The Canterbury Tales is a collection of stories written by Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century (two of them in prose, the rest in verse). The tales, some of which are originals and others not, are contained inside a frame tale and told by a group of pilgrims on their way from Southwark to Canterbury to visit Saint Thomas à Becket's shrine at Canterbury Cathedral. The shrine was later destroyed by Henry VIII; a tourist attraction entitled The Canterbury Tales may nowadays be viewed in Canterbury.
The themes of the tales vary, and include topics such as courtly love, treachery and avarice. The genres also vary, and include romance, Breton lai, sermon, and fabliau. The characters, introduced in the Prologue of the book, tell tales of extreme cultural relevance.
The Tales include:
- The Knight's Tale
- The Miller's Prologue and Tale
- The Reeve's Prologue and Tale
- The Cook's Prologue and Tale
- The Man of Law's Prologue and Tale
- The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale
- The Friar's Prologue and Tale
- The Summoner's Prologue and Tale
- The Clerk's Prologue and Tale
- The Merchant's Prologue and Tale
- The Squire's Prologue and Tale
- The Franklin's Prologue and Tale
- The Physician's Tale
- The Pardoner's Prologue and Tale
- The Shipman's Tale
- The Prioress' Prologue and Tale
- Chaucer's Tale of Sir Topas
- The Tale of Melibee
- The Monk's Tale
- The Nun's Priest's Tale
- The Second Nun's Prologue and Tale
- The Canon's Yeoman's Prologue and Tale
- The Manciple's Prologue and Tale
- The Parson's Prologue and Tale
- Chaucer's Retraction
Some of the tales are serious and others are humorous; however, all are very precise in describing the traits and faults of human nature. Religious malpractice is a major theme. Another important element of the tales is their focus on the division of the three estates. The work is incomplete, as it was originally intended that each character would tell four tales, two on the way to Canterbury and two on the return journey.
It is sometimes argued that the greatest contribution that this work made to English literature was in popularising the use of vulgar (i.e. 'of the people') English (rather than French or Latin) as a literary language. However, several of Chaucer's contemporaries - John Gower, William Langland, and the Pearl Poet - also wrote major literary works in English, making it unclear how much Chaucer was responsible for starting a trend rather than simply being part of it.
In 2004, Professer Linne Mooney was able to identify the scrivener who worked for Chaucer as an Adam Pinkhurst . Professor Mooney, working at Cambridge University, was able to match Pinkhurst's signature on an oath he signed to his lettering on a copy of Canterbury Tales that was transcribed from Chaucer's working copy.
The title of the work has become an everyday phrase in the language and has been variously adapted and adopted, eg. in the title of the British film, A Canterbury Tale. Recently an animated version of some of the tales has been produced for British television. As well as a version with Modern English dialogue, there were versions in Middle English and Welsh.
- Full text of The Canterbury Tales and Other Poems from Project Gutenberg
- Audio clip from The Miller's Tale and The Second Nun's Tale
- The Hengwrt Chaucer
|The Canterbury Tales|
|The Knight's Tale - The Miller's Tale - The Reeve's Tale - The Cook's Tale - The Man of Law's Tale - The Wife of Bath's Tale - The Friar's Tale - The Summoner's Tale - The Clerk's Tale - The Merchant's Tale - The Squire's Tale - The Franklin's Tale - The Physician's Tale - The Pardoner's Tale - The Shipman's Tale - The Prioress' Tale - Chaucer's Tale of Sir Topas - The Tale of Melibee - The Monk's Tale - Chanticleer and the Fox - The Second Nun's Tale - The Canon's Yeoman's Tale - The Manciple's Tale - The Parson's Tale - Chaucer's Retraction|