The Poem

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One April, a group of pilgrims gathers at the Tabard Inn in Southwark, near London, to embark on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Thomas à Becket at Canterbury. After dinner, Harry Bailley, the Host, proposes a storytelling competition on the journey. The Host will judge, and the winner...

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One April, a group of pilgrims gathers at the Tabard Inn in Southwark, near London, to embark on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Thomas à Becket at Canterbury. After dinner, Harry Bailley, the Host, proposes a storytelling competition on the journey. The Host will judge, and the winner will receive a dinner at the Tabard Inn. The following morning, as the pilgrims depart, they draw lots to begin. The Knight draws the shortest lot and tells his tale.

In “The Knight’s Tale,” Duke Theseus returns to Athens victorious over the Amazons with their queen, Hippolyta, as his wife and with her sister, Emily. They encounter women mourning because the Theban king, Creon, refuses burial for their husbands, who were killed besieging Thebes. Duke Theseus then conquers Thebes. He captures two knights, Palamon and Arcite, and imprisons them.

One May morning, both Palamon and Arcite fall in love with Emily when they see her walking in the garden. Duke Perotheus, a friend of Duke Theseus, negotiates Arcite’s release on the condition that he never return to Athens. Arcite longs for Emily, however, so he disguises himself as a squire, calls himself Philostratus, and serves at the court of Duke Theseus. Meanwhile, Palamon escapes by sedating his jailer.

By chance, Palamon and Arcite meet in the woods outside Athens. Duke Theseus finds them as they battle over Emily. He decrees that Palamon and Arcite should return in a year to wage a tournament for Emily. Palamon and Arcite gather with their knights at the new stadium built by Duke Theseus. Palamon is defeated, but Arcite is mortally injured while riding in victory around the stadium. After mourning Arcite, Duke Theseus arranges for the marriage of Palamon and Emily.

After commending the Knight’s story, Harry Bailley asks the Monk to continue, but Robin, the drunken Miller, insists on telling his bawdy tale next. In “The Miller’s Tale,” John, an older carpenter who is married to Alison, a pretty young woman, is afraid of her attractiveness to other men. Nicholas, a student who boards in their house, proposes a tryst with Alison. Absalom, a parish clerk, also tries to court her. Nicholas contrives a plan to deceive the carpenter. He convinces the carpenter of an impending flood and instructs John to provide tubs and provisions for them. At night, when they retire to their tubs in the attic to await the deluge, the carpenter falls asleep, and Nicholas steals away with Alison to her bedroom.

Meanwhile, Absalom woos Alison outside her room. In the darkness, he asks for a kiss. She sticks her backside out the window. He kisses her backside. Realizing that he has been duped, Absalom obtains a red-hot iron. Absalom returns and asks for another kiss. Nicholas, amazed at Absalom’s foolishness and wishing to participate in the jest, sticks his backside out the window while Alison says it is she, and Absalom brands Nicholas with the iron. Nicholas’s screams of pain awaken the carpenter, who falls to the ground and breaks his arm. Nicholas and Alison convince the neighbors that the carpenter is delusional about the flood.

Next, the Reeve, the Cook, and the Man of Law tell their stories. In “The Reeve’s Tale,” a reaction to “The Miller’s Tale,” Oswald the Reeve tells about a dishonest miller who robs two clerks. They retaliate against him by getting him drunk and taking advantage of his wife and daughter. “The Cook’s Tale,” a fragment of about fifty lines, tells of a young man done out of his inheritance by a wicked older brother. In “The Man of Law’s Tale,” Constance, daughter of a Roman emperor, marries first a sultan of Syria who is killed and then a king. Both mothers-in-law cause her to be accused of treachery, but ultimately she is reunited with her second husband.

The Wife of Bath next offers her tale. She prefaces the story with a discourse on marriage, based on her experiences with five husbands. In “The Wife of Bath’s Tale,” a knight in King Arthur’s court rapes a young woman. When he is sentenced to death, the queen intercedes and agrees to save the knight’s life if he searches for a year to ascertain what women most desire. As he is about to return after an unsuccessful search, he encounters an ugly old woman. She agrees to tell him the answer if he will grant her next request. The knight agrees, is told what women want, and returns to court. When the knight reveals to the queen that women desire power, his answer is accepted. The old woman appears and demands that the knight marry her. The knight is reluctant but changes his mind after the old woman lectures him on the true character of nobility. After the marriage, the old woman is transformed, becoming young and beautiful.

The Friar, the Summoner, the Clerk, the Merchant, the Squire, the Franklin, the Physician, the Pardoner, the Shipman, the Prioress, the Monk, and even the Narrator himself all tell their tales as the pilgrims continue toward Canterbury. “The Friar’s Tale,” directed by the Friar at the Summoner, paints a humiliating picture of a wicked summoner in cahoots with the devil whose scheme against a widow backfires, landing him in hell. The Summoner retaliates by telling “The Summoner’s Tale,” in which a greedy, hypocritical friar visits the home of Thomas, a villager. In “The Clerk’s Tale,” patient Griselda, the daughter of the poorest man in a poor village, is married to a marquis who tests the limits of her patience by subjecting her to endless indignities. In “The Merchant’s Tale,” a young woman, married to an old man who goes blind, carries on an affair practically under his nose until the god Pluto restores the old man’s sight. Proserpine in turn gives the wife a good excuse for what the old man “sees” as his wife’s infidelity.

“The Squire’s Tale,” an incomplete tale, tells of a king’s daughter, Canace, who is given a brass horse that can fly, a mirror with the power to foretell disaster, and a ring that enables its wearer to understand the language of birds. In “The Franklin’s Tale,” Dorigen, wed to Averagus, is loved by Aurelius, in whom she has no interest. She promises to be his lover if he can accomplish the near-impossible task of clearing away all the rocks on the seacoast. With a magician’s help, Aurelius completes the task, but when he realizes Dorigen does not really want him, he releases her from her promise. In “The Physician’s Tale,” the Roman knight Virginius has a beautiful daughter, Virginia, who is lusted after by a wicked judge, Appius. Appius schemes to get her under his power, and, when his success seems inevitable, Virginia tells her father she would rather die than become Appius’s lover. When she swoons, her father cuts off her head.

In “The Pardoner’s Tale,” three blasphemous, lecherous revelers decide to seek out Death to destroy him. In their search, however, they find a cache of gold, which makes them turn on one another in their greed. They end up killing one another, thus meeting Death at last. In “The Shipman’s Tale,” a monk cuckolds a miserly merchant and then causes his wife to reveal her infidelity to her husband. In “The Prioress’s Tale,” a boy, delighted with the song “Alma Redemptoris,” sings it so much that a group of Jews become incensed enough to hire someone to kill him. The killer tosses the body into a pit to hide it, but, miraculously, the dead boy begins to sing, and those searching for him find his body and the killers, who are quickly put to death.

“The Monk’s Tale” actually combines several stories that tell of the fall from power or high station of Lucifer, Adam, Samson, Hercules, Nero, Julius Caesar, and several other men. Chaucer, the narrator, next begins “The Tale of Sir Thopas,” a kind of parodied romance, but he is interrupted by the Host, who claims the doggerel Chaucer uses is downright silly and lewd. Instead, Chaucer tells the story of Melibeus, in which Melibeus debates with his wife the best way to deal with one’s enemies.

Because “The Monk’s Tale” was a tragedy that has saddened the company, Harry Bailley asks the Nun’s Priest to lighten their hearts with a merrier tale. In “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale,” Chanticleer is a vain rooster. One night, as Chanticleer sleeps beside his favorite hen, Partlet, he dreams about a fox. Partlet does not believe in dreams and chides him for cowardice. Although Chanticleer thinks dreams have veracity, he flies down into the yard the next morning. Sir Russell, the fox, arrives and flatters Chanticleer into singing. The fox seizes Chanticleer and runs into the woods. Chanticleer advises the fox to boast of his speed to the other farm animals. When the fox opens his mouth to do so, Chanticleer escapes.

“The Nun’s Priest’s Tale” is followed by “The Second Nun’s Tale,” “The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale,” “The Manciple’s Tale,” and finally “The Parson’s Tale,” a long prose tract. “The Second Nun’s Tale” recounts the life of the famous Roman martyr Saint Cecilia. “The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale” is a story of a swindling alchemist that serves to denounce the trickery involved in alchemy. “The Manciple’s Tale,” a variation on the traditional telltale bird story, tells of the crow, who once was white. After he tells his owner, Phoebus Apollo, that Apollo’s wife has been unfaithful—and after Apollo slays her—the crow is turned black by the angry god. “The Parson’s Tale,” more a sermon than a story, is about penitence, various sins, and their remedies.

Places Discussed

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Tabard Inn

The Tabard Inn is the English tavern that is the starting point of the poem’s pilgrimage, located in Southwark, a borough across the River Thames from and just south of London, at the beginning of the main road to Canterbury—the pilgrims’ destination. The owner of the inn, Harry Bailley, proposes and serves as judge for the storytelling contest that makes up The Canterbury Tales. The tavern location is an appropriate entryway into Chaucer’s world for a number of reasons. It is a place of hospitality and conviviality, in which men and women of a variety of social classes and backgrounds might realistically mingle informally and in temporary equality (as done on the pilgrimage itself). The historical Southwark was a neighborhood that was not entirely respectable, known for its brothels as well as its taverns, and many of the tales represent immoral characters and bawdy incidents. Indeed, in Chaucer’s time, many people viewed pilgrimages with some suspicion, as opportunities for rowdy vacations rather than as pious religious journeys. Finally, the first four tales have often been seen as unified by the theme of “herbergage,” of the use and misuse of dwelling-places and hospitality.


Canterbury is in England’s southeastern Kent region. The pilgrims undertake the journey to visit the shrine of Saint Thomas à Becket, located in the Trinity Chapel in Canterbury’s great cathedral. The collection ends just before they arrive at Canterbury; its penultimate tale, of the Manciple, is delivered at “Bobbe-Up-and-Down” (usually identified as Harbledown, two miles from Canterbury). The prologue to the final tale, that of the Parson, makes explicit the allegorical significance of the location as the Parson undertakes to show the pilgrims that their physical journey from London to Canterbury is an emblem of their spiritual pilgrimage as Christians from this world to heaven.


London is England’s capital city. While the pilgrims themselves leave London immediately, the various prologues and tales mention some fifteen or twenty specific buildings, streets, and landmarks within the city and reinforce the contemporary and local atmosphere of a work whose tales themselves are often set in distant times and places. For example, the “Cook of London” sets his fragmentary tale among the working (and even unemployed) classes in “our city.” What exists of his tale suggests that it was to have been an exploration of the seamier side of the city in Chaucer’s day.

Canterbury Way

Canterbury Way is the route taken by the pilgrims along the course of the old Roman Watling-Street, roughly congruent with modern England’s A2 highway that connects London to Canterbury. The work mentions some ten towns or place-names along the way, which some scholars have seen as offering clues to the organization of the work as a whole, under the theory that Chaucer must have meant to present these places in the correct geographical order in which the pilgrims would have passed them. Other scholars caution that the fact that not one of the fifty-five relatively complete manuscripts of the Tales is organized so as to present these places in their proper sequence constitutes a warning not to press this point too literally.


Athens is one of the chief cities of ancient Greece and the scene of most of “The Knight’s Tale,” the epic’s first and longest tale. The most important locations within the Greek city are the tower in which Palamon and Arcite are imprisoned and the adjacent garden in which Emily takes her walks. The men’s rivalry for Emily’s hand is finally resolved at the third important location, a circular stone stadium a mile in circumference built to contain a tournament at which they will fight for Emily’s hand. At the main gates to this stadium are three shrines, to Venus, Mars, and Diana. All of these locations fulfill important thematic functions for the poem. The prison and garden are metaphors for life’s spiritual and psychological prisons and gardens, which are shown to be far more significant than physical ones. The stadium represents the efforts of the governor of Athens, Theseus, to impose order and structure upon the chaos of the (pagan) world, and each of the three temples is associated with, and revelatory of, one of the three members of the romantic triangle.


Troy is an ancient city in Asia Minor made famous in Homer’s Iliad (c. 800 BCE). It is by far the most frequently used geographical name in Chaucer’s work, although the vast majority of those references occur in another work, his long historical romance Troilus and Criseyde (c. 1382), which is set in and around Troy at the close of the Trojan War.

Historical Context

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The Black Plague

During Chaucer’s lifetime, the Black Plague swept across Europe, causing hundreds of thousands of people to die in a gruesome way and changing the way that common citizens looked at mortality. The plague originated in the north of India during the 1330s and spread quickly, affecting much of Asia by the mid-1340s. Its spread to Europe was no accident. Mongol-Tartar armies, in an attempt to discourage Italian trade caravans from crossing their territory on their way to and from China, catapulted bodies of infected victims over the walls of their fortresses at the Italians, who subsequently brought the disease back to their country. While carrying on their trade, they infected other travelers, who carried the disease to the most crowded cities on the continent. The plague struck Spain and France in 1348 and reached England the following year. By the time that The Canterbury Tales was published in 1400, a third of the people of Europe had died of the Black Plague. During the last half of the fourteenth century, though, scientific inquiry about the plague led to the discovery that it was spread by fleas that had picked up the virus from rats. Chaucer’s pilgrims may seem lax in their hygienic practices: for instance, the specific point of the Nun being noteworthy for not getting grease into the wine cup when she drank from it and passed it on, or the characters who share beds with strangers. Still, their practices reflect a heightened sense of the ways in which lethal diseases can spread, and their physical interactions with each other are more cautious than they would have been a generation earlier. The characters in The Canterbury Tales, such as the Pardoner, who mentions a death by plague in his poem, reflect an enlightened and cautious generation that is familiar with sudden illness and death and that hopes for a better life.

The Hundred Years’ War

When Chaucer wrote this work, and throughout his entire lifetime, England was at war with France. The two countries had suffered strained relations for a long time before 1328, when war broke out between them following the death of France’s king, Charles IV. Charles’s daughter was rejected as a ruler, and so Edward II, the king of England, thought that he should be named king of France as well, for Edward’s mother was Isabella, the sister of Charles IV. The French people did not want their country subservient to England in any way, and so they chose Philip Valois to rule as Philip VI. Edward, feeling that his claim on the French throne was stronger, led an invasion with 30,000 men. He was spectacularly successful, but the French had strong defenses around and within their major cities, and they were dug in to defend themselves in a series of battles fought during the ensuing century.

Of Edward’s sons, one, also named Edward but called the Black Prince, led the British forces to victory in several battles, taking most of the south of France for the throne of England. The Black Prince died in 1376, after turning over his French holdings to John of Gaunt, another of Edward’s sons. Geoffrey Chaucer was a squire in the household of John of Gaunt and was married to the sister of his wife. He served with John on several campaigns during the Hundred Years’ War. In Edward III’s last years, when he was too ill to oversee his government, John ruled England; he gave up his power when Richard II was named as successor in 1377. After that, John worked to bring peace between the English and the French, with Chaucer as a trusted aid.

Despite the military superiority of the English, the French resisted, fighting until 1453 and eventually taking back almost all of their land. The result of the war was to clarify France’s identity as a separate social and political entity (one of the heroes of the Hundred Years’ War was Joan of Arc, who remains today an important symbol of the French spirit) and to establish international relations between the countries of Europe.

The Renaissance

The word renaissance comes from the Old French word for rebirth and is commonly used to refer to the period of time, starting in 1350 and lasting into the seventeenth century, when a sudden, powerful thirst for knowledge swept through the Western world’s cultural institutions, signifying the start of modern thought. Renaissance art was derived from the art and ideas of ancient Greece and Rome, which had been ignored since the fall of Rome after the overthrow of Romulus Augustulus in 476 CE. From 476 to 1350, generally identified as the Middle Ages, there was little scientific inquiry and development of the arts. Renaissance thinkers considered this middle period to be the Dark Ages, during which all prior discoveries had been lost, and they set the enormous task of reinventing human knowledge.

Several cultural elements came together in the fourteenth century to bring about the Renaissance. For several hundred years, Christians from Europe had invaded the Middle East in an attempt to chase the Muslims out of the Holy Land. One result of these crusades was that much of the presumably lost knowledge of the Roman Empire was found to survive in Constantinople, the seat of the Eastern Roman Empire. With a renewed sense of history, scholars and artists basked in relative financial security, with wealthy nobles giving them financial support while they worked on intellectual pursuits. Such relationships worked to mutual advantage, as the patrons were often glorified in art, architecture, and music. Starting in Northern Italy, concentrated efforts were made to assemble the scattered records of past civilizations, piecing together knowledge and artistic theory from fragments of old Roman and Latin texts found in private libraries and abbeys. Because of this interest in knowledge for its own sake, the Renaissance figure came to be a person who was skilled in many different subjects. Leonardo da Vinci, for example, is known equally for his paintings of the Last Supper and Mona Lisa as for designing flying machines four hundred years before the Wright Brothers. Michelangelo’s fame would have survived for his skilled architecture alone, even if he had not also painted the Sistine Chapel or carved his statue of David. Chaucer was a Renaissance Man in this sense, proficient in court politics as well as in writing.

Literary Style

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Heroic Couplets

The poetic meter, or rhythm, used throughout The Canterbury Tales is iambic pentameter. This means that each line is based on pairs of syllables, proceeding from one that would be unstressed in normal speech to one that is stressed. This pattern is called the iamb, and a poetic structure based on it is called iambic. When the English language is spoken, this pattern occurs naturally, so the rhythm of an iambic poem is hardly noticeable when read aloud. Because the lines generally have five iambs each, for a total of ten syllables per line, the rhythm is described as iambic pentameterpenta is the Greek word for five.

Throughout The Canterbury Tales, lines are paired off into rhyming couplets, which means that each pair of lines has similar-sounding words that rhyme at the end. A poem that is written in iambic pentameter and has rhyming couplets is said to be written using heroic couplets. This structure drives the poem along, page after page, giving it a sense of order that it would lack if it were written without any structure but using a natural rhythm that readers do not have to focus on. Because the language of Chaucer’s time is not familiar to modern ears, students, stopping frequently to look up pronunciations and spellings, often have trouble recognizing the ease of the rhythm unless the poem is read aloud by a reader experienced with Middle English.


One of Chaucer’s greatest achievements with this poem is his ability to alter his style for the different speakers. The meter (rhythmic scheme) stays consistent throughout, but he is able to give distinctive personalities to each of the speaking characters by giving them different vocabularies and having them express themselves with different images. “The Knight’s Tale,” for example, is told with a more gentle and mannerly voice than, say, the Wife of Bath’s or the Pardoner’s. This can be seen when the Knight notices he has strayed from an important subject, at the start of the third section of his tale, and he chastises himself, saying, with formal diction, “I trowe men wolde deme it neglicence / If I foryete to tellen the dispence / Of Theseus.” The Wife of Bath, by contrast, is so self-centered that she becomes caught up in talking about herself and nearly forgets to tell a tale. Her lack of refinement can be seen in her language, from the use of shorter words to the fact that she tells her tale in the present tense. A common example of her language comes from line 1,022 of her tale: “When they be comen to court, this knight / seyde he had holde his day, as he hadde hight, / And redy was his answere, as he sayde.” Each character speaks in a distinctive style that is appropriate to their social situation and, more importantly, to their specific personality.

Compare and Contrast

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  • Fourteenth century: The Bible is published in English for the first time in 1382 by John Wycliffe, in a protest against the power of the Catholic Church.

    Today: English is the language recognized in most countries and is the unofficial language of international trade.

  • Fourteenth century: The world’s most powerful nations are ruled by monarchs who inherit their political power as part of their birthright. The king of France takes the throne in 1388, at age nineteen, while the king of England is twenty-two when he takes the throne in 1389.

    Today: Many countries have democratically elected governments. The most populous country in the world, China, is a socialist dictatorship.

  • Fourteenth century: London, England’s largest city, has a population of 50,000. No other city in England has even half that many citizens.

    Today: London is still England’s largest city, with a population of nearly seven million.

  • Fourteenth century: The revolution in art and science known as the Renaissance is just beginning. New theories develop about the nature of humanity and artistic means to represent humanity in painting, sculpture, music, and literature.

    Today: Some consider humanity to be at the beginning of a new age, spurred by the fact that the personal computer has given ordinary individuals access to millions of pieces of information and the means to create complex artistic works.

  • Fourteenth century: The Roman Catholic Church, though corrupted by a series of popes who rose to power using financial means, is a powerful influence on all of Western society.

    Today: Christianity, which split during the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century, still has the most members worldwide, but the West is becoming increasingly aware of religions like Hinduism and Islam which have hundreds of millions of adherents around the world.

Media Adaptations

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  • The 2001 movie A Knight’s Tale, starring Heath Ledger and Mark Addy, is only loosely based on the Knight in The Canterbury Tales: it concerns a young squire who meets Chaucer and enlists his help in becoming a full-fledged knight. It was written and directed by Brian Helgeland and is distributed by Columbia Tristar.
  • A compact disc of Trevor Eaton reading selections from The Canterbury Tales was released in 2000, marking the 600th anniversary of Chaucer’s death. It is available from Pearl, of Sussex, England.
  • The Penguin Library edition of the Canterbury Tales, translated into modern English by Nevill Coghill, is available on six audiocassettes from Penguin. It was released in 1995 and again in 1999.
  • The Canterbury Tales were adapted to an opera, sung in English, available on two compact discs from Chandos Records of Colchester, England. The performers, recorded in 1996, include Yvonne Kenny, Robert Tear, Stephen Roberts, and the London Symphony Orchestra.
  • A 1995 audiocassette of The Canterbury Tales is available from Durkin Hayes of Niagara Falls, New York, with Fenella Fielding and Martin Starkie reading.
  • Recorded Books has a thirteen-hour recording on nine audiocassettes, edited and hosted by Michael Murphy of Brooklyn College.
  • A compact disc of songs that Chaucer mentioned or that were popular in his day was released in 2000. Recorded by Carol Wood, its title is The Chaucer Songbook: Celtic Music and Early Music for Harp and Voice.
  • Several of the Canterbury Tales can be found on a 1961 recording available from Caedmon on a 1988 audiocassette release. Dame Peggy Ashcroft reads “The Wife of Bath’s Tale,” and Stanley Holloway and Michael MacLiommoir read “The Miller’s Tale” and “The Pardoner’s Tale.”
  • A feature film of The Canterbury Tales was made in Italy in 1971, starring Hugh Griffith, Franco Citti and Tom Baker, and it is available dubbed into English on both videodisc and videocassette from Image Entertainment of Chatsworth, CA.
  • A 1991 videocassette of the Prologue to The Canterbury Tales is available from Educational Video Network of Huntsville, Texas.
  • A 1944 feature movie, entitled A Canterbury Tale, retells the story in an updated version, setting it in the same location during World War II. It stars John Sweet and Eric Portman, and it is available on videocassette from Public Media Incorporated.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Bloom Harold, ed. Geoffrey Chaucer, Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1985.

Brewer, Derek. Chaucer and His World. London: Eyre Methuen, 1978.

———. Chaucer in His Time. Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd., 1963.

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales, translated by Neville Coghill. Baltimore, MD: Penguin, 1952.

Chesterton, G. K. “The Greatness of Chaucer.” In Geoffrey Chaucer, edited by Harold Bloom. Chelsea House Publishers, 1985.

Cohen, Barbara. Geoffrey Chaucer: Canterbury Tales. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Sephard Books, 1988.

Condren, Edward L. Chaucer and the Energy of Creation: The Design and the Organization of The Canterbury Tales. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1999.

Cooper, Helen M. Oxford Guides to Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales. London: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Donaldson, E. Talbot. Speaking of Chaucer. London: Athlone Press, 1970.

Dyas, Dee. Pilgrimage in Medieval English Literature, 700-1500. Rochester, NY: D. S. Brewer, 2001.

Hallissy, Margaret. A Companion to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995.

Hirsh, John C. Chaucer and The Canterbury Tales: A Short Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003.

Howard, Donald R. The Idea of The Canterbury Tales. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976.

Laskaya, Anne. Chaucer's Approach to Gender in The Canterbury Tales. Rochester, NY: D. S. Brewer, 1995.

Lumiansky, R. M. Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. New York: Washington Square Press, Pocket Books, 1948.

———. Of Sundry Folk: The Dramatic Principle in the Canterbury Tales. Austin: The University of Texas Press, 1955.

Mann, Jill. Chaucer and Medieval Estates Satire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973.

Patterson, Lee. “‘No Man His Reson Herde’: Peasant Consciousness, Chaucer’s Miller, and the Structure of The Canterbury Tales.” In South Atlantic Quarterly, Vol. 86, 1987.

Phillips, Helen. An Introduction to The Canterbury Tales: Reading, Fiction, Context. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000.

Ruggiers, Paul G. The Art of The Canterbury Tales. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1965.

Stillinger, Thomas C., ed. Critical Essays on Geoffrey Chaucer. New York: G. K. Hall, 1998.

Tatlock, John S. P. The Development and Chronology of Chaucer's Works. Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1963.

Travesi, Derek. The Canterbury Tales. Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press, 1983.

Further Reading

Cullen, Dolores L. Chaucer’s Host: Up-So-Doun. Fithian Press, 1998. Though many other books have been written about the other travelers, Cullen takes a rare book-length look at the Host of the trip, the innkeeper. Her study attempts to show him to be a Christ-like figure.

Lambdin, Laura C., ed. Chaucer’s Pilgrims: An Historical Guide to the Pilgrims in the Canterbury Tales. Praeger Publishers, 1999. This book assembles essays from experts in each field, explaining the social functions of the various pilgrims that Chaucer wrote about. Reading this book is a good way to get to know medieval England and Canterbury Tales at the same time.

Leiceister, H. Marshall, Jr. The Disenchanted Self: Representing the Subject in the Canterbury Tales. University of California Press, 1990. Marshall examines the question of whether Canterbury Tales has an overall narrative structure or are a collection of related, but not entwined, objects. The book’s scholarly tone might be difficult for some students.

Loomis, Roger Sherman. A Mirror of Chaucer’s World. Princeton University Press, 1965. This book tells the story of Chaucer, his age, and his acquaintances, making use of many illustrations to give readers a sense of what the land and life in general was like in the fourteenth century.

Patterson, Lee. Chaucer and the Subject of History. University of Wisconsin Press, 1991. Patterson is one of the world’s great medievalists (scholars of the medieval era). This study of the time as it is reflected in Chaucer’s work is solid and complete.

Robinson, Ian. Chaucer and the English Tradition. Cambridge University Press, 1972. Other studies show how English poetry evolved from Chaucer; this one puts his work into perspective with the works that were written before him and in his time. It also gives a good look at Chaucer’s writings besides The Canterbury Tales.

Ruggiers, Paul G. The Art of the Canterbury Tales. The University of Wisconsin Press, 1965. Ruggiers, a Guggenheim Fellow, divides the tales into two functions, “comedy and irony” and “romantic,” and he examines each in its designated category.


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Sources for Further Study


Besserman, Laurence. Chaucer’s Biblical Poetics. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1998. Interprets the many instances of biblical diction, imagery, and themes in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.


Brown, Peter. Chaucer at Work: The Making of “The Canterbury Tales.” New York: Longman, 1994. Designed as an introduction to The Canterbury Tales, it includes questions for discussion to guide the reader about the workings of Chaucer’s literary method. A good place to start a study of The Canterbury Tales.


Brown, Peter. A Companion to Chaucer. Oxford, England: Blackwell, 2000. Designed to appeal to inexperienced Chaucerian students, this work contains a section on Christian idealogies.


Cooper, Helen. The Canterbury Tales. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1989. A complete reference for all basic points about the literary character of The Canterbury Tales.


Correale, Robert M., ed. Sources and Analogues of the Canterbury Tales. Rochester, N.Y.: Boydell & Brewer, 2003. Includes information on and selections from many Christian sources used by Chaucer.


Howard, Donald R. The Idea of the Canterbury Tales. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976. Discusses the concept of The Canterbury Tales in terms of style and form as an unfinished but complete literary work.


Leyerle, John, and Anne Quick. Chaucer: A Bibliographical Introduction. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1986. A bibliographical guide to Chaucer’s work with sections on The Canterbury Tales, the facts of Chaucer’s life, and his rich literary sources.


Pearsall, Derek. The Canterbury Tales. Winchester, Mass.: Allen & Unwin, 1985. Approaches The Canterbury Tales by genre of stories. Includes helpful discussions of the surviving manuscripts and the reception of The Canterbury Tales from 1400 to modern times.


Robertson, D. W., Jr. A Preface to Chaucer: Studies in Medieval Perspectives. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1962. A standard reference work on Chaucer’s acquaintance with, and employment of, early Christian theological works.

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