The Canterbury Tales


What Does the Ending Mean?

Summary What Does the Ending Mean?

The Canterbury Tales ends with Chaucer’s Retraction, in which he begs readers’ forgiveness for his work’s scandalous content, including that found in The Canterbury Tales and other past works. While some scholars suggest that Chaucer meant the apology sincerely, others argue that the epilogue satirizes readers’ standards of morality. In the Retraction, Chaucer tells readers that if they didn’t like the content of his work, the fault lies with his “lack of wit.” Literary works in the Middle Ages and Renaissance often ended with an apology for poor writing, and societal expectations also demanded more specific apologies for wrongdoing or offensive content, given the dominance of the medieval Catholic Church. Chaucer’s prayer that God will “forgive . . . [the] worldly vanities” and offensive content in The Canterbury Tales fits this cultural expectation. Furthermore, as a member of a Christian society, Chaucer likely sought to remain in good standing with the Church and may have believed he needed to repent of his sins. Yet given that its pious tone contradicts the satirical thrust of Chaucer’s work, some scholars suggest the Retraction actually mocks the medieval convention of apologizing for published work. Chaucer’s apology is extended and fawning, perhaps to draw attention to the performative morality required by the Catholic Church at the time.