The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, written in the late 14th century, is a collection of stories told by a group of pilgrims on their journey to the shrine of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. One of the best-loved works in the English language, the lively, absorbing, perceptive, and outrageously funny stories in The Canterbury Tales have earned Chaucer the sobriquet of “the father of English literature.” The tales are framed by a narrative in which each pilgrim tells a story to pass the time on their pilgrimage. This structure allows for a diverse range of stories, showcasing various genres such as romance, comedy, and moral allegory.

Set in medieval England, The Canterbury Tales provides a vivid depiction of the social and cultural aspects of the time. The characters, drawn from different classes and occupations, offer a cross-section of medieval society, allowing Chaucer to satirize and comment on the moral and social conditions of the period. The use of Middle English captures the linguistic nuances of the time.

The Canterbury Tales remains a significant work in English literature, celebrated for its investigation of human nature, its social commentary, and its influence on the development of the English language. Its portrayal of the complexities of human behavior and the rich tapestry of medieval society continues to captivate readers and scholars alike.

This SparkNotes guide examines its General Prologue as well as the best known and most read chapters—those relating to the Knight, the Miller, the Wife of Bath, the Pardoner, and the Nun’s Priest.

Read the full collection summary, an in-depth character analysis of the Kngiht, and explanations of important quotes from The Canterbury Tales.

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