What Is The Structure Of The Canterbury Tales?1

Updated 14 August, 2023
Geoffrey Chaucer penned "The Canterbury Tales" as a compilation of tales in the late 14th century. It follows a frame narrative structure where a group of pilgrims share tales while journeying to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket in Canterbury. The tales reflect the diverse social classes and personalities of the pilgrims, presenting a wide range of genres and themes. This structure allows Chaucer to explore various aspects of medieval society, including morality, religion, and human nature."
Detailed answer:

"The Canterbury Tales" by Geoffrey Chaucer is a literary masterpiece composed in the 14th century. This work is renowned not only for its content but also for its innovative narrative structure. The overarching structure of the work can be described as a frame narrative.
In the general prologue, Chaucer introduces a diverse group of pilgrims who are traveling from London to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket in Canterbury. The pilgrims come from various social classes and walks of life, ranging from the nobility and clergy to the middle class and working class. This diversity allows Chaucer to create a microcosm of medieval society, showcasing different personalities, values, and perspectives.
The frame narrative is established as the pilgrims gather at an inn before their journey begins. They agree to participate in a storytelling contest, where each pilgrim will tell two tales on the way to Canterbury and two on the way back. The host of the inn, Harry Bailey, is appointed as the judge of the contest. The pilgrim with the best tale will receive a free meal upon their return.
The tales themselves make up the heart of the work. Chaucer intended to create a collection of 120 stories, but he completed only 24 before his death, resulting in an incomplete work. Each pilgrim's tale is expected to reflect their personality, social position, and outlook on life. As a result, the tales encompass a wide range of genres, themes, and tones. They include romance, fabliaux (short humorous tales), allegory, fable, and religious parable, among others.
The tales often reveal social and moral commentary, providing insights into the norms, values, and issues of Chaucer's time. They touch on topics such as courtly love, corruption in the Church, greed, deception, and the complexities of human nature. The variety of tales reflects the complexity of human experiences and contributes to the richness of the work.
"The Canterbury Tales" remains a significant literary work due to its structure's ability to bring together different narratives under a unifying frame. It's a commentary on the societal landscape of the Middle Ages, presenting a vivid tapestry of medieval England's social, moral, and cultural fabric. The stories within stories capture the essence of the pilgrimage itself—a journey of self-discovery, reflection, and interaction with others.

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