Chaucer and The Canterbury Tales
Born into the growing middle class, son of a wine merchant (c. 1340).
Served in the royal household (page to 2nd son of Edward III) and later held a series of administrative posts under Edward and Richard II.
Visited France and Italy on behalf of the crown during the 1360’s and 1370’s, exposing him to the literature of Europe, particularly the French Roman de la Rose and Boccaccio’s Decameron.
Chaucer’s career illustrates the economic, political, and social ferment of late 14th century England (landed wealth versus moneyed wealth).
Literary Chronology: Troilus and Criseyde (c. 1385) and The Canterbury Tales (c. 1386-1400) II.
The Canterbury Tales: Literary Structure and Generic Complexity
Originally planned for 120 stories (2 stories each way on pilgrimage from London to Canterbury for 30 pilgrims), but only 22 completed, with 2 fragmentary tales.
Chaucer left the manuscript(s) unfinished, so we don’t know the final ordering of the tales, so we need to remember that all modern editions of The Canterbury Tales are, in a sense, "fictions" in themselves.
Different genres give different views of the world, different vocabularies, and different images for truth. a)
Romance (Knight’s Tale) deals with human emotions and relationships. b)
Fabliau (Miller’s Tale) deals with the basic human needs of food, sex, or money. c)
Saint’s Life (Second Nun’s Tale, Prioress’s Tale) deals with the operations of God in a holy person’s life. d)
Moral Tales (Pardoner’s Tale, Melibee) deal with orthodox morality. e)
Sermons and Ethical Treatises (Parson’s Tale) deal with spiritual matters. III.
The General Prologue
Opening of the General Prologue (l. 1-42): when...then
1. Contraries held in tension
From the heavenly to the earthly
theological to the biological/fleshly
supernatural to the natural
From winter to spring
sickness to health
death to life
2. Pilgrimage as a contemporary...
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