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The Canterbury Tales

Geoffrey Chaucer

Key Facts

Important Quotations Explained

Study Questions & Essay Topics

full title  ·  The Canterbury Tales

author  · Geoffrey Chaucer

type of work  · Poetry (two tales are in prose: the Tale of Melibee and the Parson’s Tale)

genres  · Narrative collection of poems; character portraits; parody; estates satire; romance; fabliau

language  · Middle English

time and place written  · Around 1386–1395, England

date of first publication  · Sometime in the early fifteenth century

publisher  · Originally circulated in hand-copied manuscripts

narrator  · The primary narrator is an anonymous, naïve member of the pilgrimage, who is not described. The other pilgrims narrate most of the tales.

point of view  · In the General Prologue, the narrator speaks in the first person, describing each of the pilgrims as they appeared to him. Though narrated by different pilgrims, each of the tales is told from an omniscient third-person point of view, providing the reader with the thoughts as well as actions of the characters.

tone  ·  The Canterbury Tales incorporates an impressive range of attitudes toward life and literature. The tales are by turns satirical, elevated, pious, earthy, bawdy, and comical. The reader should not accept the naïve narrator’s point of view as Chaucer’s.

tense  · Past

setting (time)  · The late fourteenth century, after 1381

setting (place)  · The Tabard Inn; the road to Canterbury

protagonists  · Each individual tale has protagonists, but Chaucer’s plan is to make none of his storytellers superior to others; it is an equal company. In the Knight’s Tale, the protagonists are Palamon and Arcite; in the Miller’s Tale, Nicholas and Alisoun; in the Wife of Bath’s Tale, the errant knight and the loathsome hag; in the Nun’s Priest’s Tale, the rooster Chanticleer.

major conflict  · The struggles between characters, manifested in the links between tales, mostly involve clashes between social classes, differing tastes, and competing professions. There are also clashes between the sexes, and there is resistance to the Host’s somewhat tyrannical leadership.

rising action  · As he sets off on a pilgrimage to Canterbury, the narrator encounters a group of other pilgrims and joins them. That night, the Host of the tavern where the pilgrims are staying presents them with a storytelling challenge and appoints himself judge of the competition and leader of the company.

climax · Not applicable (collection of tales)

falling action  · After twenty-three tales have been told, the Parson delivers a long sermon. Chaucer then makes a retraction, asking to be forgiven for his sins, including having written The Canterbury Tales.

themes  · The pervasiveness of courtly love, the importance of company, the corruption of the church

motifs  · Romance, fabliaux

symbols  · Springtime, clothing, physiognomy

foreshadowing  · Not applicable (collection of tales)

More Help

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pardoners tale

by sons88, October 06, 2013

his story begins off with him telling everyone about drunken Flemish people.
then talks about their vices
he is very hypercritical
hates swearing
story is about a guy who poisons everyone else so that he could have all the gold
his tale ends with him trying to sell relics even though he told everyone in his prologue that they are fake

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