What is the Premise of the Canterbury Tales

What is Canterbury Tales

The Canterbury Tales, written by Geoffrey Chaucer in the fourteenth century, is one of the earliest and most critically acclaimed works in English literature. It contains 24 stories written in Middle English. These stories are mainly written in verse form although some stories contain prose. The stories are presented as a part of a story-telling contest by a group of pilgrims who are on their way to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral.

The purpose of this article is to discuss the premise of the Canterbury Tales.

What is the Premise of the Canterbury Tales

As mentioned above, the stories in the Canterbury Tales is presented as a part of a story-telling contest by a group of pilgrims as they travel together to visit the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral.

The narrator joins the group of 29 pilgrims at the Tabard Inn, a tavern in Southwark, near London. However, the narrator only gives a descriptive account of 27 pilgrims. These pilgrims include a knight, Squire, Yeoman, Prioress, Monk, Friar, Merchant, Clerk, Sergent of Law, Franklin, Haberdasher, Carpenter, Cook, Weaver, Dyer, Tapestry-Weaver, Shipman, Physician, Wife of Bath, Parson, Plowman, Miller, Manciple, Reeve, Summoner, Pardoner, and Host. It is the host who suggests that they travel together to Canterbury and entertain each other by having a story-telling competition.  The pilgrims draw lots to see who would start the contest and the knight is the first to initiate the narration.

What is the Premise of the Canterbury Tales - 2

Chaucer uses a wide range of types and classes of people to paint a critical picture of the English society in the fourteenth century. According to the prologue, each character is supposed to narrate four stories – two stories on their way to the shrine, and two stories on the return journey. But most of these tales were never completed. The incomplete work only contains 24 tales. 

These 24 tales are narrated by different characters and have different themes and issues such as religion, role of women, marriage, love, justice, etc. The tone and attitudes, as well as the language of each story, is created to match the character who is narrating the story. 

Read more about the Structure of the Canterbury Tales

Image Courtesy:

“Chaucer ellesmere” (Public Domain) via  

About the Author: Hasa

Hasa has a BA degree in English, French and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Masters degree in English. Her areas of interests include literature, language, linguistics and also food.

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