the canterbury tales


  • The Canterbury Tales is among the first English literary works to mention paper, a relatively new invention that allowed dissemination of the written word never before seen
    in England.

  • It is obvious, however, that Chaucer borrowed portions, sometimes very large portions, of his stories from earlier stories, and that his work was influenced by the general
    state of the literary world in which he lived.

  • Again, however, tales such as the Nun’s Priest’s Tale show surprising skill with words among the lower classes of the group, while the Knight’s Tale is at times extremely

  • [71] Later adaptations and homages Books • The most well-known work of the 18th century writer Harriet Lee was called The Canterbury Tales, and consists of twelve stories,
    related by travellers thrown together by untoward accident.

  • Although perhaps incomplete, The Canterbury Tales is revered as one of the most important works in English literature.

  • In the General Prologue, Chaucer describes not the tales to be told, but the people who will tell them, making it clear that structure will depend on the characters rather
    than a general theme or moral.

  • According to the Prologue, Chaucer’s intention was to write four stories from the perspective of each pilgrim, two each on the way to and from their ultimate destination,
    St. Thomas Becket’s shrine (making for a total of about 120 stories).

  • However, it also seems to have been intended for private reading, since Chaucer frequently refers to himself as the writer, rather than the speaker, of the work.

  • [63] Reception While Chaucer clearly states the addressees of many of his poems (the Book of the Duchess is believed to have been written for John of Gaunt on the occasion
    of his wife’s death in 1368), the intended audience of The Canterbury Tales is more difficult to determine.

  • However, the speed with which copyists strove to write complete versions of his tale in manuscript form shows that Chaucer was a famous and respected poet in his own day.

  • The idea of a pilgrimage to get such a diverse collection of people together for literary purposes was also unprecedented, though “the association of pilgrims and storytelling
    was a familiar one”.

  • [40] Several characters in the Tales are religious figures, and the very setting of the pilgrimage to Canterbury is religious (although the prologue comments ironically on
    its merely seasonal attractions), making religion a significant theme of the work.

  • [29] While the structure of the Tales is largely linear, with one story following another, it is also much more than that.

  • [32] As Helen Cooper says, “Different genres give different readings of the world: the fabliau scarcely notices the operations of God, the saint’s life focuses on those at
    the expense of physical reality, tracts and sermons insist on prudential or orthodox morality, romances privilege human emotion.”

  • Most story collections focused on a theme, usually a religious one.

  • John Lydgate’s tale was popular early on and exists in old manuscripts both on its own and as part of the Tales.

  • [64] Chaucer’s works may have been distributed in some form during his lifetime in part or in whole.

  • Lydgate places himself among the pilgrims as one of them and describes how he was a part of Chaucer’s trip and heard the stories.

  • Chaucer was the first author to use the work of these last two.

  • [17] Sources No other work prior to Chaucer’s is known to have set a collection of tales within the framework of pilgrims on a pilgrimage.

  • [23][24][25][26][27] Genre and structure The Canterbury Tales is a collection of stories built around a frame tale, a common and already long established genre in this period.

  • Another famous example is the Ellesmere Manuscript, a manuscript handwritten by one person with illustrations by several illustrators; the tales are put in an order that many
    later editors have followed for centuries.

  • Chivalry was on the decline in Chaucer’s day, and it is possible that The Knight’s Tale was intended to show its flaws, although this is disputed.

  • From that point on, the film follows a group of strangers, each with their own story and in need of some kind of redemption, who are making their way to Canterbury together.

  • This comparison should not be taken as evidence of the Tales’ popularity in the century after Chaucer’s death, because according to Derek Pearsal, it is unfair considering
    that Prick of Conscience had all the benefit of the “preservation of a dogmatic religious subject-matter”.

  • It is now widely rejected by scholars as an authentic Chaucerian tale, although some scholars think he may have intended to rewrite the story as a tale for the Yeoman.

  • [65] 15th century John Lydgate and Thomas Occleve were among the first critics of Chaucer’s Tales, praising the poet as the greatest English poet of all time and the first
    to show what the language was truly capable of poetically.

  • His writing of the story seems focused primarily on the stories being told, and not on the pilgrimage itself.

  • The tales (mostly written in verse, although some are in prose) are presented as part of a story-telling contest by a group of pilgrims as they travel together from London
    to Canterbury to visit the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral.

  • [70] The Tale of Gamelyn was included in an early manuscript version of the tales, Harley 7334, which is notorious for being one of the lower-quality early manuscripts in
    terms of editor error and alteration.

  • Instead, it appears that Chaucer creates fictional characters to be general representations of people in such fields of work.

  • Having the Knight go first gives one the idea that all will tell their stories by class, with the Monk following the Knight.

  • Determining the intended audience directly from the text is even more difficult, since the audience is part of the story.

  • Lollardy, an early English religious movement led by John Wycliffe, is mentioned in the Tales, which also mention a specific incident involving pardoners (sellers of indulgences,
    which were believed to relieve the temporal punishment due for sins that were already forgiven in the Sacrament of Confession) who nefariously claimed to be collecting for St. Mary Rouncesval hospital in England.

  • Even the most elegant of the illustrated manuscripts, however, is not nearly as highly decorated as the work of authors of more respectable works such as John Lydgate’s religious
    and historical literature.

  • Both tales seem to focus on the ill-effects of chivalry—the first making fun of chivalric rules and the second warning against violence.

  • Another popular method of division came from St. Augustine, who focused more on audience response and less on subject matter (a Virgilian concern).

  • The Canterbury Tales is generally thought to have been incomplete at the end of Chaucer’s life.

  • Some scholars thus find it unlikely that Chaucer had a copy of the work on hand, surmising instead that he may have merely read the Decameron at some point.

  • The tale comes from the French tale Bérinus and exists in a single early manuscript of the tales, although it was printed along with the tales in a 1721 edition by John Urry.

  • [citation needed] Chaucer used a wide variety of sources, but some, in particular, were used frequently over several tales, among them the Bible, Classical poetry by Ovid,
    and the works of contemporary Italian writers Petrarch and Dante.

  • Some of the oldest existing manuscripts of the tales include new or modified tales, showing that even early on, such additions were being created.

  • Glosses included in The Canterbury Tales manuscripts of the time praised him highly for his skill with “sentence” and rhetoric, the two pillars by which medieval critics judged

  • [32] He not only considers the readers of his work as an audience, but the other pilgrims within the story as well, creating a multi-layered rhetoric.

  • [47] The story did not originate in the works of Chaucer and was well known in the 14th century.

  • Chaucer’s verse is usually also characterised by couplet rhyme, but he avoided allowing couplets to become too prominent in The Canterbury Tales, and four of the tales (the
    Man of Law’s, Clerk’s, Prioress’, and Second Nun’s) use rhyme royal.

  • [67] The Tale of Beryn, written by an anonymous author in the 15th century, is preceded by a lengthy prologue in which the pilgrims arrive at Canterbury and their activities
    there are described.

  • Text The question of whether The Canterbury Tales is a finished work has not been answered to date.

  • Doherty wrote a series of novels based on The Canterbury Tales, making use of both the story frame and Chaucer’s characters.

  • General themes and points of view arise as the characters tell their tales, which are responded to by other characters in their own tales, sometimes after a long lapse in
    which the theme has not been addressed.

  • After the Black Death, many Europeans began to question the authority of the established Church.

  • However, the Miller’s interruption makes it clear that this structure will be abandoned in favour of a free and open exchange of stories among all classes present.

  • Because the final -e sound was lost soon after Chaucer’s time, scribes did not accurately copy it, and this gave scholars the impression that Chaucer himself was inconsistent
    in using it.

  • Vocabulary also plays an important part, as those of the higher classes refer to a woman as a “lady”, while the lower classes use the word “wenche”, with no exceptions.

  • The most respected of the tales was at this time the Knight’s, as it was full of both.

  • • Canadian author Angie Abdou translates The Canterbury Tales to a cross section of people, all snow-sports enthusiasts but from different social backgrounds, converging on
    a remote back-country ski cabin in British Columbia in the 2011 novel The Canterbury Trail.

  • The Canterbury Tales (Middle English: Tales of Caunterbury)[2] is a collection of twenty-four stories that runs to over 17,000 lines written in Middle English by Geoffrey
    Chaucer between 1387 and 1400.

  • [45] The Second Nun is an example of what a Nun was expected to be: her tale is about a woman whose chaste example brings people into the church.

  • Writers were encouraged to write in a way that kept in mind the speaker, subject, audience, purpose, manner, and occasion.

  • [50] The pilgrimage in the work ties all of the stories together and may be considered a representation of Christians’ striving for heaven, despite weaknesses, disagreement,
    and diversity of opinion.

  • Chaucer pronounced -e at the end of many words, so that care (except when followed by a vowel sound) was not as in Modern English.

  • An obvious instance of this is The Friar’s Tale in which the yeoman devil is a liminal figure because of his transitory nature and function; it is his purpose to issue souls
    from their current existence to hell, an entirely different one.

  • However, even the lowest characters, such as the Miller, show surprising rhetorical ability, although their subject matter is more lowbrow.

  • [33] With this, Chaucer avoids targeting any specific audience or social class of readers, focusing instead on the characters of the story and writing their tales with a skill
    proportional to their social status and learning.

  • “[58] Several works of the time contained the same opposition.

  • [30] Lastly, Chaucer does not pay much attention to the progress of the trip, to the time passing as the pilgrims travel, or to specific locations along the way to Canterbury.

  • • Henry Dudeney’s 1907 book The Canterbury Puzzles contains a part reputedly lost from what modern readers know as Chaucer’s tales.

  • Thus, the structure of The Canterbury Tales itself is liminal; it not only covers the distance between London and Canterbury, but the majority of the tales refer to places
    entirely outside the geography of the pilgrimage.

  • Another tale features a pelican and a griffin debating church corruption, with the pelican taking a position of protest akin to John Wycliffe’s ideas.

  • Within a number of his descriptions, his comments can appear complimentary in nature, but through clever language, the statements are ultimately critical of the pilgrim’s

  • [citation needed] Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy appears in several tales, as do the works of John Gower, a friend of Chaucer’s.

  • [11] Language Chaucer mainly wrote in a London dialect of late Middle English, which has clear differences from Modern English.

  • • British poet and performer Patience Agbabi is one of fourteen authors who worked together to tell the stories and experiences of refugees, detainees, and asylum seekers
    in a book titled Refugee Tales.


Works Cited

[‘1. Carlson, David. “The Chronology of Lydgate’s Chaucer References”. The Chaucer Review, Vol. 38, No. 3 (2004), pp. 246–54. Accessed 6 January 2014.
2. ^ The name “Tales of Caunterbury” appears within the surviving texts of Chaucer’s work. Its
modern name first appeared as Canterbury talys in John Lydgate’s 1421–1422 prologue to the Siege of Thebes.[1]
3. ^ “Encyclopedia Britannica”.
4. ^ “A Digital Catalogue of the Pre-1500 Manuscripts and Incunables of the Canterbury Tales Second
5. ^ Pearsall, 8.
6. ^ Cooper, 6–7
7. ^ Pearsall, 10, 17.
8. ^ Cooper, 8.
9. ^ Linne R. Mooney (2006), “Chaucer’s Scribe,” Speculum, 81 : 97–138.
10. ^ [1] Ezard, John (20 July 2004). “The scrivener’s tale: how Chaucer’s sloppy
copyist was unmasked after 600 years”. The Guardian.
11. ^ See Lawrence Warner, Chaucer’s Scribes: London Textual Production, 1384–1432 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018).
12. ^ Jump up to:a b c Cooper, 7
13. ^ Pearsall, 14–15.
14. ^
Text from The Riverside Chaucer, ed. by Larry D. Benson, 3rd edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 153.
15. ^ Based on the information in Norman Davies, “Language and Versification”, in The Riverside Chaucer, ed. by Larry D. Benson, 3rd
edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), pp. xxv–xli.
16. ^ e.g. Ian Robinson, Chaucer’s Prosody: A Study of the Middle English Verse Tradition (London: Cambridge University Press, 1971).
17. ^ See M. L. Samuels, “Chaucerian Final ‘-e'”,
Notes and Queries, 19 (1972), 445–48, and D. Burnley, “Inflection in Chaucer’s Adjectives”, Neuphilologische Mitteilungen, 83 (1982), 169–77.
18. ^ Cooper, p. 10.
19. ^ Bloom, Harold (11 November 2009). “Road Trip”. The New York Times. Retrieved
9 September 2013.
20. ^ Sobecki, Sebastian (2017). “A Southwark Tale: Gower, the 1381 Poll Tax, and Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales” (PDF). Speculum. 92 (3): 630–60. doi:10.1086/692620. S2CID 159994357.
21. ^ Cooper, pp. 10–11.
22. ^ Cooper,
pp. 12–16.
23. ^ Brewer, p. 227. “Although Chaucer undoubtedly studied the works of these celebrated writers, and particularly of Dante before this fortunate interview; yet it seems likely, that these excursions gave him a new relish for their compositions,
and enlarged his knowledge of the Italian fables.”
24. ^ Brewer, p. 277.”…where he became thoroughly inbued with the spirit and excellence of the great Italian poets and prose-writers: Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio; and is said to have had a personal
contact interview with one of these, Petrarch.”
25. ^ Hendrickson, pp. 183–92. Professor G. L. Hendrickson of the University of Chicago gives a detailed analysis as to Chaucer coming in contact with Petrarch.
26. ^ Rearden, p. 458. “There can
be no moral doubt but that Chaucer knew Petrarch personally. They were both in France many times, where they might have met. They were both courtiers. They both had an enthusiasm for scholarship. Whether they met then, or whether Chaucer, when on
his visit to Genoa, specially visited the Italian, it does not appear.” “…but the only reason that such a visit could not have occurred lies in the fact that Petrarch himself does not record it. Still, on the other hand, would he have mentioned
the visit of a man who was the servant of a barbarous monarch, and whose only claim to notice, literary-wise, was his cultivation of an unknown and uncouth dialect that was half bastard French?”
27. ^ Skeat (1874), p. xxx. “And we know that Petrarch,
on his own shewing, was so pleased with the story of Griselda that he learnt it by heart as well as he could, for the express purpose of repeating it to friends, before the idea of turning it into Latin occurred to him. Whence we may conclude that
Chaucer and Petrarch met at Padua early in 1373; that Petrarch told Chaucer the story by word of mouth, either in Italian or French; and that Chaucer shortly after obtained a copy of Petrarch’s Latin version, which he kept constantly before him whilst
making his own translation.”
28. ^ “Sources and Analogues of the Canterbury Tales”, 2002, p. 22.
29. ^ Cooper, 8–9.
30. ^ Cooper, 17–18.
31. ^ Cooper, 18.
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39. ^ Donald R. Howard, Chaucer and the Medieval World (London, 1987), pp. 410–17.
40. ^ Bisson, pp. 49–51, 56–62.
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