The Canterbury Tales

Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” is a renowned work of literature from the 14th century. This collection of stories, written in Middle English, provides a vivid and multifaceted portrait of medieval society. “The Canterbury Tales” remains a celebrated literary masterpiece that offers insights into human nature, social dynamics, and religious beliefs of the time. This article provides a detailed overview of the work, its texts, manuscripts, order of the tales, the language used, genre and structure, style, historical perspective, themes, religious importance, and its adaptations in stage and film.

Geoffrey Chaucer Canterbury Tales

“The Canterbury Tales” is a collection of stories framed as a pilgrimage. A diverse group of pilgrims, representing different social classes and occupations, embark on a journey to the shrine of Thomas Becket in Canterbury. As they travel, each pilgrim is tasked with telling two tales on the way to Canterbury and two on the return journey. However, Chaucer was unable to complete the entire collection, leaving it in an unfinished state.

Text and Manuscript

Several manuscripts of “The Canterbury Tales” exist, each presenting a slightly different version of the text. The most famous and reliable manuscripts are the Ellesmere Manuscript and the Hengwrt Manuscript. The Ellesmere Manuscript is highly regarded for its detailed illustrations and was created in the early 15th century. The Hengwrt Manuscript is another important early manuscript that provides valuable insights into Chaucer’s original text.

Order of Tales

Chaucer initially planned to have each pilgrim tell two tales on the way to Canterbury and two on the return journey, resulting in a total of 120 tales. However, he only completed 24 tales before his death, leaving the collection unfinished. The tales Chaucer did finish cover a wide range of genres, including romance, fabliau (comic tales), moral tales, and more. Moreover, the pilgrims themselves determine the order of the tales, with Chaucer strategically selecting the order to provide contrasts and create social commentary.

The language used in The Canterbury Tales

Chaucer wrote “The Canterbury Tales” in Middle English, a predecessor to modern English. This choice was significant because it marked a shift from the dominance of French and Latin in medieval literature. Chaucer’s use of Middle English, which incorporated various dialects and vernacular language, played a crucial role in elevating the status of English as a literary language.

The Canterbury Tales Genre and Structure

Geoffrey Chaucer Canterbury Tales can be classified as a frame narrative, as it presents a collection of individual stories within a larger overarching narrative. The pilgrimage serves as the frame, allowing Chaucer to introduce and explore a wide range of characters and narrative styles. The diverse genres of the tales, including romance, comedy, tragedy, and moral allegory, contribute to the richness and complexity of the work.


Chaucer’s writing style in “The Canterbury Tales” is characterized by its realism, humor, and keen observation of human nature. He employs vivid imagery, detailed descriptions, and colloquial language to bring his characters and settings to life. Chaucer’s use of satire and irony adds depth and complexity to the narrative, allowing him to comment on the social, political, and religious issues of his time.

Historical Perspective

“The Canterbury Tales” also provides valuable insights into medieval society, offering glimpses into the social hierarchy, religious beliefs, and cultural practices of the time. Chaucer’s depiction of various pilgrims from different walks of life allows readers to explore the complexities and contradictions of medieval England.

Themes in The Canterbury Tales

Although, “The Canterbury Tales” encompasses a wide range of themes, including the corrupting influence of wealth and power, the nature of love and desire, the complexities of human relationships, the flaws of the clergy, and the role of fate and destiny. Through his tales, Chaucer addresses moral, social, and philosophical questions that remain relevant today.

Religious Importance

Religion plays a significant role in “The Canterbury Tales.” The pilgrimage itself is a religious act, and Chaucer explores the faith, hypocrisy, and moral shortcomings of the pilgrims. He offers a nuanced portrayal of religious figures, exposing the flaws of the clergy while presenting genuine examples of piety and devotion.

Stage and Film Adaptations

“The Canterbury Tales” has been adapted for the stage and screen numerous times. Further, stage adaptations have ranged from traditional productions to modern reinterpretations, highlighting the timeless appeal of the stories and their universal themes. Moreover, in terms of film adaptations, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1972 film “The Canterbury Tales” stands out, capturing the spirit and essence of Chaucer’s work.

The Canterbury Tales Text: General Prologue

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote

The droghte of March hath perced to the root,

And bathed every veyne in swich licóur,

Of which vertú engendred is the flour;

Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth

Inspired hath in every holt and teeth

The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne

Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,

And smale foweles maken melody,

That slepen al the nyght with open ye

(So priketh hem Natúre in hir corages);

Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages

And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes

To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;

And specially, from every shires ended

Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,

The hooly blisful martir for to seek

That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seeke.

Stanza 2

Bifel that in that seson, on a day,

In Southwerk at the Tabard as I lay

Redy to wenden on my pilgrimage

To Caunterbury with ful devout corage,

At nyght were come into that hostelrye

Wel nyne and twenty in a compaignye

Of sondry folk, by áventure y-falle

In felaweshipe, and pilgrimes were they alle,

That toward Caunterbury wolden ryde.

The chambres and the stables weren wyde,

And wel we weren esed atte best.

Stanza 3

And shortly, whan the sonne was to reset,

So hadde I spoken with hem everichon

That I was of hir felaweshipe anon,

And made forward erly for to ryse,

To take oure wey ther as I yow devyse.

Stanza 4

But nathelees, whil I have tyme and space,

Er that I ferther in this tale pace,

Me thynketh it acordaunt to resoun

To telle yow al the condicioun

Of ech of hem, so as it semed me,

And whiche they weren, and of what degree,

eek in what array that they were nine;

And at a Knyght than wol I first bigynne.

Canterbury Tales Prologue

General Prologue Canterbury Tales is a captivating literary work penned by Geoffrey Chaucer, a renowned English poet, in the late 14th century. It serves as the opening to Chaucer’s magnum opus, “The Canterbury Tales,” a collection of stories narrated by a diverse group of pilgrims traveling to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket in Canterbury, England.

In the Prologue, Chaucer artfully introduces us to a cast of memorable characters, each representing a distinct social class and occupation of medieval society. Through vivid and often satirical descriptions, Chaucer provides keen insights into the personalities, behaviors, and values of these pilgrims, offering a fascinating glimpse into the medieval world.

Pilgrims in Prologue

The group of pilgrims is a microcosm of the society of Chaucer’s time, featuring a range of individuals from noble and religious figures to merchants, artisans, and even a few misfits. They come from different walks of life, and each has a unique tale to share during the pilgrimage.

Chaucer’s brilliant use of irony and humor is evident throughout the Prologue, as he playfully pokes fun at the foibles and hypocrisies of his characters. The contrast between the idealized and often exaggerated traits attributed to these pilgrims and their flawed human nature creates a rich tapestry of social commentary, revealing the complexities of human behavior.

In addition to character introductions, the Prologue also sets the stage for the storytelling contest that unfolds during the journey. Each pilgrim is tasked with telling two tales on the way to Canterbury and two more on the return trip, resulting in a diverse collection of stories ranging from romance and comedy to tragedy and morality tales.

Chaucer’s portrayal of the pilgrims and his masterful storytelling techniques make The Prologue an enduring piece of literature that continues to captivate readers across centuries. It offers a vivid snapshot of medieval society, with its vibrant characters and colorful narratives, while also addressing timeless themes that resonate with readers to this day. As a literary masterpiece, the Canterbury Tales Prologue remains an essential part of English literature. Thus showcasing Chaucer’s exceptional skill in storytelling and his profound understanding of human nature.