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Geoffrey Chaucer. Canterbury Tales. Geoffrey Chaucer. Born a member of the middle class Trained for a career in the Court of King Edward III and served in the army Held several government positions and eventually married one of the ladies of the court. Canterbury Tales.

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geoffrey chaucer

Geoffrey Chaucer

Canterbury Tales

geoffrey chaucer1
Geoffrey Chaucer
  • Born a member of the middle class
  • Trained for a career in the Court of King Edward III and served in the army
  • Held several government positions and eventually married one of the ladies of the court
canterbury tales
Canterbury Tales
  • One of the first books printed by William Caxton on England’s first printing press
  • Planned 120 tales, two told by each pilgrim on the way and two told by each pilgrim on the return trip to the shrine of Thomas a’ Becket
  • He completed 22 tales and two fragments before his death
thomas a becket
Archbishop Becket was murdered in 1170 by four knights of Henry II

Henry had commented “By the eyes of God, is there not one who will deliver me from this low-born priest.”

Thinking the King wished Becket dead, four knights went to the Cathedral to kill Becket.

When the King realized what they were doing, he sent a messenger to stop them, but it was too late.

Thomas a’ Becket
canterbury pilgrims
Canterbury Pilgrims
  • Chaucer reveals the paradoxes of living – he exposes the best and worst of human nature in both historical and human context.
  • How believable is the literary picture of the knight as loyal, fearless, persevering, courteous, gentle, devout, and humble??
  • Chaucer’s knight is battle-scarred, but credible. He is the embodiment of the Code of Chivalry lived out in its letter and spirit, a person larger than life, but representative of what life is all about.
chaucer s knight
In the context of the entire work, the Knight is a critique of the chivalric code.

Traditionally, by law, the knight of the code was obliged to uprightness; by birth, the knight if title and status was honored and presumed honorable.

Chaucer’s knight breaks away from the artificial and fixed condition of birth and becomes a knight of the spirit, living up to an aristocracy of the soul.

The other pilgrims, too, are entertaining and intriguing portraits from medieval life

Chaucer’s Knight
introduction chaucer technique
Introduction: Chaucer Technique
  • Question why Chaucer wants the reader to know these things?
  • Why these characters?
  • Why in precisely this order?
two purposes
To present an anthology of story types represented by the tales themselves

To present a cross section of his own society (see social class structure on handout)

Problem for students is the fact that Chaucer intentionally misleads the reader by implying that some of the characters be accepted in given social standings because of the company they keep

Two Purposes
In the Prologue Chaucer states:

“It seems a reasonable thing to say

What their condition was, the full array

Of each of them, as it appeared to me

According to profession and degree

And what apparel they were riding in;

And at the knight I therefore will begin.”

In taking Chaucer at his word that he will describe his characters “according to . . . degree” (social ranking), the modern reader begins with the knight and reads the Yeoman as the third highest rank. (Check your handout)

chaucer tests the perceptions of his contemporaries
Chaucer Tests the Perceptions of his Contemporaries
  • Chaucer’s audience would have recognized that the Yeoman was placed with the knight and the squire only because he traveled with them and perhaps to emphasize an initial presentation of a military group acting as guards for the Canterbury pilgrims.
  • The Yeoman was, in reality, a member of the peasant class whose true social position was, in Chaucer’s day, at the BOTTOM of the social ladder.
an anthology of the popular genre of the middle ages
The social friction generated by the upper class clergy (Monk, Friar, Prioress, and her group) against the lower class clergy (Summoner and Pardoner) is designed to generate much of the humor in the prologues to the Tales themselves.

Chaucer presents a variety of people (representing diverse ages, social classes, and interests) and various tales (genre types) whose purpose is to both entertain and instruct.

Chaucer also gives an interior organization, a pattern, to guide the reader through the tales.

An anthology of the popular genre of the Middle Ages