General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales

by Geoffrey Chaucer
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In The Canterbury Tales, why does the narrator join the pilgrims?

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In the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, the narrator starts by telling the reader that pilgrims often go on trips to the martyr's shrine in April. The martyr he is referring to is Thomas Becket, the slain former Archbishop of Canterbury.

At this time, the host is already at the Tabard Inn in Southwark, as evidenced by these lines:

It happened in that season that one day

In Southwark, at The Tabard, as I lay

Ready to go on pilgrimage and start

for Canterbury . . .

Apparently, the narrator is there alone and about to begin his journey. Pilgrims sometimes made the journey alone, but also often went in groups for company and safety. We can imagine that the narrator would prefer to have companionship for the long trek across the English countryside. He was probably glad when . . .

At night there came into that hostelry

Some nine and twenty in a company

Of sundry folk happening then to fall

In fellowship.

After meeting these fellow travelers, the narrator approached them and undoubtedly struck up some conversations in hopes of joining their group. It must have been quite a task, but he says that he spoke to each of the twenty-nine pilgrims . . .

And, briefly, when the sun had gone to rest,

I'd spoken to them all upon the trip

And was soon one with them in fellowship,

Pledged to rise early and to take the way

To Canterbury, as you heard me say.

When the journey begins, the host then describes each pilgrim with their own prologue, followed by the story that they tell to the group. He is an unassuming, self-effacing narrator who professes to be nothing out of the ordinary, and something less in status than some of the other pilgrims.

 

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