The Canterbury Tales

The Canterbury tales were written in the 15th century by Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400). The author is a Londoner from a wealthy family who made a military expedition in France during which he became a prisoner. He then made diplomatic missions in France and Italy, which allowed him to take inspiration from the Decameron of Boccaccio, a nested narrative composed of the narration of several stories during a decade. The Canterbury tales also take this form because there is a narrative form that describes the travel of about thirty pilgrims going to the sanctuary of Canterbury, to venerate the saint Thomas Becker. This narrative form is extended by the fact that a Tavernier joins this troop of travelers and asks them each to tell a story to pass the time, and proposes to reward the best storyteller of a soup. Moreover, even if this work is inspired by Boccaccio, it is very original, for it initiates a reflection on the way of telling, because it indicates that a storyteller must not delay the « knot » of his Narrative, at the risk then of annoying the auditor:

« The knotte why is every tale is toold,

If it is taried til that lust be coold

Of hem that han it after herkned yoore,

The savor passeth ever lenger the moore,

For fulsomnesse of his prolixitee »

Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales in The Riverside Chaucer, ed. L. D. Benson, 3rd ed.

The originality of this text is also that it is based on several speakers (the knight, the miller etc…), and several subjects (mythology, chivalry, morals, morals of society). And, this work is also a criticism of the society, especially of the clergy, because Chaucer denounces the practice of indulgence, and of the knights (he laughs about the knights who fight each other when they see a woman: « O Cupid, out of alle charity! »). Finally, we can consider this book of seven hundred pages in verses like a monument of the English literature.


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