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The Canterbury Tales Background

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by

Maureen Wallace

on 17 October 2013

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Transcript of The Canterbury Tales Background

The Canterbury Tales Introduction
Geoffrey Chaucer
Born around 1342 (?)
Father was a middle class wine merchant
Chaucer
- voracious reader
- spoke 4 different languages
- English
- Latin
- French
- Italian
Served in the royal household (page to 2nd son of Edward III)
In his twenties, he was made a court official
Life as a writer:
- Visited France and Italy on behalf of the crown during the 1360's
and 1370's, exposing him to the literature of Europe
- The Canterbury Tales considered his mature writing (c. 1386-1400)
Late Medieval Time Period
Social changes
1. End of the feudal system
2. The Black Death
Black Death killed a huge percentage
of agrarian workers and tenant
farmers.

3. There were a new class of merchants,
traders, shopkeepers, etc. (the trades)
Religious changes
1. The Church began to lose
influence and power - questions
as to who was in charge
2. Literacy was becoming more widespread:
- before only the clergy could read and write
- schooling began for much of the middle class
2. Religious readings or moralistic
tales transitioned to more
realistic works.
So, what are The
Canterbury Tales?

Frame Tale
Frame Tale =
Small story within
a larger one
Epic characters transitioned to
everyday characters

Written in Middle English
- combination of
Anglo-Saxon,
French, and Latin

Chaucer's intended audience was
most likely the
general population
because he wrote in Middle English.
Most writers in his day wrote
in French or Latin.
Setting:
14th Century
on a pilgrimage
to Canterbury Cathedral
in Canterbury, England
Spring - April
to visit St. Thomas a'Becket's shrine
Thomas a'Becket was archbishop of
Canterbury during the reign
of Henry II and was murdered by the
king's knights over religious differences.
His murder made him
a martyr for the church,
and in 1220, an elaborate
shrine was built to hold
his remains.
People went on pilgrimages
for many reasons:
1. devotion
2. prayer for miracles
3. repentance
People banded together
for safety
journey took several days-
pilgrims stayed at inns, often sharing
rooms with total strangers.
Structure of the Tales
Frame Tale
Introduction of 29 pilgrims and the Host who will make the journey to Canterbury Cathedral
Pilgrims represent a cross-section of
late medieval society, but are not
presented in hierarchical order.
There are however, distinct social classes.
1. Aristocrats:
2. Clergy
people with positions in the church
had high social standing and considered part of the Aristocracy
3. Middle Class: New development of social class
- feudalism fading
Merchant
Clerk
Sergeant at law
franklin
guildsmen belong to common craft guild
cook
shipman
physician
wife of bath
4. Lower clASS AND RUFFIANS
- often associated with agricultural work
Larger Story
Pilgrimage to Canterbury
Smaller Story
from each Pilgrim's life
Originally planned for 120 stories
- 2 stories each way on pilgrimage from
London to Canterbury for 30 pilgrims
- 29 pilgrims (27 men, 2 women, Host)
- only 22 completed

Narrator: Chaucerian persona
Host / Harry Bailey: Owns Tabard Inn,
governing force
Trade Class: Skilled workers like carpenters,
organized into "guilds" (union)
Buried in Westminster Abbey in London
- 1st to be buried in Poet's Corner (section of the Abbey)
- originally buried there for royal position and
not for Canterbury Tales
Structure of General Prologue
1st - Setting
2nd - Purpose
3rd - Descriptions of Pilgrims
4th - Expectations of contest
(reason for tales)
Full transcript