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The Chaucer Project

In Spring 2014 the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, and The Institute for Medieval and Early Modern Studies at the Universities of Aberystwyth and Bangor (IMEMS), in collaboration with The Huntington Library, California, are delighted to be hosting an exhibition showcasing one of the National Library’s greatest treasures: the Hengwrt manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, believed by some to be the earliest extant text of this literary masterpiece.

Visitors to the exhibition, which will be held at the National Library in Aberystwyth, will be able to undertake two short ‘pilgrimages’ around the exhibits. The first will be in the footsteps of the Wife of Bath, learning about medieval women, love and marriage through medieval jewellery, costume, and the wedding ceremony. The second will follow the route of the Pardoner, whose trail will be illustrated by relics (the subject of ironic boasting in his tale) and artefacts portraying Hell, the Seven Deadly Sins and the impact of the Black Death. 

Both ‘pilgrim routes’ will converge at the entrance to the Hengwrt Gallery, in which the National Library’s medieval and later Chaucerian holdings will be displayed in relation to four themes that represent current research interests in Chaucer and his contemporaries. The first theme, Exploring the ‘Adam Pinkhurst Connection’, will focus on the work of Adam Pinkhurst, the scribe who copied the Hengwrt Chaucer as well as the lavishly illustrated Ellesmere manuscript of the Canterbury Tales, now held in the collection of The Huntington Library, California; a digital copy of this ‘sister’ manuscript will also be on display in the exhibition. The second theme will range more widely in the Welsh context, highlighting Storytelling in medieval Wales and including, among other works, the Mabinogion in The White Book of Rhydderch (MS Peniarth 4), and the poetry of Chaucer’s contemporary, Dafydd ap Gwilym. Chaucerian texts ‘crossing borders’, the third theme, will examine the reception of Chaucer in medieval Wales, while the fourth theme, Chaucerian afterlives, will demonstrate how Chaucer’s work was reproduced and adapted across the world in later centuries, from William Caxton’s first printed edition to William Morris’s ‘Kelmscott Chaucer’ and beyond.

In addition to the exhibition, a conference is planned to coincide with the opening of the exhibition in 2014, taking as its theme ‘Chaucer and the world of the Canterbury Tales’. This will be the first in a series of triennial Hengwrt Chaucer conferences on aspects of Chaucer’s work and related literary and historical topics. A permanent web resource hosted by the National Library, facilitating comparison between the Hengwrt and Ellesmere copies of the Canterbury Tales, is also planned.


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