The Canterbury Tales

Main Ideas

Setting

Main Ideas Setting

The pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales start their journey together in south London and aim for Canterbury Cathedral, roughly seventy miles away. The Canterbury Cathedral houses the shrine of an English saint: Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was martyred in the 1100s. The Tales takes place in the late fourteenth century and depicts a time of significant social upheaval, including the decline of chivalry, the emergence of the middle class, and rising criticism of the Church. In Chaucer’s day, as chivalry declined and merchants rose to prominence, a powerful middle class developed, belonging neither to the nobility nor to the laborers. Chaucer reflects this new social structure by depicting pilgrims of many different classes on the same pilgrimage, suggesting a loosening of the rigid social expectations of the earlier Middle Ages. Chaucer’s portrayal of most of the religious figures as hypocrites also points to a rising swell of dissatisfaction with corruption and abuse in the Catholic Church.