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The Canterbury Tales


... influenced love story Troilus and Criseyde, c.1385, as well as a translation of ... Some of the stories may have been written earlier and then incorporated ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: The Canterbury Tales

  • The Canterbury Tales
  • by
  • Geoffrey Chaucer

Geoffrey Chaucer
  • His year of birth is disputed, but he was
    probably born in 1343 or 1344
  • He came from a family of prosperous
    wine-merchants who had rising fortunes and some
    standing at court
  • His grandfather and father had started the family
    in a career of public service

Geoffrey Chaucer
  • Chaucers grandfather had been collector of
    customs on wines from Aquitaine
  • His father had attended Edward III in Flanders in
    1338, and in 1348 was appointed to collect the
    custom (tax) on cloths in certain ports

Geoffrey Chaucer
  • Chaucer began his public service in the house of
    Elizabeth, Countess of Ulster, wife of Prince
    Lionel, second son of Edward III
  • During his life, he held a number of public
    positions and even served as knight of the
    shire for Kent (i.e., was the representative in

Geoffrey Chaucer
  • Chaucer served in the English army and was taken
    prisoner in France in 1359
  • Chaucer married well. He married Philippa,
    daughter of Sir Paon Roet of Hainault in 1366
  • Chaucers wife Philippa was the sister to John of
    Gaunts third wife

Geoffrey Chaucer
  • John of Gaunt was Chaucers wifes
    brother-in-law, and the fourth and longest-lived
    son of Edward III, as well as the father of Henry
    IV and Chaucers patron
  • John of Gaunt (the duke of Lancaster) died in
    1399, the year before Chaucer died

Geoffrey Chaucer
  • Partly due to John of Gaunts patronage, Chaucer
    traveled abroad on numerous diplomatic missions
  • In 1374 Chaucer was appointed controller of
    customs in the port of London and leased his
    house over Aldgate

Geoffrey Chaucer
  • In 1386 Chaucer became knight of the shire for
    Kent, where he probably lived for most of the
    rest of his life
  • His last official position was deputy forester in
    the Kings Forest at Petherton in Somerset
    (13918 at least), and he could have lived there
    for some time

Geoffrey Chaucer
  • Chaucer currently resides in the Poets Corner of
    Westminster Abbey, where a monument was erected
    to him in 1555
  • Apparently sensing that he had peaked, Chaucer
    stopped writing at his death and has written
    nothing new in more than 600 years

Geoffrey Chaucer
  • Chaucer went through three periods with his
    writing, largely dependant on the styles he was
    imitating and the writers he was reading
  • He demonstrated throughout his career that he was
    a very well-read man
  • He steadily developed his artistic skill and
    intellectual stature

Geoffrey Chaucer
  • Chaucers writings indicate a familiarity with
    Virgil, Ovid, Boethius, Petrarch, Dante, and
  • The French period, (1355-1370) culminated in
    The Book of the Duchess in c.1370, which was an
    elegy on the death of Blanche, first wife of John
    of Gaunt

Geoffrey Chaucer
  • Chaucers Italian period (1370-1385) includes
    The House of Fame, a fragmentary satire, in the
    1370s, and the mature, Italian-influenced love
    story Troilus and Criseyde, c.1385, as well as a
    translation of the Consolation of Philosophy by
  • His final period, considered his English period
    (1385-1400) includes most of The Canterbury Tales
    and his short lyrics

Geoffrey Chaucer
  • Throughout his career Chaucer wrote short
    piecescourtly lyrics, a group of ballads dealing
    with Boethian themes, some personal pieces of
    astonishing quality, and many translations or

The Canterbury Tales
  • Probably designed about 1387, extends to 17,000
    lines in prose and verse of various meters
    (although the rhyming couplet is the predominant
  • Some of the stories may have been written earlier
    and then incorporated into the collection
  • Tales are from various sources. Chaucer was
    gifted at adapting material not his own to
    original uses

The Canterbury Tales
  • The General Prologue describes the meeting of the
    29 pilgrims in the Tabbard Inn in Southwark
    (there are actually 31 of them)
  • Characters represent a cross section of
    contemporary middle-class English society
  • He may have had real people in mind when he
    created particular characters, but in most cases
    he chose details that would typify his characters
    as representatives of particular classes or

Why are they traveling?
  • The travelers are on a pilgrimage to the
    cathedral in Canterbury
  • Thomas à Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, had
    been slain on the orders of the king during a
    Church and crown dispute during the reign of
    Henry II in 1170. He was canonized in 1173

The Saint of the Common Folk
  • Thomas à Becket was perceived by the common
    folk as having taken their side in the dispute
    with the crown, so he was immensely popular after
    his death
  • His tomb became the most famous shrine in
    medieval England, a place where miracles were

The Plan of the Tales
  • Each pilgrim is to tell two stories on the trip
    to Canterbury and two more on the return journey
    to London, which should have yielded 120 stories
  • Only 24 stories survive, and four of these are

The Plan of the Tales
  • Chaucer evidently modified the scheme to include
    only one tale by each pilgrim, but didnt finish
    this revised plan either
  • Among the 24 stories, virtually every type of
    medieval fiction is represented, including a
    characteristic medieval sermon, which isnt a
    narrative at all

The Plan of the Tales
  • The stories follow each other in an apparently
    natural course, with the Host (the Innkeeper)
    acting as master of ceremonies and extemporaneous
  • Not all the manuscripts of the Tales agree on the
  • Some tales are grouped together because the
    people telling them are engaged in a quarrel

The Plan of the Tales
  • For example, the Friar tells a tale against
    summoners the Summoner replies with a filthy
    tale about a friar
  • Several tales are connected by the problem of
    happiness in married life (the so-called Marriage

  • The Canterbury Tales reflects the entire life of
    fourteenth-century England, in both the multitude
    of characters it represents and the variety of
    literary styles and genres that Chaucer uses
  • The Tales are so artfully fashioned that we often
    confuse them with life itself