The Canterbury Tales


I. Original Plan: 120 stories within it

Two stories told on the way to Canterbury and two more told on the way back for thirty pilgrims, but only twenty two are actually written, with two fragments.

II. Inspiration:

1. Witnessing the pilgrimage to the shrine of Thomas à Becket at Canterbury and pilgrims as notorious story tellers.

2. Medieval collections of stories under a framing story: Boccaccio’s Decameron.

III. A New Twist to the story-collection tradition:

1. The Diversity of story tellers in social background: In The Canterbury Tales, the story tellers represent a wide spectrum of ranks and occupations.

2. The Diversity of story types: The tales told match the story tellers in genre, style, tone, and values.
3. Two fictions created at the same time: that of the story teller and that of the story itself.
4. The ingenuity of “links”: a sort of literary comment and dramatic interest added.

IV. The great popularity of the poem: more than 80 surviving manuscripts and twice printed by William Caxton
V. “The General Prologue”:

1. Characterization: drawing from figures already existing in medieval literature, particularly the genre of estates satire, but representing an epitome of late medieval social life.
2. The portraits depicted in the way our mind perceives reality randomly: details actually chosen carefully.
3. Avoidance of overt moral judgment: a seemingly naïve narrator whose comments betrays deeply ironic implication.

VI. Discussion of the Text:

1. The order of appearance: traditional aristocracy, ecclesiastics, down to the low-class laity, followed by newly rising middle-class professions (p. 17).
2. The knight and squire: Christian chivalry code and its degeneration (p. 18).

3. The nun, monk, friar, parson, pardoner, summoner: the ideal and corruption in the Catholic ecclesiastical order (p. 18, 19, 20, 23, 26).
4. The franklin and plowman: the lay order of ancient regime (p. 21, 24).

5. The merchant, a sergeant at law, cook, skipper, doctor, miller, manciple, reeve: the amoral, profit-oriented professions (p. 20, 22, 24).
6. The Oxford Cleric and Wife of Bath: the eccentrics (p.21).

7. Animal Imagery: a symbolic epitome of a character’s personality.

8. The Irony within the narrator’s naïvete.

About Saweel Ur Raheem

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