Should individual tale titles in The Canterbury Tales be set in quotation marks?
Note: This post relates to content in the eighth edition of the MLA Handbook. For up-to-date guidance, see the ninth edition of the MLA Handbook.
Yes. Student writers should place the titles of individual tales in quotation marks. This follows from the MLA Handbook’s general guideline for the styling of titles: “A title is placed in quotation marks if the source is part of a larger work” (25):
“The Wife of Bath’s Tale” appears in The Canterbury Tales.
The only tales from The Canterbury Tales included in the textbook Medieval Literature: A Textbook for Students are “The Knight’s Tale” and “The Clerk’s Tale.”
Note, however, that by convention some scholarly publishers style tale titles in roman typeface without quotation marks:
The Pardoner’s Tale and The Wife of Bath’s Tale are among the most written about tales in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
The MLA, in fact, recommended this practice as recently as the seventh edition of the MLA Handbook and continues to observe the convention in its book and journal publications. (Publishers’ conventions vary even more widely: The Chaucer Review, for example, places tale titles in italics.)
Unless a writer is preparing a manuscript for publication and is advised otherwise by the publisher, however, we recommend following the general guideline: place tale titles in quotation marks.
MLA Handbook. 8th ed., Modern Language Association of America, 2016.