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The Canterbury Tales

The Canterbury Tales

Overview

The Canterbury Tales is a collection of stories
Stories
Stories may refer to:* Height of more than one Storey * Stories , a greatest hits compilation album by Randy Stonehill...

 written in Middle English
Middle English
Middle English is the stage in the history of the English language during the High and Late Middle Ages, or roughly during the four centuries between the late 11th and the late 15th century....

 by Geoffrey Chaucer
Geoffrey Chaucer
Geoffrey Chaucer , known as the Father of English literature, is widely considered the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages and was the first poet to have been buried in Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey...

 at the end of the 14th century. The tales (mostly in verse
Verse
- Poetry :* Verse , a metrical structure, a stanza* Blank verse is a type of poetry having regular meter but no rhyme* Free verse is a type of poetry written without the use of strict meter or rhyme, but is still recognized as poetry...

, although some are in prose
Prose
Prose is the most typical form of written language, applying ordinary grammatical structure and natural flow of speech rather than rhythmic structure...

) are told as part of a story-telling contest by a group of pilgrims as they travel together on a journey from Southwark
Southwark
Southwark is a district of south London, England, and the administrative headquarters of the London Borough of Southwark. Situated east of Charing Cross, it forms one of the oldest parts of London and fronts the River Thames to the north...

 to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral
Canterbury Cathedral
Canterbury Cathedral in Canterbury, Kent, is one of the oldest and most famous Christian structures in England and forms part of a World Heritage Site....

. The prize for this contest is a free meal at the Tabard Inn
The Tabard
The Tabard, an inn that stood on the east side of Borough High Street in Southwark, was established in 1307, when the abbot of Hyde purchased the land to construct a hostel for himself and his brethren, when business took them to London, as well as an inn to accommodate the numerous pilgrims headed...

 at Southwark on their return.

Following a long list of works written earlier in his career, including Troilus and Criseyde
Troilus and Criseyde
Troilus and Criseyde is a poem by Geoffrey Chaucer which re-tells in Middle English the tragic story of the lovers Troilus and Criseyde set against a backdrop of war in the Siege of Troy. It was composed using rime royale and probably completed during the mid 1380s. Many Chaucer scholars regard it...

, House of Fame, and Parliament of Fowls, the Canterbury Tales was Chaucer's magnum opus
Magnum opus
Magnum opus , from the Latin meaning "great work", refers to the largest, and perhaps the best, greatest, most popular, or most renowned achievement of a writer, artist, or composer.-Related terms:Sometimes the term magnum opus is used to refer to simply "a great work" rather than "the...

.
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Encyclopedia

The Canterbury Tales is a collection of stories
Stories
Stories may refer to:* Height of more than one Storey * Stories , a greatest hits compilation album by Randy Stonehill...

 written in Middle English
Middle English
Middle English is the stage in the history of the English language during the High and Late Middle Ages, or roughly during the four centuries between the late 11th and the late 15th century....

 by Geoffrey Chaucer
Geoffrey Chaucer
Geoffrey Chaucer , known as the Father of English literature, is widely considered the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages and was the first poet to have been buried in Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey...

 at the end of the 14th century. The tales (mostly in verse
Verse
- Poetry :* Verse , a metrical structure, a stanza* Blank verse is a type of poetry having regular meter but no rhyme* Free verse is a type of poetry written without the use of strict meter or rhyme, but is still recognized as poetry...

, although some are in prose
Prose
Prose is the most typical form of written language, applying ordinary grammatical structure and natural flow of speech rather than rhythmic structure...

) are told as part of a story-telling contest by a group of pilgrims as they travel together on a journey from Southwark
Southwark
Southwark is a district of south London, England, and the administrative headquarters of the London Borough of Southwark. Situated east of Charing Cross, it forms one of the oldest parts of London and fronts the River Thames to the north...

 to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral
Canterbury Cathedral
Canterbury Cathedral in Canterbury, Kent, is one of the oldest and most famous Christian structures in England and forms part of a World Heritage Site....

. The prize for this contest is a free meal at the Tabard Inn
The Tabard
The Tabard, an inn that stood on the east side of Borough High Street in Southwark, was established in 1307, when the abbot of Hyde purchased the land to construct a hostel for himself and his brethren, when business took them to London, as well as an inn to accommodate the numerous pilgrims headed...

 at Southwark on their return.

Following a long list of works written earlier in his career, including Troilus and Criseyde
Troilus and Criseyde
Troilus and Criseyde is a poem by Geoffrey Chaucer which re-tells in Middle English the tragic story of the lovers Troilus and Criseyde set against a backdrop of war in the Siege of Troy. It was composed using rime royale and probably completed during the mid 1380s. Many Chaucer scholars regard it...

, House of Fame, and Parliament of Fowls, the Canterbury Tales was Chaucer's magnum opus
Magnum opus
Magnum opus , from the Latin meaning "great work", refers to the largest, and perhaps the best, greatest, most popular, or most renowned achievement of a writer, artist, or composer.-Related terms:Sometimes the term magnum opus is used to refer to simply "a great work" rather than "the...

. He uses the tales and the descriptions of the characters to paint an ironic and critical portrait of English society at the time, and particularly of the Church. Structurally, the collection resembles The Decameron
The Decameron
The Decameron, also called Prince Galehaut is a 14th-century medieval allegory by Giovanni Boccaccio, told as a frame story encompassing 100 tales by ten young people....

, which Chaucer may have come across during his first diplomatic mission to Italy
Italy in the Middle Ages
This is the history of Italy during the Middle Ages.- Transition from Late Antiquity :Italy was invaded by the Visigoths in the 5th century, and Rome was sacked by Alaric in 410. The last Western Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustus, was deposed in 476 by an Eastern Germanic general, Odoacer...

 in 1372.

Text


The question of whether The Canterbury Tales is finished has not yet been answered. The combined elements of Chaucer's quadri-lingual expertise in law, philosophy, and other subjects, the uncertainty of medieval English historical records, issues of manuscript transmission, and Chaucer's method of telling his stories through a multi-perspective prism of subjectivity make the "Tales" extremely difficult to interpret. There are 83 known manuscripts of the work from the late medieval and early Renaissance period, more than any other vernacular literary text with the exception of The Prick of Conscience. This is taken as evidence of the tales' popularity during the century after Chaucer's death. Fifty-five of these manuscripts are thought to have been complete at one time, while 28 are so fragmentary that it is difficult to ascertain whether they were copied individually or as part of a set. The Tales vary in both minor and major ways from manuscript to manuscript; many of the minor variations are due to copyists' errors, while others suggest that Chaucer added to and revised his work as it was being copied and (possibly) distributed. No official, unarguably complete version of the Tales exists and no consensus has been reached regarding the order in which Chaucer intended the stories to be placed.

Textual and manuscript clues have been adduced to support the two most popular methods of ordering the tales.Some scholarly editions divide the Tales into ten "fragments." The tales that comprise a fragment are closely related and contain internal indications of their order of presentation, usually with one character speaking to and then stepping aside for another character. Between fragments, however, the connection is less obvious. Consequently, there are several possible tales orders, the most popular of which is as follows:
Fragment Tales
Fragment I(A) General Prologue
General Prologue
The General Prologue is the assumed title of the series of portraits that precedes The Canterbury Tales. It was the work of 14th century English writer and courtier Geoffrey Chaucer.-Synopsis:...

, Knight
The Knight's Tale
"The Knight's Tale" is the first tale from Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. The story introduces many typical aspects of knighthood such as courtly love and ethical dilemmas. The story is written in iambic pentameter end-rhymed couplets.-Story:...

, Miller, Reeve
The Reeve's Tale
"The Reeve's Tale" is the third story told in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. The reeve, named Oswald in the text, is the manager of a large estate who reaped incredible profits for his master and himself. He is described in the Tales as skinny and bad-tempered. The Reeve had once been...

, Cook
Fragment II(B1) Man of Law
Fragment III(D) Wife of Bath, Friar, Summoner
Fragment IV(E) Clerk, Merchant
Fragment V(F) Squire, Franklin
Fragment VI(C) Physician
The Physician's Tale
The Physician's Tale is one of the Canterbury Tales written by Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century.This is a domestic drama about the relationship between a daughter and her father and it is one of the earliest extant poems in English about such subjects and relationships...

, Pardoner
Fragment VII(B2) Shipman
The Shipman's Tale
The Shipman's Tale is one of The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.It is in the form of a fabliau and tells the story of a miserly merchant, his avaricious wife and her lover, a wily monk...

, Prioress
The Prioress's Tale
"The Prioress's Tale" follows The Shipman's Tale in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. Because of fragmentation of the manuscripts, it is impossible to tell where it comes in ordinal sequence, but it is second in group B2, followed by Chaucer's Tale of Sir Topas...

, Sir Thopas
Chaucer's Tale of Sir Topas
Sir Thopas is a story in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales published in 1387.In Canterbury Tales, there is a character named Geoffrey Chaucer. Chaucer's portrait of himself is unflattering and humble. He presents himself as a reticent, maladroit figure who can barely summon a tale to mind...

, Melibee
The Tale of Melibee
The Tale of Melibee is one of The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.This is the second tale told by Chaucer himself as a character within the tales...

, Monk, Nun's Priest
Fragment VIII(G) Second Nun, Canon's Yeoman
Fragment IX(H) Manciple
Fragment X(I) Parson


An alternative ordering (seen in an early manuscript containing the Canterbury Tales, the early-fifteenth century Harley MS. 7334
Harley MS. 7334
Harley MS. 7334, sometimes known as the Harley Manuscript, is a mediaeval manuscript of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales held in the Harleian Collection of the British Museum....

) places Fragment VIII before VI. However, the order indicated above follows that of some other early manuscripts, most notably the Ellesmere Manuscript. Fragments I and II almost always follow each other, as do VI and VII, IX and X in the oldest manuscripts. Fragments IV and V, by contrast are located in varying locations from manuscript to manuscript. Victorians would frequently move Fragment VII(B2) to follow Fragment II(B1), which was the order used by Walter William Skeat
Walter William Skeat
Walter William Skeat , English philologist, was born in London on the 21st of November 1835, and educated at King's College School , Highgate School, and Christ's College, Cambridge, of which he became a fellow in July 1860. His grandsons include the noted palaeographer T. C...

 whose edition Chaucer: Complete Works was used by Oxford University Press for most of the twentieth century, but this order is no longer followed and has no justification. Even the earliest surviving manuscripts are not Chaucer's originals, the oldest being MS Peniarth 392 D (called "Hengwrt"), compiled by a scribe shortly after Chaucer's death. The scribe uses the order shown above, though he does not seem to have had a full collection of Chaucer's tales, so parts are missing. The most beautiful of the manuscripts of the tales is the Ellesmere Manuscript, and many editors have followed the order of the Ellesmere over the centuries, even down to the present day. The first version of the Canterbury Tales to be published in print was William Caxton's
William Caxton
William Caxton was an English merchant, diplomat, writer and printer. As far as is known, he was the first English person to work as a printer and the first to introduce a printing press into England...

 1478 edition. Since this print edition was created from a now-lost manuscript, it is counted as among the 83 manuscripts.

Language


Although no manuscript exists in Chaucer's own hand, two were copied around the time of his death by Adam Pinkhurst
Adam Pinkhurst
In 2004, Professor Linne Mooney was able to identify the scrivener who worked for 14th century poet Geoffrey Chaucer as an Adam Pinkhurst. Mooney, then a professor at the University of Maine and a visiting fellow at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, was able to match Pinkhurst's...

, a scribe with whom he seems to have worked closely before, giving a high degree of confidence that Chaucer himself wrote the Tales. Chaucer's generation of English-speakers was among the last to pronounce e at the end of words (so for Chaucer the word "care" was pronounced ˈkaːrə, not ˈkɛər as in modern English). This meant that later copyists tended to be inconsistent in their copying of final -e and this for many years gave scholars the impression that Chaucer himself was inconsistent in using it. It has now been established, however, that -e was an important part of Chaucer's morphology (having a role in distinguishing, for example, singular adjectives from plural and subjunctive verbs from indicative). The pronunciation of Chaucer's writing otherwise differs most prominently from Modern English in that his language had not undergone the Great Vowel Shift
Great Vowel Shift
The Great Vowel Shift was a major change in the pronunciation of the English language that took place in England between 1350 and 1500.The Great Vowel Shift was first studied by Otto Jespersen , a Danish linguist and Anglicist, who coined the term....

: pronouncing Chaucer's vowels as they would be pronounced today in European languages like Italian, Spanish or German generally produces pronunciations more like Chaucer's own than Modern English pronunciation would. In addition, sounds now written in English but not pronounced were still pronounced by Chaucer: the word for Chaucer was [knixt], not [naɪt]. The pronunciation of Chaucer's poetry can now be reconstructed fairly confidently through detailed philological research; the following gives an IPA
International Phonetic Alphabet
The International Phonetic Alphabet "The acronym 'IPA' strictly refers [...] to the 'International Phonetic Association'. But it is now such a common practice to use the acronym also to refer to the alphabet itself that resistance seems pedantic...

 reconstruction of the opening lines of The Merchant's Prologue; it is likely, moreover, that when a word ending in a vowel was followed by a word beginning in a vowel, the two vowels were elided
Elision
Elision is the omission of one or more sounds in a word or phrase, producing a result that is easier for the speaker to pronounce...

 into one syllable, as seen here (with care and...):

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. 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. Storytelling was the main entertainment in England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 at the time, and storytelling contests had been around for hundreds of years. In 14th-century England the English Pui was a group with an appointed leader who would judge the songs of the group. The winner received a crown and, as with the winner of the Canterbury Tales, a free dinner. It was common for pilgrims on a pilgrimage to have a chosen "master of ceremonies" to guide them and organize the journey.

The Decameron
The Decameron
The Decameron, also called Prince Galehaut is a 14th-century medieval allegory by Giovanni Boccaccio, told as a frame story encompassing 100 tales by ten young people....

 by Giovanni Boccaccio
Giovanni Boccaccio
Giovanni Boccaccio was an Italian author and poet, a friend, student, and correspondent of Petrarch, an important Renaissance humanist and the author of a number of notable works including the Decameron, On Famous Women, and his poetry in the Italian vernacular...

 contains more parallels to the Canterbury Tales than any other work. Like the Tales, it features a number of narrators who tell stories along a journey they have undertaken (to flee from the Black Plague). It ends with an apology by Boccaccio, much like Chaucer's Retraction
Chaucer's Retraction
Chaucer's Retraction is the final section of The Canterbury Tales. It is written as an apology, where Geoffrey Chaucer asks for forgiveness for the vulgar and unworthy parts of this and other past works, and seeks absolution for his sins....

 to the Tales. A quarter of the tales in Canterbury Tales parallel a tale in the Decameron, although most of them have closer parallels in other stories. Some scholars thus find it unlikely that Chaucer had a copy of the work on hand, surmising instead that he must have merely read the Decameron at some point. Each of the tales has its own set of sources which have been suggested by scholars, but a few sources are used frequently over several tales. These include poetry by Ovid
Ovid
Publius Ovidius Naso , known as Ovid in the English-speaking world, was a Roman poet who is best known as the author of the three major collections of erotic poetry: Heroides, Amores, and Ars Amatoria...

, the Bible in one of the many vulgate versions it was available in at the time (the exact one is difficult to determine), and the works of Petrarch
Petrarch
Francesco Petrarca , known in English as Petrarch, was an Italian scholar, poet and one of the earliest humanists. Petrarch is often called the "Father of Humanism"...

 and Dante
DANTE
Delivery of Advanced Network Technology to Europe is a not-for-profit organisation that plans, builds and operates the international networks that interconnect the various national research and education networks in Europe and surrounding regions...

. Chaucer was the first author to utilize the work of these last two, both Italians. Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy
Consolation of Philosophy
Consolation of Philosophy is a philosophical work by Boethius, written around the year 524. It has been described as the single most important and influential work in the West on Medieval and early Renaissance Christianity, and is also the last great Western work that can be called Classical.-...

 appears in several tales, as do the works of John Gower
John Gower
John Gower was an English poet, a contemporary of William Langland and a personal friend of Geoffrey Chaucer. He is remembered primarily for three major works, the Mirroir de l'Omme, Vox Clamantis, and Confessio Amantis, three long poems written in French, Latin, and English respectively, which...

, a known friend to Chaucer. A full list is impossible to outline in little space, but Chaucer also, lastly, seems to have borrowed from numerous religious encyclopedias and liturgical writings, such as John Bromyard's
John Bromyard
John Bromyard was an influential English Dominican friar and prolific compiler of preaching aids.-Life:Little is known of his personal life. Two dates can be cited: in 1326, he was granted a license to hear confessions in the diocese of Hereford, and in 1352, that license was granted to another...

 Summa praedicantium, a preacher's handbook, and Jerome
Jerome
Saint Jerome was a Roman Christian priest, confessor, theologian and historian, and who became a Doctor of the Church. He was the son of Eusebius, of the city of Stridon, which was on the border of Dalmatia and Pannonia...

's Adversus Jovinianum
Against Jovinianus
Against Jovinianus is a two-volume treatise by the Church Father Saint Jerome.-Jovinianus' propositions:Jovinianus, about whom little more is known than what is to be found in Jerome's treatise, published a Latin treatise outlining several opinions:...

. Many scholars say there is a good possibility Chaucer met Petrarch or Boccaccio
Chaucer coming in contact with Petrarch or Boccaccio
Contact between Geoffrey Chaucer and Petrarch or Boccaccio has been proposed by scholars for centuries. More recent scholarship tends to discount these earlier speculations because of lack of evidence...

.

Analysis



Genre and structure


Canterbury Tales falls into the same category or genre as many other works of its day and much earlier, as a collection of stories organized into a frame narrative or frame tale. Chaucer's Tales differs from most other stories in this genre chiefly in its intense variation. Most story collections focused on a theme, usually a religious one. Even in the Decameron, storytellers are encouraged to stick to the theme decided on for the day. The idea of a pilgrimage
Pilgrimage
A pilgrimage is a journey or search of great moral or spiritual significance. Typically, it is a journey to a shrine or other location of importance to a person's beliefs and faith...

  to get such a diverse collection of people together for literary purposes was also unprecedented, though "the association of pilgrims and storytelling was a familar one". Introducing a competition among the tales encourages the reader to compare the tales in all their variety, and allows Chaucer to showcase the breadth of his skill in different genres and literary forms.

While the structure of the Tales is largely linear, with one story following another, it is also much more than that. 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. This idea is reinforced when the Miller interrupts to tell his tale after the Knight has finished his. Having the Knight go first, gives one the idea that all will tell their stories by class, with the Knight going first, followed by the Monk, but the Miller's interruption makes it clear that this structure will be abandoned in favor of a free and open exchange of stories among all classes present. General themes and points of view arise as tales are told which are responded to by other characters in their own tales, sometimes after a long lapse in which the theme has not been addressed.

Lastly, Chaucer does not pay much attention to the progress of the trip, to the time passing as the pilgrims travel, or specific locations along the way to Canterbury. His writing of the story seems focused primarily on the stories being told, and not on the pilgrimage itself.

Style


The variety of Chaucer's tales shows the breadth of his skill and his familiarity with countless rhetorical forms and linguistic styles. Medieval schools of rhetoric at the time encouraged such diversity, dividing literature (as Virgil
Virgil
Publius Vergilius Maro, usually called Virgil or Vergil in English , was an ancient Roman poet of the Augustan period. He is known for three major works of Latin literature, the Eclogues , the Georgics, and the epic Aeneid...

 suggests) into high, middle, and low styles as measured by the density of rhetorical forms and vocabulary. Another popular method of division came from St. Augustine
St. Augustine
-People:* Augustine of Hippo or Augustine of Hippo , father of the Latin church* Augustine of Canterbury , first Archbishop of Canterbury* Augustine Webster, an English Catholic martyr.-Places:*St. Augustine, Florida, United States...

, who focused more on audience response and less on subject matter (a Virgilian concern). Augustine divided literature into "majestic persuades", "temperate pleases", and "subdued teaches". Writers were encouraged to write in a way that kept in mind the speaker, subject, audience, purpose, manner, and occasion. Chaucer moves freely between all of these styles, showing favoritism to none. 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 rhetorical puzzle of ambiguities. Chaucer's work thus far surpasses the ability of any single medieval theory to uncover.

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. However, even the lowest characters, such as the Miller, show surprising rhetorical ability, although their subject matter is more lowbrow. 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. At times the same word will mean entirely different things between classes. The word "pitee", for example, is a noble concept to the upper classes, while in the Merchant's Tale it refers to sexual intercourse. 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 simple.

Chaucer uses the same meter throughout almost all of his tales, with the exception of Sir Thopas and his prose tales. It is a decasyllable
Decasyllable
Decasyllable is a poetic meter of ten syllables used in poetic traditions of syllabic verse...

 line, probably borrowed from French and Italian forms, with riding rhyme
Riding rhyme
Riding rhyme is an early form of heroic verse.It has been described variously as a couplet rhyme, in five accents, and as a decasyllabic couplet....

 and, occasionally, a caesura
Caesura
thumb|100px|An example of a caesura in modern western music notation.In meter, a caesura is a complete pause in a line of poetry or in a musical composition. The plural form of caesura is caesuras or caesurae...

 in the middle of a line. His meter would later develop into the heroic meter of the 15th and 16th centuries and is an ancestor of iambic pentameter
Iambic pentameter
Iambic pentameter is a commonly used metrical line in traditional verse and verse drama. The term describes the particular rhythm that the words establish in that line. That rhythm is measured in small groups of syllables; these small groups of syllables are called "feet"...

. He avoids allowing couplets to become too prominent in the poem, and four of the tales (the Man of Law's, Clerk's, Prioress', and Second Nun's) use rhyme royal
Rhyme royal
Rhyme royal is a rhyming stanza form that was introduced into English poetry by Geoffrey Chaucer.-Form:The rhyme royal stanza consists of seven lines, usually in iambic pentameter. The rhyme scheme is a-b-a-b-b-c-c. In practice, the stanza can be constructed either as a terza rima and two couplets...

.

Historical context and themes


The Canterbury Tales was written during a turbulent time in English history. The Catholic Church was in the midst of the Western Schism
Western Schism
The Western Schism or Papal Schism was a split within the Catholic Church from 1378 to 1417. Two men simultaneously claimed to be the true pope. Driven by politics rather than any theological disagreement, the schism was ended by the Council of Constance . The simultaneous claims to the papal chair...

 and, though it was still the only Christian authority in Europe, was the subject of heavy controversy. Lollardy
Lollardy
Lollardy was a political and religious movement that existed from the mid-14th century to the English Reformation. The term "Lollard" refers to the followers of John Wycliffe, a prominent theologian who was dismissed from the University of Oxford in 1381 for criticism of the Church, especially his...

, an early English religious movement led by John Wycliffe
John Wycliffe
John Wycliffe was an English Scholastic philosopher, theologian, lay preacher, translator, reformer and university teacher who was known as an early dissident in the Roman Catholic Church during the 14th century. His followers were known as Lollards, a somewhat rebellious movement, which preached...

, is mentioned in the Tales, as is a specific incident involving pardoners (who gathered money in exchange for absolution from sin) who nefariously claimed to be collecting for St. Mary Rouncesval hospital in England. The Canterbury Tales is among the first English literary works to mention paper, a relatively new invention which allowed dissemination of the written word never before seen in England. Political clashes, such as the 1381 Peasants' Revolt
Peasants' Revolt
The Peasants' Revolt, Wat Tyler's Rebellion, or the Great Rising of 1381 was one of a number of popular revolts in late medieval Europe and is a major event in the history of England. Tyler's Rebellion was not only the most extreme and widespread insurrection in English history but also the...

 and clashes ending in the deposing of King Richard II
Richard II of England
Richard II was King of England, a member of the House of Plantagenet and the last of its main-line kings. He ruled from 1377 until he was deposed in 1399. Richard was a son of Edward, the Black Prince, and was born during the reign of his grandfather, Edward III...

, further reveal the complex turmoil surrounding Chaucer in the time of the Tales writing. Many of his close friends were executed and he himself was forced to move to Kent
Kent
Kent is a county in southeast England, and is one of the home counties. It borders East Sussex, Surrey and Greater London and has a defined boundary with Essex in the middle of the Thames Estuary. The ceremonial county boundaries of Kent include the shire county of Kent and the unitary borough of...

 in order to get away from events in London.

Religion


The Tales reflect diverse views of the Church in Chaucer's England. After the Black Death
Black Death
The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, peaking in Europe between 1348 and 1350. Of several competing theories, the dominant explanation for the Black Death is the plague theory, which attributes the outbreak to the bacterium Yersinia pestis. Thought to have...

, many Europeans began to question the authority of the established Church. Some turned to lollardy
Lollardy
Lollardy was a political and religious movement that existed from the mid-14th century to the English Reformation. The term "Lollard" refers to the followers of John Wycliffe, a prominent theologian who was dismissed from the University of Oxford in 1381 for criticism of the Church, especially his...

, while others chose less extreme paths, starting new monastic orders or smaller movements exposing church corruption in the behavior of the clergy, false church relics
Relic
In religion, a relic is a part of the body of a saint or a venerated person, or else another type of ancient religious object, carefully preserved for purposes of veneration or as a tangible memorial...

 or abuse of indulgences. 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.

Two characters, the Pardoner and the Summoner, whose roles apply the church's secular power, are both portrayed as deeply corrupt, greedy, and abusive. A pardoner in Chaucer's day was a person from whom one bought Church "indulgences" for forgiveness of sins, but pardoners were often thought guilty of abusing their office for their own gain. Chaucer's Pardoner openly admits the corruption of his practice while hawking his wares. The Summoner is a Church officer who brought sinners to the church court for possible excommunication and other penalties. Corrupt summoners would write false citations and frighten people into bribing them in order to protect their interests. Chaucer's Summoner is portrayed as guilty of the very kinds of sins he is threatening to bring others to court for, and is hinted as having a corrupt relationship with the Pardoner. In The Friar's Tale, one of the characters is a summoner who is shown to be working on the side of the devil, not God.

Churchmen of various kinds are represented by the Monk, the Prioress, the Nun's Priest, and the Second Nun. Monastic orders, which originated from a desire to follow an ascetic lifestyle separated from the world, had by Chaucer's time become increasingly entangled in worldly matters. Monasteries frequently controlled huge tracts of land on which they made significant sums of money, while peasants worked in their employ. 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. The Monk and the Prioress, on the other hand, while not as corrupt as the Summoner or Pardoner, fall far short of the ideal for their orders. Both are expensively dressed, show signs of lives of luxury and flirtatiousness and show a lack of spiritual depth. The Prioress's Tale
The Prioress's Tale
"The Prioress's Tale" follows The Shipman's Tale in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. Because of fragmentation of the manuscripts, it is impossible to tell where it comes in ordinal sequence, but it is second in group B2, followed by Chaucer's Tale of Sir Topas...

 is an account of Jews murdering a deeply pious and innocent Christian boy, a blood libel against Jews which became a part of English literary tradition. The story did not originate in the works of Chaucer and was well known in the 14th century.

Pilgrimage was a very prominent feature of medieval society. The ultimate pilgrimage destination was Jerusalem, but within England Canterbury was a popular destination. Pilgrims would journey to cathedrals that preserved relics of saints, believing that such relics held miraculous powers. Saint Thomas Becket
Thomas Becket
Thomas Becket was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 until his murder in 1170. He is venerated as a saint and martyr by both the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion...

, Archbishop of Canterbury, had been murdered in Canterbury cathedral
Canterbury Cathedral
Canterbury Cathedral in Canterbury, Kent, is one of the oldest and most famous Christian structures in England and forms part of a World Heritage Site....

 by knights of Henry II
Henry II of England
Henry II ruled as King of England , Count of Anjou, Count of Maine, Duke of Normandy, Duke of Aquitaine, Duke of Gascony, Count of Nantes, Lord of Ireland and, at various times, controlled parts of Wales, Scotland and western France. Henry, the great-grandson of William the Conqueror, was the...

 during a disagreement between Church and Crown. Miracle stories connected to his remains sprang up soon after his death, and the cathedral became a popular pilgrimage destination. 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.

Social class and convention



The upper class or nobility, represented chiefly by the Knight and his Squire, was in Chaucer's time steeped in a culture of chivalry and courtliness. Nobles were expected to be powerful warriors who could be ruthless on the battlefield, yet mannerly in the King's Court and Christian in their actions. Knights were expected to form a strong social bond with the men who fought alongside them, but an even stronger bond with a woman whom they idealized in order to strengthen their fighting ability. Though the aim of chivalry was to noble action, often its conflicting values degenerated into violence. Church leaders often tried to place restrictions on jousts and tournaments, which at times ended in the death of the loser. The Knight's Tale
The Knight's Tale
"The Knight's Tale" is the first tale from Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. The story introduces many typical aspects of knighthood such as courtly love and ethical dilemmas. The story is written in iambic pentameter end-rhymed couplets.-Story:...

 shows how the brotherly love of two fellow knights turns into a deadly feud at the sight of a woman whom both idealize, with both knights willing to fight the other to the death in order to win her. Chivalry was in Chaucer's day on the decline, and it is possible that The Knight's Tale was intended to show its flaws, although this is disputed. Chaucer himself had fought in the Hundred Years' War
Hundred Years' War
The Hundred Years' War was a series of separate wars waged from 1337 to 1453 by the House of Valois and the House of Plantagenet, also known as the House of Anjou, for the French throne, which had become vacant upon the extinction of the senior Capetian line of French kings...

 under Edward III, who heavily emphasized chivalry during his reign. Two tales, The Tale of Sir Topas
Chaucer's Tale of Sir Topas
Sir Thopas is a story in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales published in 1387.In Canterbury Tales, there is a character named Geoffrey Chaucer. Chaucer's portrait of himself is unflattering and humble. He presents himself as a reticent, maladroit figure who can barely summon a tale to mind...

 and The Tale of Melibee
The Tale of Melibee
The Tale of Melibee is one of The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.This is the second tale told by Chaucer himself as a character within the tales...

 are told by Chaucer himself, who is travelling with the pilgrims in his own story. Both tales seem to focus on the ill-effects of chivalry—the first making fun of chivalric rules and the second warning against violence.

The Tales constantly reflect the conflict between classes. For example, the division of the three estates
Estates of the realm
The Estates of the realm were the broad social orders of the hierarchically conceived society, recognized in the Middle Ages and Early Modern period in Christian Europe; they are sometimes distinguished as the three estates: the clergy, the nobility, and commoners, and are often referred to by...

; the characters are all divided into three distinct classes, the classes being "those who pray" (the clergy), "those who fight" (the nobility), and "those who work" (the commoners and peasantry). Most of the tales are interlinked by common themes, and some "quit" (reply to or retaliate against) other tales. Convention is followed when the Knight begins the game with a tale, as he represents the highest social class in the group. But when he is followed by the Miller, who represents a lower class, it sets the stage for the Tales to reflect both a respect for and a disregard for upper class rules. Helen Cooper, as well as Mikhail Bakhtin and Derek Brewer, call this opposition "the ordered and the grotesque, Lent
Lent
In the Christian tradition, Lent is the period of the liturgical year from Ash Wednesday to Easter. The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer – through prayer, repentance, almsgiving and self-denial – for the annual commemoration during Holy Week of the Death and...

 and Carnival
Carnival
Carnaval is a festive season which occurs immediately before Lent; the main events are usually during February. Carnaval typically involves a public celebration or parade combining some elements of a circus, mask and public street party...

, officially approved culture and its riotous, and high-spirited underside." Several works of the time contained the same opposition.

Relativism vs. realism


Chaucer's characters each express different—sometimes vastly different—views of reality, creating an atmosphere of relativism. 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." The sheer number of varying persons and stories renders the Tales as a set unable to arrive at any definite truth or reality.

Influence


It is sometimes argued that the greatest contribution that this work made to English literature
English literature
English literature is the literature written in the English language, including literature composed in English by writers not necessarily from England; for example, Robert Burns was Scottish, James Joyce was Irish, Joseph Conrad was Polish, Dylan Thomas was Welsh, Edgar Allan Poe was American, J....

 was in popularizing the literary use of the vernacular
Vernacular
A vernacular is the native language or native dialect of a specific population, as opposed to a language of wider communication that is not native to the population, such as a national language or lingua franca.- Etymology :The term is not a recent one...

, English, rather than French or Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

. English had, however, been used as a literary language for centuries before Chaucer's life, and several of Chaucer's contemporaries—John Gower
John Gower
John Gower was an English poet, a contemporary of William Langland and a personal friend of Geoffrey Chaucer. He is remembered primarily for three major works, the Mirroir de l'Omme, Vox Clamantis, and Confessio Amantis, three long poems written in French, Latin, and English respectively, which...

, William Langland
William Langland
William Langland is the conjectured author of the 14th-century English dream-vision Piers Plowman.- Life :The attribution of Piers to Langland rests principally on the evidence of a manuscript held at Trinity College, Dublin...

, and the Pearl Poet—also wrote major literary works in English. It is unclear to what extent Chaucer was responsible for starting a trend rather than simply being part of it. It is interesting to note that, although Chaucer had a powerful influence in poetic and artistic terms, which can be seen in the great number of forgeries and mistaken attributions (such as The Flower and the Leaf
The Floure and the Leafe
"The Floure and the Leafe", is an anonymous Middle English allegorical poem in 595 lines of rhyme royal, written around 1470. During the 17th, 18th, and most of the 19th century it was mistakenly believed to be the work of Geoffrey Chaucer, and was generally considered to be one of his finest poems...

 which was translated by John Dryden
John Dryden
John Dryden was an influential English poet, literary critic, translator, and playwright who dominated the literary life of Restoration England to such a point that the period came to be known in literary circles as the Age of Dryden.Walter Scott called him "Glorious John." He was made Poet...

), modern English spelling and orthography owes much more to the innovations made by the Court of Chancery
Court of Chancery
The Court of Chancery was a court of equity in England and Wales that followed a set of loose rules to avoid the slow pace of change and possible harshness of the common law. The Chancery had jurisdiction over all matters of equity, including trusts, land law, the administration of the estates of...

 in the decades during and after his lifetime.

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. Chaucer was a courtier
Courtier
A courtier is a person who is often in attendance at the court of a king or other royal personage. Historically the court was the centre of government as well as the residence of the monarch, and social and political life were often completely mixed together...

, leading some to believe that he was mainly a court poet who wrote exclusively for the nobility. He is referred to as a noble translator and poet by Eustache Deschamps
Eustache Deschamps
Eustache Deschamps was a medieval French poet, also known as Eustache Morel . Born at Vertus, in Champagne, he received lessons in versification from Guillaume de Machaut and later studied law at Orleans University. He then traveled through Europe as a diplomatic messenger for Charles V...

 and by his contemporary John Gower. It has been suggested that the poem was intended to be read aloud, which is probable as this was a common activity at the time. However, it also seems to have been intended for private reading as well, since Chaucer frequently refers to himself as the writer, rather than the speaker, of the work. Determining the intended audience directly from the text is even more difficult, since the audience is part of the story. This makes it difficult to tell when Chaucer is writing to the fictional pilgrim audience or the actual reader.

Chaucer's works may have been distributed in some form during his lifetime in part or in whole. Scholars speculate that manuscripts were circulated among his friends, but likely remained unknown to most people until after his death. 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 Hengwrt and Ellesmere manuscripts are examples of the care taken to distribute the work. More manuscript copies of the poem exist than for any other poem of its day except The Prick of Conscience, causing some scholars to give it the medieval equivalent of "best-seller" status. Even the most elegant of the illustrated manuscripts, however, is not nearly as decorated and fancified as the work of authors of more respectable works such as John Lydgate's
John Lydgate
John Lydgate of Bury was a monk and poet, born in Lidgate, Suffolk, England.Lydgate is at once a greater and a lesser poet than John Gower. He is a greater poet because of his greater range and force; he has a much more powerful machine at his command. The sheer bulk of Lydgate's poetic output is...

 religious and historical literature.

15th century


John Lydgate and Thomas Occleve
Thomas Occleve
Thomas Hoccleve or Occleve was an English poet and clerk.-Biography:Hoccleve is thought to have been born in 1368/9 as he states when writing in 1421/2 Thomas Hoccleve or Occleve (c. 1368–1426) was an English poet and clerk.-Biography:Hoccleve is thought to have been born in 1368/9 as he...

 were among the first critics of Chaucer's Tales, praising the poet as the greatest English poet of all time and the first to truly show what the language was capable of poetically. This sentiment is universally agreed upon by later critics into the mid-15th century. Glosses included in Canterbury Tales manuscripts of the time praised him highly for his skill with "sentence" and rhetoric, the two pillars by which medieval critics judged poetry. The most respected of the tales was at this time the Knight's, as it was full of both.

Literary additions and supplements


The incompleteness of the Tales led several medieval authors to write additions and supplements to the tales in order to make them more complete. Some of the oldest existing manuscripts of the tales include new or modified tales, showing that even early on, such additions were being created. These emendations included various expansions of the Cook's Tale, which Chaucer never finished, The Plowman's Tale
The Plowman's Tale
There are actually two pseudo-Chaucerian texts called The Plowman's Tale. In the mid-15th century a rhyme royal Plowman's Tale was added to the text of The Canterbury Tales in the Christ Church MS. This tale is actually an orthodox Roman Catholic, possibly anti-Lollard version of a Marian miracle...

, The Tale of Gamelyn
The Tale of Gamelyn
-Introduction:The Tale of Gamelyn is a romance written in c. 1350 in a dialect of Middle English, considered part of the Matter of England...

, the Siege of Thebes, and the Tale of Beryn.

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. While the rest of the pilgrims disperse throughout the town, the Pardoner seeks the affections of Kate the barmaid, but faces problems dealing with the man in her life and the innkeeper Harry Bailey. As the pilgrims turn back home, the Merchant restarts the storytelling with Tale of Beryn. In this tale, a young man named Beryn travels from Rome to Egypt to seek his fortune only to be cheated by other businessmen there. He is then aided by a local man in getting his revenge. 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
John Urry (literary editor)
John Urry was a noted literary editor and medieval scholar of Scottish family.-Life:Matriculating from Christ Church, Oxford on June 30, 1682, he was elected to a studentship. He graduated B.A. in 1686...

.

John Lydgate wrote The Siege of Thebes in about 1420. Like the Tale of Beryn, it is preceded by a prologue in which the pilgrims arrive in Canterbury. 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. He characterizes himself as a monk and tells a long story about the history of Thebes before the events of the Knight's Tale. John Lydgate's tale was popular early on and exists in old manuscripts both on its own and as part of the tales. It was first printed as early as 1561 by John Stow
John Stow
John Stow was an English historian and antiquarian.-Early life:The son of Thomas Stow, a tallow-chandler, he was born about 1525 in London, in the parish of St Michael, Cornhill. His father's whole rent for his house and garden was only 6s. 6d. a year, and Stow in his youth fetched milk every...

 and several editions for centuries after followed suit.

There are actually two versions of The Plowman's Tale
The Plowman's Tale
There are actually two pseudo-Chaucerian texts called The Plowman's Tale. In the mid-15th century a rhyme royal Plowman's Tale was added to the text of The Canterbury Tales in the Christ Church MS. This tale is actually an orthodox Roman Catholic, possibly anti-Lollard version of a Marian miracle...

, both of which are influenced by the story Piers Plowman
Piers Plowman
Piers Plowman or Visio Willelmi de Petro Plowman is the title of a Middle English allegorical narrative poem by William Langland. It is written in unrhymed alliterative verse divided into sections called "passus"...

, a work written during Chaucer's lifetime. Chaucer describes a Plowman in the General Prologue of his tales, but never gives him his own tale. One tale, written by Thomas Occleve
Thomas Occleve
Thomas Hoccleve or Occleve was an English poet and clerk.-Biography:Hoccleve is thought to have been born in 1368/9 as he states when writing in 1421/2 Thomas Hoccleve or Occleve (c. 1368–1426) was an English poet and clerk.-Biography:Hoccleve is thought to have been born in 1368/9 as he...

, describes the miracle of the Virgin and the Sleeveless Garment. Another tale features a pelican and a griffin debating church corruption, with the pelican taking a position of protest akin to John Wycliffe
John Wycliffe
John Wycliffe was an English Scholastic philosopher, theologian, lay preacher, translator, reformer and university teacher who was known as an early dissident in the Roman Catholic Church during the 14th century. His followers were known as Lollards, a somewhat rebellious movement, which preached...

's ideas.

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. 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. Dates for its authorship vary from 1340–1370.

Literary adaptations



The title of the work has become an everyday phrase and been variously adapted and adopted, as for example in Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood
Margaret Eleanor Atwood, is a Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, and environmental activist. She is among the most-honoured authors of fiction in recent history; she is a winner of the Arthur C...

's The Handmaid's Tale
The Handmaid's Tale
The Handmaid's Tale is a dystopian novel, a work of science fiction or speculative fiction, written by Canadian author Margaret Atwood and first published by McClelland and Stewart in 1985...

.

Many literary works (both fiction and non-fiction alike) have used a similar frame narrative to The Canterbury Tales as an homage. Science fiction writer Dan Simmons
Dan Simmons
Dan Simmons is an American author most widely known for his Hugo Award-winning science fiction series, known as the Hyperion Cantos, and for his Locus-winning Ilium/Olympos cycle....

 wrote his Hugo Award
Hugo Award
The Hugo Awards are given annually for the best science fiction or fantasy works and achievements of the previous year. The award is named after Hugo Gernsback, the founder of the pioneering science fiction magazine Amazing Stories, and was officially named the Science Fiction Achievement Awards...

 winning novel Hyperion based on an extra-planetary group of pilgrims. Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins
Clinton Richard Dawkins, FRS, FRSL , known as Richard Dawkins, is a British ethologist, evolutionary biologist and author...

 used The Canterbury Tales as a structure for his 2004 non-fiction book about evolution
Evolution
Evolution is any change across successive generations in the heritable characteristics of biological populations. Evolutionary processes give rise to diversity at every level of biological organisation, including species, individual organisms and molecules such as DNA and proteins.Life on Earth...

 – The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution. His animal pilgrims are on their way to find the common ancestor, each telling a tale about evolution.

Henry Dudeney
Henry Dudeney
Henry Ernest Dudeney was an English author and mathematician who specialised in logic puzzles and mathematical games. He is known as one of the country's foremost creators of puzzles...

's book The Canterbury Puzzles
The Canterbury Puzzles
The Canterbury Puzzles and Other Curious Problems is a 1907 mathematical puzzle book by Henry Dudeney. The first part of the book features a series of puzzles based on the characters from The Canterbury Tales by Geoffery Chaucer....

 contains a part reputedly lost from what modern readers know as Chaucer's tales.

Historical mystery novelist P.C. Doherty
P.C. Doherty
Paul C. Doherty is an award-winning British author, educator, lecturer and historian. He is also the Headmaster of Trinity Catholic High School, Woodford Green, Essex, in the United Kingdom.-Biography:...

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

The graphic novel Worlds' End, part of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman series, has the same basic storyline as The Canterbury Tales. Several very different people meet in an inn and agree to tell tales while they wait for a storm to end.

British author JK Rowling cites The Pardoner's Tale, one of The Canterbury Tales, as her inspiration for the fairy tale The Tale of Three Brothers. In the Harry Potter series, "The Tale Of The Three Brothers" appears in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final book of the series.

Though lyricist Keith Reid denies any similarity, "A Whiter Shade of Pale
A Whiter Shade of Pale
"A Whiter Shade of Pale" is the debut song by the British band Procol Harum, released 12 May 1967. The single reached number one in the UK Singles Chart on 8 June 1967, and stayed there for six weeks. Without much promotion, it reached #5 on the US charts, as well...

", by Procol Harum
Procol Harum
Procol Harum are a British rock band, formed in 1967, which contributed to the development of progressive rock, and by extension, symphonic rock. Their best-known recording is their 1967 single "A Whiter Shade of Pale"...

 may contain a reference to Chaucer's work: "...And so it was, later, as the miller told his tale, that her face, at first just ghostly, turned a whiter shade of pale."

Canadian author Angie Abdou
Angie Abdou
Angie Abdou is a Canadian fiction writer. Her most recent novel, The Canterbury Trail, was published by Brindle & Glass Press in February 2011. Her shorter works have been published in several Canadian journals.-Early life and education:...

 translates The Canterbury Tales to a cross section of people, all snow sports enthusiasts but from different social backgrounds, converging on a remote backcountry ski cabin in British Columbia in the 2011 novel The Canterbury Trail.

Stage and film adaptations


The Two Noble Kinsmen
The Two Noble Kinsmen
The Two Noble Kinsmen is a Jacobean tragicomedy, first published in 1634 and attributed to John Fletcher and William Shakespeare. Its plot derives from "The Knight's Tale" in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales....

, by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher, a retelling of "The Knight's Tale", was first performed in 1613 or 1614 and published in 1634. In 1961, Erik Chisholm
Erik Chisholm
Professor Erik William Chisholm was a Scottish composer and conductor often known as "Scotland’s forgotten composer"...

 completed his opera, The Canterbury Tales. The opera is in three acts: The Wyf of Bath’s Tale, The Pardoner’s Tale and The Nun’s Priest’s Tale. Nevill Coghill
Nevill Coghill
Nevill Coghill was a British literary scholar, known especially for his modern English version of Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.-Life:...

's modern English version formed the basis of a musical version – first staged in 1964.

A Canterbury Tale
A Canterbury Tale
A Canterbury Tale is a 1944 British film by the film-making team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. It stars Eric Portman, Sheila Sim, Dennis Price and Sgt. John Sweet; Esmond Knight provided narration and played several small roles. For the postwar American release, Raymond Massey narrated...

, a 1944 film jointly written and directed by Michael Powell
Michael Powell (director)
Michael Latham Powell was a renowned English film director, celebrated for his partnership with Emeric Pressburger...

 and Emeric Pressburger
Emeric Pressburger
Emeric Pressburger was a Hungarian-British screenwriter, film director, and producer. He is best known for his series of film collaborations with Michael Powell, in a multiple-award-winning partnership known as The Archers and produced a series of classic British films, notably 49th Parallel , The...

, is loosely based on the narrative frame of Chaucer's tales. The movie opens with a group of medieval pilgrims journeying through the Kentish countryside as a narrator speaks the opening lines of the General Prologue. The scene then makes a now-famous transition to the time of World War II. From that point on, the film follows a group of strangers, each with his or her own story and in need of some kind of redemption, are making their way to Canterbury together. The film's main story takes place in an imaginary town in Kent and ends with the main characters arriving at Canterbury Cathedral, bells pealing and Chaucer's words again resounding. A Canterbury Tale is recognized as one of the Powell-Pressburger team's most poetic and artful films. It was produced as wartime propaganda, using Chaucer's poetry, referring to the famous pilgrimage, and offering photography of Kent to remind the public of what made Britain worth fighting for. In one scene a local historian lectures an audience of British soldiers about the pilgrims of Chaucer's time and the vibrant history of England.

Pier Paolo Pasolini
Pier Paolo Pasolini
Pier Paolo Pasolini was an Italian film director, poet, writer, and intellectual. Pasolini distinguished himself as a poet, journalist, philosopher, linguist, novelist, playwright, filmmaker, newspaper and magazine columnist, actor, painter and political figure...

's 1972 film The Canterbury Tales
The Canterbury Tales (film)
The Canterbury Tales is a 1972 Italian film directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini and based on the medieval narrative poem The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. It is the second film in Pasolini's 'Trilogy of Life'...

 features several of the tales, some of which keep close to the original tale and some of which are embellished. The Cook's Tale, for instance, which is incomplete in the original version, is expanded into a full story, and the Friar's Tale extends the scene in which the Summoner is dragged down to hell. The film includes these two tales as well as the Miller's Tale, the Summoner's Tale, the Wife of Bath's Tale, and the Merchant's Tale.

Several more recent films, while they are not based on the tales, do have heavy references to them. For example, in the 1995 film Se7en
Seven (film)
Seven is a 1995 American thriller film, which also contains horror and neo-noir elements, directed by David Fincher and written by Andrew Kevin Walker. It was distributed by New Line Cinema and stars Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, R...

, the Parson's Tale is an important clue to the methods of a serial killer who chooses his victims based on the seven deadly sins
Seven deadly sins
The 7 Deadly Sins, also known as the Capital Vices or Cardinal Sins, is a classification of objectionable vices that have been used since early Christian times to educate and instruct followers concerning fallen humanity's tendency to sin...

. The 2001 film, A Knight's Tale
A Knight's Tale (film)
A Knight's Tale is a 2001 American action-adventure film directed, produced, and written by Brian Helgeland. The film stars Heath Ledger, Shannyn Sossamon, Mark Addy, Alan Tudyk, Rufus Sewell, Paul Bettany as Geoffrey Chaucer, and James Purefoy as Sir Thomas Colville/Edward, the Black Prince.The...

 took its name from "The Knight's Tale". Although it bears little resemblance to the tale, it does feature what Martha Driver and Sid Ray call an "MTV-generation" Chaucer who is a gambling addict with a way with words. Scattered references to the Tales include Chaucer's declaration that he will use his verse to vilify a summoner and a pardoner who have cheated him.

Television adaptations include Alan Plater
Alan Plater
Alan Frederick Plater, CBE, FRSL was an English playwright and screenwriter, who worked extensively in British television from the 1960s to the 2000s.-Career:...

's 1975 re-telling of the stories in a series of plays for BBC2: Trinity Tales. In this adaptation, the stories were told by a party of rugby league
Rugby league
Rugby league football, usually called rugby league, is a full contact sport played by two teams of thirteen players on a rectangular grass field. One of the two codes of rugby football, it originated in England in 1895 by a split from Rugby Football Union over paying players...

 supporters on their way to a cup final at Wembley
Wembley
Wembley is an area of northwest London, England, and part of the London Borough of Brent. It is home to the famous Wembley Stadium and Wembley Arena...

. Later, in 2004, BBC
BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

 again featured modern re-tellings of selected tales.

Further reading

  • Collette, Carolyn
    Carolyn Collette
    Carolyn P. Collette is an American literary critic and a specialist in medieval literature, particularly Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. She is the Chair of Medieval Studies and Professor of English Language and Literature on the Alumnae Foundation at Mount Holyoke...

    . Species, Phantasms and Images: Vision and Medieval Psychology in the Canterbury Tales. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press
    University of Michigan Press
    The University of Michigan Press is part of the University of Michigan Library and serves as a primary publishing unit of the University of Michigan, with special responsibility for the creation and promotion of scholarly, educational, and regional books and other materials in digital and print...

    , 2001.
  • Kolve, V.A. and Glending Olson (Eds.) (2005). The Canterbury Tales: Fifteen Tales and The General Prologue; Authoritative Text, Sources and Backgrounds, Criticism. A Norton Critical Edition (2nd ed.). New York, London: W.W. Norton and Company. ISBN 0-393-92587-0. LC PR1867.K65 2005.
  • Thompson, N.S. Chaucer, Boccaccio, and the Debate of Love: A Comparative Study of the Decameron and the Canterbury Tales. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996. ISBN 0-19-812378-7.

External links



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Audio clips

Online texts

Facsimiles