What is the Structure of the Canterbury Tales

Canterbury Tales is a collection of tales written by the late fourteenth-century poet Geoffrey Chaucer. The tales are presented in a format of stories told at a story-telling contest by a group of pilgrims on their way to the cathedral of Canterbury. The purpose of this article is to discuss the structure of the Canterbury Tales.

Read more about the Premise of the Canterbury Tales.

What is the Structure of the Canterbury Tales

According to the prologue, Canterbury Tales collection was supposed to have 120 tales. Each character was supposed to narrate four tales – two tales on their way to the cathedral and two tales on their way home. However, Canterbury Tales only contains 24 tales; Chaucer died in 1400 before completing the collection.

There is much debate about the order of the tales. The manuscripts of the work suggest several different orders and different scholars have also suggested several structures.  The tales are usually divided into ten fragments. The order within these fragments is usually considered to be correct. But the order of the fragments themselves is often under debate.  Given below is a commonly accepted and used order of the tales.



Fragment I

General Prologue

The Knight’s Tale

The Miller’s Tale

The Reeve’s Tale

The Cook’s Tale

Fragment II

The Man of Law’s Tale

 Fragment III

The Wife of Bath’s Tale

The Friar’s Tale

The Summoner’s Tale

 Fragment IV

The Clerk’s Tale

The Merchant’s Tale

 Fragment V

The Squire’s Tale

The Franklin’s Tale

Fragment VI

The Physician’s Tale

The Pardoner’s Tale

Fragment VII

The Shipman’s Tale

The Prioress’s Tale

Sir Thopas’ Tale

The Tale of Melibee

The Monk’s Tale

The Nun’s Priest’s Tale

Fragment VIII

The Second Nun’s Tale

The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale

Fragment IX

The Manciple’s Tale

Fragment X

The Parson’s Tale

The order of fragment  IV and V changes in different manuscripts. But fragment I and II usually follow each other and VI and VII, IX and X  can be also seen in order in the old manuscripts. 

What is the Structure of the Canterbury Tales

Style of the Canterbury Tales

Chaucer uses a variety of literary forms, rhetoric devices and linguistic styles in this work. It is not incorrect to say that he uses different styles with different characters so as to reflect their social status and learning. Thus, different tales shows different attitudes life such as comic, pious, earthy, bawdy, and satirical.

Most of the tales, except the Tale of Melibee and the Parson’s Tale, are written in verse form. The tales are written in Middle English.

Image Courtesy: 

“William Blake – Canterbury Pilgrims Picture” By William Blake – – (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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