer? in which he argues that Chaucer’s proximity to King Richard the Second left the poet in dire straits when the king was deposed. In his review of Jones’ book for The Guardian, Jonathan Myerson describes the person of Thomas Arundel, and his importance in the latter part of Chaucer’s life:

The central plank of Jones’s theory is the 1399 coup which put Henry IV on the throne and Thomas Arundel back behind it. In fact, from the moment he enters the narrative, it’s clear that Arundel’s the one wearing the black cloak and riding the black horse … Arundel had grown fat, rich and powerful by holding a succession of bishoprics. Needing now to consolidate a usurper king, the last thing he could stomach was people saying the church was full of fat, rich and power-hungry hypocrites … So the last thing Arundel wanted, Jones argues, was more descriptions of rip-off churchmen. And yet here’s Chaucer, using his final masterwork to make everyone laugh at the pardoner who sells fake indulgences to poor congregations; at the summoner (a church court policeman, who probably is the pardoner’s significant other) demanding bribes from defendants or will-be-defendants-if-they-don’t-cough-up; at the monk spending all his time hunting; and at the friar, who should be penniless but is clearly a pampered, harp-strumming social climber. In fact, it’s arguable that the entirety of the Tales – with their gentle mockery of the fake piety of pilgrimages – is an assault on the “church commercial” which relied so heavily on income from pilgrims. (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2003/nov/15/classics.highereducation)

  • Jones received an Emmy nomination in 2004 for “Outstanding Writing for Nonfiction Programming” for his television series Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives.(It was followed up by book by the same name in 2007 published by BBC). Check out Episode 1 here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yg3YDN5gTX0
  • In the aptly named Terry Jones’ Barbarians (2006), Jones presented the cultural achievements of peoples conquered by theRoman Empire in a more positive light than Roman historians typically have, while criticising the Romans as the true “barbarians” who exploited and destroyed higher civilisations. Episode 1 of this series from BBC can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKGVqXznpNU


And of course, most recently, Jones has provided a translation of The Canterbury Tales for our homegrown mobile application. The launch on April 9th will likely include more information on Colin’s voice-work in creating an audio accompaniment, Dr Peter Robinson’s direction in the project, as well as all the rest of the people who have been involved in putting it together. Come to the South Studio of the Greystone Theatre at 4pm! Find out more here: http://artsandscience.usask.ca/english/news/event.php?newsid=4875.


  • Elyn Achtymichuk


Works Cited

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. Ed. Jill Mann. London: Penguin, 2005. Print.

Jones, Terry. Chaucer’s Knight: The Portrait of a Medieval Mercenary. London: Methuen, 1994. Print.

—. “The Peasant.” Terry Jones’ Barbarians. UK: BBC Worldwide. 9 April 2009. Web. 24 March 2015.

—. “The Primitive Celts.” Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives. UK: BBC Worldwide. 1 December 2012. Web. 24 March 2015.

—. Who Murdered Chaucer? A Medieval Mystery. UK: BBC Publications, 2007. Print.

Myerson, Jonathan. “Whodunnit? Jonathan Myerson is rapt in a Python’s coils of explanation as to the writer’s mysterious end in Who Murdered Chaucer? by Terry Jones et al.” Rev. of Who Murdered Chaucer? A Medieval Mystery, by Terry Jones, Robert Yeager, Terry Doran, Alan Fletcher and Jeanette D’Or. The Guardian Nov 2003. Online.

“The Wife of Bath Meets Brian’s Mum: World Premiere! New Work by Geoffrey Chaucer, with the assistance of Terry Jones.” Departments of English, CMRS, & Drama. University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon. 9 April 2015. Address.