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The Canterbury Tales

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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Why were The Canterbury Tales important?

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Though not the first narrative work to be completed in English, Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales (written between 1387 and 1400) marked the popularization of English as a language for storytelling. Alongside French, Italian, and Latin, three other dominant languages in literary, academic, and theological domains in Europe at that time, English was still a contender for global language.

The Canterbury Tales were also significant inasmuch as they, for the first time, put commoners onto paper—into stories. In the storytelling tradition of the fourteenth century, having characters from so wide a range of social classes was without precedent. Constructing a scene in which everyone is placed on the level of pilgrim renders it a level playing field. The jostling of characters during disagreements pits ideas and ideologies against each other in an arena which favors none.

In this way, Chaucer was able to criticize and satirize hitherto "immune" institutions: for example, the church, or man's aspirations towards spirituality. Though incomplete at the time of his death, the legacy of Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales is far-reaching and incontrovertible.

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