The Canterbury Tales (written c. 1388-1400 CE) is a medieval literary occupational by the poet Geoffrey Chaucer (l. C. 1343-1400 CE) made up of 24 tales related to a number of literary genres and also touching on subjects ranging from fate come God"s will certainly to love, marriage, pride, and also death. After ~ the opening development (known as The basic Prologue), each story is told by one of the personalities (eventually 32 in all) who space on pilgrimage to the shrine of thomas Becket in Canterbury.

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In The basic Prologue, the characters agree come tell 2 stories going to Canterbury and two coming back to the Tabard Inn in ~ Southwark wherein they began from, totaling 120 tales. If this to be Chaucer"s original plan and he never ever intended come deviate from it, climate the piece have to be thought about unfinished at only 24 tales. Part scholars claim, however, the Chaucer did finish the work, based upon the tone and also subject matter of the critical tale and also The Retraction appended to the manuscript.

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The Canterbury Tales was well-known centuries prior to it was actually released in c. 1476 CE. Over there are an ext copies that this manuscript than any other full-length medieval work other than the penitential poem The Prick that Conscience, additionally from the 14th century CE, i m sorry was just so commonly copied as result of its usage by the Church. The Canterbury Tales is thought about Chaucer"s masterpiece and is amongst the most vital works the medieval literature for many reasons as well as its poetic power and entertainment value, notably its depiction of the various social class of the 14th century CE and also clothing worn, pastimes enjoyed, and language/expressions used. The occupational is for this reason detailed and also the characters so vividly calculation that numerous scholars complete it was based upon an actual trip Chaucer take it c. 1387 CE. This seems unlikely, however, together Chaucer hosted a permanent position indigenous the king at the time and also any travel would have actually been listed in court records.

Chaucer"s Life & Career

Geoffrey Chaucer to be the child of a well-off wine merchant of London, given a an excellent education at local schools, and entered into business of the royal court about the age of 13 in 1356 CE. He offered under 3 English kings, King Edward III (r. 1327-1377 CE), Richard II (r. 1377-1399 CE), and also Henry IV (also well-known as Henry Bolingbroke, r. 1399-1413 CE) in positions varying from page to soldier, courier, valet and esquire, controller the the personalizeds house that the London port, member the parliament, and court clerk and also poet, among other duties.

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Chaucer"s functions were never ever technically published throughout his life time as that ide had no yet to be invented yet he to be well known and also highly concerned as a poet together his functions were copied by various other scribes that then mutual or marketed them. The occasions of his life space well recorded in court records, and also it is known he was well-known for his poetic achievements by Edward III (who granted that a gallon of wine daily for life for what to be most most likely a poetic composition) and also rewarded financially by man of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster (l. 1340-1399 CE) for creating his an initial major work, The publication of the Duchess (c. 1370 CE) in honor of john of Gaunt"s late mam Blanche.

By the time Chaucer began composing The Canterbury Tales, he was at the elevation of his poetic powers and also had traveled and also read widely. He to be fluent in Latin, French, and Italian, but wrote in the vernacular of middle English. The personalities who appear in The Canterbury Tales are attracted from Chaucer"s life experiences and are more than likely amalgams of world he had known (though some, favor Harry Bailey the Innkeeper, are historical individuals) and Chaucer"s use of middle English come tell their story is specifically effective since he is able to render their assorted accents and also dialects together they would have sounded at the time.

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Chaucer, appearing as among the personalities in the story, defines the others once he meets them at the Tabard Inn in ~ Southwark. The bulk of the characters will phone call a story to the others together they ride toward Canterbury. This are, in the bespeak they appear in The basic Prologue:

Chaucer-the-pilgrim that narrates the work; tells the 17th and 18th talesThe items – a man of honor, truth, and also chivalry; tells the 1st taleThe Squire - the knight"s son, a gentle youth of poetic sensibilities; speak the 11th taleThe Yeoman – the knight"s servant; no taleThe Prioress (Madame Eglentyne) – a nun that supervises a priory; speak the 15th taleThe second Nun – secretary to the Prioress; speak the 21st taleThe Nun"s monk – among three clergymans traveling v the Prioress; tells the 20th taleThe Monk – a worldly lover of hunting, riding, and drinking; tells the 18th taleThe Friar (Huberd) – a corrupt clergyman that keeps donations for himself; speak the 7th taleThe salesperson – a scholar from Oxford University; tells the ninth taleThe Franklin (landowner) – a glutton, companion of male of Law; tells the 12th taleThe five Tradesmen: Haberdasher, Carpenter, Weaver, Dyer, and Tapestry Weaver, every traveling together; explained in basic Prologue yet no speaking partsThe chef (Roger) – functions for the above tradesmen, loves come drink; tells fourth taleThe Shipman – a ship"s captain; tells 14th taleThe medical professional of Physic (physician) – a greedy astrologer; tells 13th taleThe mam of bathtub (Alisoun) – a widow who has actually survived five husbands and also traveled the world; tells 6th taleThe Parson – a devout and honest clergyman; tells the 24th (last) taleThe Plowman – the Parson"s brother, devout and also charitable; no speaking partthe Miller (Robyn) – coarse, rough, and fond of drinking and also stealing; tells the second taleThe Manciple (caterer) – purchases food for establishments; tells the 23rd taleThe Reve (Osewald) – manager of one estate, one accountant; speak the third taleThe Summoner – server the summons to ecclesiastical courts; tells the 8th taleThe Pardoner – seller that indulgences (pardons) and fake divine relics, rides v the Summoner; speak the 14th taleThe organize (Harry Bailey) – Innkeeper at the Tabard where the pilgrims start their journey, proposes the story-telling contest and also moderates/settles disputesThe Canon"s Yeoman – not presented in the general Prologue; meets the pilgrims along the way; tells 22nd tale

Brief an introduction & Best-Known Tales

The Canterbury Tales is report by a character who scholars identify as Chaucer-the-pilgrim, a literary character based on the writer but presented as far more naïve, clueless, and also trusting 보다 the yes, really Chaucer might have been. This exact same sort that narrator shows up in Chaucer"s earlier works, The book of the Duchess, The home of Fame (c 1378-1380 CE), and also The conference of Fowls (c. 1380-1382 CE).

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Chaucer-as-pilgrim bring away the other personalities at face value and also seems to admire them also when they space obviously very poor specimens that humanity. A reader understands the type of civilization this pilgrim is encountering v the skill of Chaucer-the-poet that reveals the personalities through your speech, the kind of story they pick to tell, communication with various other characters, and what they speak of themselves, every highlighting your habits, interests, vices, and also virtues.


The poem opens up with a grand description of springtime and nature stirring to life ~ the winter. This regeneration inspires civilization to walk on trip to the shrine of cutting board Becket, aka St. Thomas Beckett at Canterbury, one of the most famous pilgrimages in medieval Britain. Chaucer-as-pilgrim is at the Tabard Inn at Southwark, around to set out alone on this pilgrimage, when the rather arrive to spend the night. He speak to them all at the communal dinner, and they invite him to travel v them. Your host, bother Bailey, says they pass the moment on the road with a story-telling contest. Each pilgrim will tell 2 stories on the means to Canterbury and two ~ above the return; whoever speak the ideal story will win a free meal.

The next morning, castle all collection off and the article is favored to speak first. The various other pilgrims space either liked by harry Bailey (referred to as The Host) or firmly insist on speak next and also interrupt whoever to be chosen. Chaucer-the-poet provides Chaucer-the-pilgrim 2 of the worst tales and likewise makes funny of self in the Prologue come the male of Law"s Tale in i m sorry he has the character complain that every story he deserve to think of has currently been told, but poorly, by Chaucer.

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Among the best-known tales are the Miller"s, the Nun"s Priest"s, and also the wife of Bath"s although countless of the others space of equal quality. The Miller"s Tale is a fabliau, a kind of French literature usually bawdy, satiric, and misogynistic in the wives especially, and also women in general, are portrayed as lusty, unfaithful, and also devious. The French fabliau is amongst the genres the writer Christine de Pizan (l. 1364-c. 1430 CE) objected come in she work, and she would have no doubt expanded this criticism to The Miller"s Tale if she had actually known of it. This story is among the bawdiest in the collection however is among those most frequently anthologized as result of the brilliance of the plot and its seamless execution.

The Miller speak his tale in response to the knight"s story of romance, love, chivalry, and also the ways of fortune. The Miller"s Tale attributes the dim-witted john the Carpenter, his young mam Alisoun, the scholar Nicholas who leas a room native them, and also the parish salesperson Absolon. Nicholas and also Alisoun space frustrated since they have no possibility to consummate their affair since John is constantly around for this reason Nicholas convinces man that a second great Flood is comes soon and also the only way to prepare for it is come suspend 3 wooden tubs by ropes indigenous the ceiling that the house which they will certainly each sleep in every night; once the overwhelming comes, they will certainly float easily to safety. John installs the tubs and, when it is time for bed, all 3 climb right into their particular tubs, man goes come sleep, and also Nicholas and Alisoun go ago downstairs and to bed.

At this exact same time, Absolon has been pining because that Alisoun and also has gotten her come agree to providing him a kiss, but when he raises his confront to the bedroom window, Alisoun sticks she behind out and he kisses that. Nicholas and Alisoun laugh in ~ Absolon that runs off to obtain a hot poker because that revenge. He returns and asks for one more kiss, and also this time Nicholas puts his behind the end the window, farts in Absolon"s face, and Absolon jabs him through the poker. Nicholas screams because that water as he races with the house, and also this wakes John who thinks the flood is upon him, cut the ropes, and also plunges come the floor, smashing his tub and break his arm. The next-door neighbors hear every the commotion and come running to help but, after hearing the story, castle dismiss man as crazy.

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The Nun"s Priest"s Tale is a fable top top the threats of pride and flattery collection in a farmyard. The proud rooster Chauntecleer has actually a dream the his life will be endangered by the fox, Daun Russel. He tells the dream come his wife, Pertelote, who dismisses it and tells him to go about his service as he constantly has or else he will lose the respect the the hen in the yard who so admire him. One day, Chauntecleer is out for a walk and also Daun Russel come by and also flatters him, questioning if he will certainly sing him a tune in his beautiful voice. Chauntecleer closes his eyes, stretches the end his neck, and also opens his beak to crow once the fox snatches him increase in his jaws and runs into the woods. The totality barnyard complies with in pursuit and also Chauntecleer argues to Daun Russel that probably he would prefer to stop to tell them your hope is lost and also they have to go back. Once the fox adheres to this suggestion and opens his mouth, the rooster flies up top top a tree branch and escapes.


Illustration of The Knight"s story by Geoffrey Chaucer
University the Glasgow Library (CC BY-NC-SA)

The mam of bath is the best-known character from The Canterbury tales and she prologue is better known and most often cited 보다 her tale. She has traveled all over the world, has actually had five husbands, and also recognizes the God has offered everyone something they are ideal at and, for her, the is sex. She talks about each of her husbands and about her travels, ignoring or dismissing the complaints of several of the pilgrims who want her to gain on with her tale, and makes that a point to highlight how she to be the master in each of she marriages.

Her tale then picks up top top his template as she relates the story the a article of King Arthur"s court who rapes a maiden and is sentenced to death. Queen Guinevere intervenes and also tells the article he will be pardoned if, in a year, he deserve to return and also tell her and her females what the is that women want most of all. The items accepts these terms and also leaves, security the following year asking women what they desire the most, however all the answers space subjective (money, honor, pretty dresses, freedom). The is ~ above his means back come court once he meets an old woman who says she to know the answer come his quest and also will tell the if he promises to give her a favor, which the does. Back at court, the knight tells the queen and also her women the answer: what women want many is mastery over their husbands. Guinevere and also her court agree and also the items is freed.

The pilgrims take their rotate telling stories, argue, & interrupt till the Parson speak the critical tale simply as the sun is setting.

The old woman then requests her favor: she and also the knight room to it is in married instantly. The business is performed, and also the pair goes come their new home. That night, the woman asks the knight which he would prefer, that she stay old and also ugly however be faithful or become young and beautiful yet cause him always to doubt she loyalty. The article answers the whichever choice pleases her most is fine v him, and the lady, satisfied the she has actually mastered she husband, becomes the young and beautiful bride however promises to additionally be faithful.

The pilgrims take their turn telling stories, argue, and also interrupt, some so drunk they cannot speak or autumn off your horse, till the Parson speak the last tale just as the sun is setting. His speech is not a tale however a dissertation on the 7 Deadly Sins and the value of a penitent heart. The points the end that people the world over space all pilgrims, traveling between birth and also death and also going on come the afterlife. While he speaks, the sunlight goes down, and also the party approaches a town for the night. The job-related then ends v The Retraction in i m sorry Chaucer repents for all his major works, consisting of The Canterbury Tales, and hopes God will certainly forgive him.


The final tale and the retraction have actually led part scholars come conclude that The Canterbury Tales is a finished work. Scholar Larry D. Benson, because that example, writes:

The Retraction leaves united state in no doubt that, unfinished, unpolished, and also incomplete together The Canterbury Tales might be, Chaucer is finished with it. One marvels if a an ext finished, an ext nearly perfect version could have to be any much more satisfying. (22)

There is no consensus, however, on what The Retraction way or whether it was even intended to be included in the manuscript the The Canterbury Tales. No variation of the work-related exists in Chaucer"s very own hand, all extant versions room copies and copies the copies, in which scribal errors change who speak a tale, the tales show up in various order, or some do not appear at all. The most finish copy, The Ellesmere Manuscript (15th century CE) is the one most commonly used for modern-day editions the the work and also includes The Retraction (as do numerous others) and so most scholars agree The Retraction was part of the original manuscript. Still, scholar who believe the job-related was left loose at Chaucer"s death point out the arrangement outlined in The basic Prologue and also the non-speaking characters (such as the Plowman) that should have actually been given a story as proof Chaucer never completed the work.

Whatever that state of completion, The Canterbury Tales has been entertaining and fascinating audiences since it to be written. More than any of Chaucer"s other works, the Tales validated the usage of middle English in vernacular writing as it carried the characters and also their stories to life. Well-known fiction the the Middle ages was composed in French verse before Chaucer elevated center English city to the same height of popularity.

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His characters ended up being as actual to readers together their family, friends, and neighbors, and also the job-related was replicated again and again long before it was published in c. 1476 CE. Back his previously works had actually earned that fame and the respect that his other poets and members the the court, The Canterbury Tales would make Chaucer immortal as the writer of among the best works in English and also grant him the honorable epithet of father of English Literature.