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Geoffrey Chaucer - CANTERBURY TALES

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Geoffrey Chaucer



It's spring and thirty people, including Chaucer himself, all from different social classes, are going on a pilgrimage to Thomas Becket's shrine. They gather at the Tabard Inn in London.The host of the inn, Harry Bailley, suggest thar every pilgrim should tell two stories while going to Canterbury, and two coming back. He says that there will be a prize for the best story as well as a penalty for anyone who gives up. All pilgrims agree and sett off.


The colletion is characterized by the juxtaposition of styles and subject matters within the lively and dinamic frame of the pilgrimage. The work consist of a General Prologue and of 24 tales. The tales are usually preceded by a prologue, which introduces the theme of the tale, and sometimes followed by an epilogue.

Canterbury is the symbol of the celestial city itself, the end of life, and the journey of the pilgrims become an allegory of the course of human. However, the work rimaned unfinished, and Canterbury is not reached. Chaucer ned to continue the Tales with another cycle which would follow the return to London, the terrestrial city, after the visit to Canterbury.


Chaucer intended to give a portrait of society as a whole: he included representative of feudal society, members of clergy and the middle classes. He didn't deal with the aristocracy and the peasants. In literature were first presented all male clerical ures, then all male lay ures, in order of rank. All female ures were cosidered lower in order of rank. Chaucer, instead, placed the knights as the first ure amd mixed female and male characters to underline the new importance women were assuming within the growing middle classes.

The new factor in Canterbury Tales is that there is individualisation, though group identification is not lost: the character exists in that he has reactions, he is in movement and he has a relationship to the role. His "individuality" is therefore dynamic in antithesis with the conventional medieval character portrait which is rather static. The descriptions of the pilgrims vary in lenght, point of view and tone; some emphasise what the pilgrim wears, some what he does or thinks. Chaucer wrote a poetry of details listing and describing tools, clothes and personal qualities.


Chaucer exploited all the main genres of medieval narrative: the parable, the beast-fable, the fabliu and the romance. Realism is the nost distinctive feature of the work; however Chaucer writes realistically in a medieval sense, that is, not merely by observing and selecting mterials from life around him, but also using exaggeration, caricature and grotesque.

The pilgrimage is also a key metaphor for life from the religious spehre. We are all pilgrims on the way to the heavenly city, and every journey reflects the basic pattern of existence.

CHAUCER the narrator:

The tales are narrated by the different pilgrims but the reporting pilgrim is Chaucer himself. He tells us directly and sometimes ironically what he sees and what he thinks about it. This creates a sort of interplay between real and unreal so that the reader is left to decide whether what is reading is true or not. The tales have sutle meaning, and often have realistic elements, but in almost every case they have a strong ideal and moralising base.

CHAUCER's verse:

The Canterbury Tales is a long narrative poem written in verse. Chaucer used rhyming couplets made up of iambic pentametres, that is, ten-syllable lines alternating unstressed and stressed syllables.


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