A Nostalgic Filter: A University of Pittsburgh Exhibition

Ellesmere Chaucer

San Marino, California, Huntington Library, EL 26 C 9

Geoffrey Chaucer’s 'Canterbury Tales' imagines the journey of a group of pilgrims to the shrine of Thomas Becket, a popular destination for late medieval pilgrimages in England. Each chapter represents a tale told by one of the pilgrims, introduced in a prologue that identifies the pilgrim as a member of a particular profession or social identity, framing Chaucer’s collection of short stories through the communal medieval experiences of traveling and storytelling. Though left incomplete upon Chaucer’s death in 1400, the poem was widely known in the 15th century; multiple early manuscripts disseminated the text and inspired later authors to write their own endings for the book in homages comparable to the ‘fan fiction’ of today.

The Ellesmere Chaucer is the most famous of these early copies, known for its lively portrayals of the pilgrims at the start of their respective chapters. The manuscript was carefully preserved in the private library of Sir Thomas Egerton, Baron Ellesmere for nearly three centuries before it was sold to the Huntington Library, where it is now kept on permanent display. Pitt’s facsimile is likewise always on view, housed in a special glass case in its namesake cafĂ©, the Cup & Chaucer in Hillman Library.

This manuscript has been fully digitized and is available at the website of the Huntington Library. 

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