What's the main theme of The Canterbury Tales?

Expert Answers
accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

You have asked a question that has been much debated down through the centuries! Many critics have attempted to find a common strand with which to thread together this interesting collection of stories, which are, ostensibly at least, so different in style, content and form. However, some critics argue that one theme that can be established is that of deceit. Many of the tales show how words can be used to deceive and trick and what happens through this act of deception. This may be done by scrupulous characters, such as Arcite in "The Knight's Tale," who is forced to disguise himself to gain entrance to access his beloved. However, deceit is something practised by less scrupulous characters, such as the fox who flatters Chanticleer repeatedly for his own benefit in "The Nun's Priest's Tale." Deceit is practised by others for a didactic purpose, for example in "The Tale of the Wife of Bath," when the old woman dons the disguise of a wizened crone until the knight has shown he can see beyond surface appearances and respect women the way they are meant to be respected. You might like to think about this theme of deceit and consider how it relates to the different tales and what kind of deceit is practised in each, and most importantly, what it says about the characters telling the tales.

Read the study guide:
The Canterbury Tales

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question