The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer’s last major work, was written between the mid-1380’s and his death in 1400, although some of the stories, such as “The Knight’s Tale,” were composed earlier. It is considered one of the greatest works of English literature. Most of the work is poetic, but a few of the tales are written in prose. In the twenty-four tales, Chaucer demonstrates mastery of almost every literary genre known in the Middle Ages. Various pilgrims tell tales of romance (the Knight, the Wife of Bath), farce (the Miller), and beast fable (the Nun’s Priest). Although many of the stories were not new, Chaucer transformed the material with an originality that made the tales unique. He imbued his characters with vivacity by skillfully playing the general types of stereotyped social classes and occupations against specific details of individuals’ appearance and mannerisms.
The tales begin with a general prologue that sets up the frame narrative of the pilgrimage. It provides the rationale for the stories and introduces the pilgrims. The concept of a story collection has antecedents in medieval literature, including Decameron: O, Prencipe Galeotto (1349-1351; The Decameron, 1620), written in the fourteenth century by the Italian Giovanni Boccaccio. The frame of telling stories on a pilgrimage, however, was unprecedented and creates the potential for interaction among the storytellers, which Chaucer exploits....
(The entire section is 1028 words.)
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