The Canterbury Tales


Symbols and Themes

Because The Canterbury Tales is a collection of various stories, it may seem difficult to identify themes, motifs, and symbols that unite the various stories together. However, the framework of the religious pilgrimage helps to shape the interpretation of the stories and contextualizes them. Moreover, that the different pilgrims represent distinct units in 14th-century English society helps to explain different elements of class-based differences. For a modern audience, the overall theme could be an explanation of life in 14th-century England, though of course, since that time was contemporary to him, it is unlikely that Chaucer intended his work to be viewed in a socio-historical context.

Themes are the central topics or messages, which may reflect universal ideals that the author is trying to convey in the work.

Love and Sexuality

Many of the tales in The Canterbury Tales focus on relationships between men and women and discuss love and sexuality. In order to understand this theme, it is critical to understand the 14th-century concept of courtly love. Courtly love was a concept that idealized the notion of romantic love and removed it from the sexual components of love. A person could find perfectly realized true love with another without ever having a physical relationship. Moreover, there was the notion that somehow marriage ruined this true love, so that courtly love did not exist within the bounds of the marital relationship. In the courtly love relationship, a man became a woman’s servant. Stories celebrating courtly love were very popular from the 11th century through Chaucer’s time. One of the reasons that these stories were so interesting is that they contrasted sharply with the actual conditions for women during the Middle Ages. To call women property during this time period is an accurate representation. During the Middle Ages, women could exercise very little control over their own destinies. They did not have the right to choose their spouses, there was little punishment for rape,...

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Essays About The Canterbury Tales