illustration of a clergyman with Canterbury cathedral behind him

The Canterbury Tales

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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What is the setting of The Canterbury Tales and why does Chaucer discuss character portrayals in chapter 5?

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The overall setting of the Canterbury Tales is the beginning of a pilgrimage to Canterbury. This pilgrimage was a frequent event for people in the Middle Ages, when Chaucer penned this work, and it was a very significant event for the majority of British citizens. The characters depart from a small tavern and walk to the shrine of the deceased Bishop of Canterbury, St. Thomas a Becket.

In chapter 5, Chaucer explains how they are all portrayed, the ragtag company that they are, because it illustrates the many different walks of life that are involved in this. Everyone was involved in the pilgrimage to Canterbury, regardless of social status. It also allows him to illustrate a number of different stories, discussing humankind from the perspective of people from different walks of life.

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The prologue gives a basic set up of the story.

General setting: the journey of 30 travelers from a small tavern (in a town near London) to Canterbury.  The travelers are going to pay tribute to the shrine of St. Thomas aBecket.  Along the way it is suggested that to pass time on the journey, each should tell a story.  At the end of the journey, the best story will be chosen.

Characters: the narrator goes on to give a glimpse of each of these travelers who will be on the journey.  This first description is brief and based largely on appearance and a few actions.  Follow the link for a more in-depth list.


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