What are some elements of Realism in Chaucer's "Prologue" to The Canterbury Tales?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

With Realism as a representation of details from contemporary life, Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales is, indeed, realistic. 

  • Chaucer's unprecedented use of the vernacular rather than Latin or French, as was hitherto employed in literature, provides much realistic detail and reflects the life of the pilgrims of the time. 
  • Moreover, his presentation of an extensive view of society is a veritable tableau of fourteenth-century England.
  • In the "General Prologue," Chaucer's very subject matter--a pilgrimage--is certainly realistic as religious pilgrimages were customary.

Then do folk long to go on pilgrimage,
And palmers to go seeking out strange strands,

  • Details appertaining to the historical setting of the time are present as, for example, there is an allusion to the Black Plague and Thomas a Becket, who was martyred at Canterbury:

...they to Canterburywend,
The holy blessed martyr there to seek
Who helped them when they lay so ill and weak

  • Finally, Chaucer promises to provide realistic descriptions of the pilgrims.

To inform you of the state of every one....
And who they were, and what was their degree,
And also what array they all were in;


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The Canterbury Tales

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