The Canterbury Tales
By Geoffrey Chaucer
The Canturbury Tales are about the journey of 21 pilgrims, on a journey to
Canturbury to worship the martyr,
Thomas a Becket.
The group of pilgrims gather at an inn, where the Innkeeper proposes a
contest. 20 of the pilgrims would each tell 4 stories, 2 on the way to
Canturbury, 2 on the way back. The Innkeeper (the 21st pigrim) would judge the
stories and announce the winner when they got back to the inn. The winner would
then receive a dinner, paid for by the rest of the pilgrims.
In the Prologue, Chaucer describes all the characters, some more than
others, but he reserves his most pointed criticism for members of the church.
It's a social comment on how the people who should be doing the best are
actually the worst.
The poorest people there, the plowman, the oxford clerk, and the farmer, are
the only decent, hardworking men. It's another social commentary on how if you
do what you're supposed to, then you don't get the best in life.
The different pilgrims have their own way to tell their stories, so this was
a great undertaking. Writing 120 stories AND a prologue would take a long time.
Chaucer never did finish the stories, and at one point even tried to destroy his
work because he was so discouraged. His family saved the work, and so we have
what Chaucer did write. If he had lived longer, he may have been able to finish
To see part of the Prologue, and some stories, go here.
To see a modern version of the Canturbury Tales that some members of our