The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, (written c. 1387), is a richly varied compilation of fictional stories as told by a group of twenty-nine persons involved in a religious pilgrimage to Canterbury, England during the fourteenth century. This journey is to take those travelers who desire religious catharsis to the shrine of the holy martyr St. Thomas a Becket of Canterbury. The device of a springtime pilgrimage provided Chaucer with a diverse range of characters and experiences, with him being both a narrator and an observer. Written in Middle English, each tale depicts parables from each traveler.
England, in Chaucer's time, was a nation of social and economic growth. Medievalism was a dominant influence in the lives of Englishmen, but the Renaissance had assumed definite form, and the country stood on the threshold of the modern world. Medieval Europeans asserted that the ideals of spiritual community, social groups and national interests were greater than individualism. In Chaucer's time, there were many manifestations of rebellion against the old order of things, including an influx of mysticism and materialism. People demanded more voice in the affairs of their government and viewed the Catholic Church as corrupt. An emerging religious reformation, which placed emphasis on individualism and national patriotism, along with the upsurge of manufacturing and commerce, gave rise to the English middle class.
The Canterbury Tales is a literary work that deals with the personal concerns and solutions of an evolving Medieval society. In Medieval Europe pilgrimages were common for personal reflection, penance, and spiritual renewal. Chaucer chose the framework of a pilgrimage for its naturally plausible diversity of people and mix of pious purpose and holiday spirit.
Geoffrey Chaucer, England's first great poet, was born in 1343, during a time of social, political, religious and literary ferment. Chaucer, who was the descendent of a prosperous family from Ipswich, received the impetus for writing from fourteenth-century Italian and French poets. Chaucer--whose father was a successful wine dealer in London and whose mother, Agnes de Compton, a member of the English court--was reared in an intellectual environment of high society. He was well educated, having studied at the Universities of the Court. He lived among nobility in his service to the Court.
The project of writing The Canterbury Tales took Chaucer thirteen years of unremitting toil, a work that was both continually evolving and unfinished. It is believed that the framework idea of The Canterbury Tales came from Novelle by Sercambi, or Boccaccio's Decameron. The traditional starting date is believed to be 1387, following his wife Philippa's death. It is also believed that the Clerk's Tale is a self-portrait of Chaucer. When he embarked on the project of The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer was thoroughly familiar with the principle of the frame story and group of tales because he had already written the Legend Of Good Women, and part of the Monk's Tale. Chaucer died October 25, 1400, possibly due to the Black Plague, at the age of 57.
Chaucer's own affable and delicate social position among the aristocracy led him to never pronounce moral judgments. He uses a cross-section of society for the characters of his pilgrims. Chaucer maintains a conservative and conventional viewpoint in the area of political and social questions. To maintain his social status and impartiality, Chaucer never maligns his contemporaries or church doctrines. He makes generally structured and aesthetic references to government, social class, and the poor. He utilizes classical allusion, subtle satire, irony and allegory to reveal society's shortcomings. The Canterbury Tales parodies individuals and situations, while religious tenets are revered.
In The Prologue, Chaucer introduces the reader to a vivid...