The Canterbury Tales

Main Ideas

Genre

Main Ideas Genre

Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales is a frame narrative, a tale in which a larger story contains, or frames, many other stories. In frame narratives, the frame story functions primarily to create a reason for someone to tell the other stories; the frame story doesn’t usually have much plot of its own. In contrast, the subsequent stories have a clear beginning, middle, and end, and usually fall into their own individual genres. In The Canterbury Tales, the pilgrimage to Canterbury provides the frame for the work. Chaucer uses the General Prologue to introduce the pilgrims, who are our storytellers, and the storytelling contest, which provides a circumstance for the tales. Through this device of the storytelling contest, Chaucer integrates a varied collection of literary genres: allegorical tale, courtly romance, fabliau, and more. Much more eventful than the frame, these inner stories range from a chivalric tale of knights fighting for the woman they love (“The Knight’s Tale”) to an allegory about a prideful rooster threatened by a sly fox (“The Nun’s Priest’s Tale”). The prologues between the tales continue the frame’s plot by showing the pilgrims’ reactions to the previous story and introducing the next.