Chaucer and his Tales

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About Geoffrey Chaucer…

Geoffrey Chaucer, born in London in around 1343AD, is a poet of the Middle Ages, widely known as the Father of English Literature.

Chaucer was from a family of successful merchants. and as a teenager was a page to Elizabeth, Countess of Ulster, who was married into the royal family. The royals were fond of Chaucer, so much so that when he was taken prisoner by the French in 1359, Edward III paid his ransom. The king, further displaying trust in Chaucer, later sent him on diplomatic missions to France, Genoa and Florence. It was on these travels that Chaucer gained exposure to great authors such as Froissart, Dante, and Boccaccio. Chaucer married Philippa Roet when he was aged around 23, and is presumed to have fathered three or four children.

Chaucer continued to be successful in his various professions. Several years later, in 1374, Chaucer was appointed Controller of Customs, then in 1386 he served as the Kentish MP and the Justice of the Peace. By 1389, he was working as the Clerk of the King’s Works, overseeing projects concerning religious buildings. He held posts serving both Edward III and Richard II, Edward’s successor.

Chaucer disappears from records in 1400AD, and is though to have died around this time, aged 57. He was the first poet to be buried in Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner.

 

Writing The Canterbury Tales

In Medieval England, most people were illiterate. This is why Church stain glass windows and wall paintings depict bible stories- it helped the congregation follow the biblical stories. If you were lucky enough to receive an education, however, then you would have learnt French and Latin, the language of the Court and the Church. Chaucer, due to his family’s wealth and connection, was one of the fortunate people who learnt to read and write.

Chaucer was not a professional writer but wrote for pleasure, for his own amusement and that of his family and friends. His poetry was a great favourite of the King’s. Chaucer wrote in Middle English, writing works such as Troilus and Criseyde and House of Fame. Though not the first to write in the vernacular, he appears to be instrumental in popularising it. Whilst working as Controller of Customs and Justice of Peace in 1386, however, he began writing his most famous works- The Canterbury Tales.

The Canterbury Tales, written in a combination of verse and prose, tells the story of some 30 pilgrims walking from Southwark to Canterbury on a pilgrimage to the shrine of St Thomas Beckett. On route, the pilgrims engage in a story telling competition to win a meal at the Tabard Inn! Thus, The Canterbury Tales is a collection of 24 stories, told as the pilgrims make their journey to Canterbury Cathedral.

Chaucer’s work is not simply a story; the Canterbury Tales is also a comment on English society at the time. The very fact that Chaucer wrote in English demonstrates his dismissal of accepted practices. Chaucer’s characters offer various social insights and raise various questions concerning social class, spirituality and religion. The work was unfinished when Chaucer died.

 

 

 The Tales you’ll hear at The Canterbury Tales:

The Knight’s Tale

The Knight is the first to tell his tale. It is a story rich in love, rivalry and chivalry.  Two men fall in love with the same beautiful young girl.  But who will win her heart?

The Miller’s Tale

A bawdy tale, telling a rather different story of love.  A deceitful clerk tries to have his way with the carpenter’s wife – and gets his just desserts!

The Wife of Bath’s Tale

This tale asks the question to which every man would like the answer –  ‘What do women most desire?’. The Wife of Bath should know –  she’s had five husbands!

The Nun’s Priest’s Tale

A farmyard fable.  Can Chanticleer the cock outwit the cunning old fox, or will he become his next meal?

The Pardoner’s Tale

A thrilling tale of death and trickery and one which will leave you with a slight tingle down your spine. The tale has an unexpected ending – watch out!