The Canterbury Tales


The General Prologue

The General Prologue is the Narrator’s introduction to the stories contained within The Canterbury Tales. He opens by setting the scene for the tales. He describes it as being April, and characterizes it with rain showers that are bringing an end to the dryness of winter. The Narrator mentions that this is the time of year when people normally begin religious pilgrimages, and that a number of pilgrims chose to go to Canterbury. The shrine at Canterbury hosts the relics of Saint Thomas Becket. People’s reasons for visiting the shrine differ; many people believe that visiting the relics can provide them with help. The Narrator describes how when he was embarking on a pilgrimage, he stopped at the Tabard Inn, a tavern in Southwark, and encountered a company of 29 pilgrims traveling to Canterbury. The pilgrims agreed to let him join their pilgrimage. The next morning, the group embarks on their pilgrimage.

Pilgrimages were popular in the 14th century. Many times, pilgrims would travel to exotic locations for pilgrimages, and as a result, pilgrimages would require significant time and effort on the part of the pilgrims. This was fitting, because pilgrimages were undertaken as a means of religious purification. This does not mean that pilgrimages were austere or severe; pilgrims were permitted to enjoy themselves during the pilgrimage, and pilgrimages would have meant a break from the pilgrims’ regular daily obligations.

The pilgrimage to Canterbury was to visit the remains of Saint Thomas Becket. Thomas Becket had a relationship with King Henry II, working as the King’s Lord Chancellor. The two are reported to have enjoyed a significant friendship during that time period; Becket fostered the King’s son. However, when Becket became the Archbishop of Canterbury, he came into conflict with the king over the role of the Church in England. This conflict led to followers of King Henry II murdering Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. He became a martyr as the result of his murder, and was later canonized as a saint.

The Narrator...

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Essays About The Canterbury Tales