The Canterbury Tales

“A poem of some 17,000 lines by Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343-1400). It was probably begun around 1387 and worked on into the 1390s, but apparently not completed. It was one of the first pieces of literature to be printed in England, in 1477 by William Caxton. The tales do not come from Canterbury but are, within the fictional framework of the work, told by various pilgrims en route to the shrine of St. Thomas a Becket at Canterbury—one of the most popular pilgrimage destinations in the Middle Ages. There is some uncertainty as to what order Chaucer intended the stories to be in, but the following is how they appear in the authoritative Riverside edition, following the Ellesmere manuscript:

• General Prologue
• The Knight’s Tale
• The Miller’s Tale
• The Reeve’s Tale (a reeve was a manorial steward)
• The Cook’s Tale
• The Man of Law’s Tale
• The Wife of Bath’s Tale
• The Friar’s Tale
• The Summoner’s Tale (a summoner summoned delinquents to appear before an ecclesiastical courts
• The Clerk’s Tale (a clerk was an ecclesiastical student)
• The Merchant’s Tale
• The Squire’s Tale
• The Franklin’s Tale (a franklin was a landowner of free but not noble birth, probably ranking below the gentry.
• The Physician’s Tale
• The Pardoner’s Tale (pardoner’s sold papal indulgences, a much abused practice)
• The Shipman’s Tale (a shipman was a ship’s master)
• The Prioress’s Tale
• Chaucer’s Tale of Sir Thopas
• Chaucer’s Tale of Melibeus
• The Monk’s Tale
• The Nun’s Priest’s Tale
• The Second Nun’s Tale
• The Canon Yeoman’s Tale
• The Manciple’s Tale (a manciple was a servant who bought provision for a college or in of court)
• The Parson’s Tale
• Chaucer’s Retracion

It seems that Chaucer’s original idea was to have many more stories since in the General Prologue the host proposes that each of the 30 or so pilgrims tells four tales each.
A film version (1971) by Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-1975), focusing on the bawdier tales, was not well received.”

Excerpted from: Crofton, Ian, ed. Brewer’s Curious Titles. London: Cassell, 2002.

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