Essay

Analysis of “the General Prologue” to the Canterbury Tales

Religion has long since been an important factor in society, changing and evolving throughout the centuries. In medieval Europe, religious pilgrimages were a crucial part of ones religious faith. Often every one in society, from the highest of class to the lowest order was involved in this practice. Geoffrey Chaucer, one of the most important writers in English literature, was the author of The Canterbury Tales, an elaborate poem about the religious pilgrimage of twenty nine people to Canterbury. In the “General Prologue” Chaucer introduces each individual along for the journey. Through The Canterbury Tales, we discover the hypocrisy and virtues Chaucer narrates in his characters and can appreciate the nuances in this superior piece of literature.

Geoffrey Chaucer, born in London in 1340 began his love affair with literature in his late 20’s.Chaucer wrote his first book in 1368, Book of the Duchess and soon after traveled to northern France to serve in the army of John of Gaunt. Chaucer then went through a series of events ware he was eventually named a member of parliament. He began writing The Canterbury Tales in 1387 and was never completely finished. A series of poems he had written before this time were also adapted to fit into The Canterbury Tales, such as Palamon and Arcite which was later adapted as The Knights Tale. Chaucer died on October 25, 1400 and is buried in Westminster Abbey and is believed to be the first person buried in what is known as the “Poets Corner”.

The “General Prologue” to The Canterbury Tales is a crucial part of the poem, because it first identifies the reader with the individuals that will be going on the pilgrimage to Canterburry. It narrates the gathering of the pilgrims at the Tabard Inn at Southwerk. The host of the Inn makes a suggestion, which requires each pilgrim to tell two stories on the way to Canterburry. In the “General Prologue” the following characters are introduced: the Knight, Squire, Yeoman, Prioress, Nun, Monk, Friar, Merchant, Clerk of Oxford, Sergeant at Law, Franklin, Haberdasher, Carpenter, Weaver, Dyer, Tapestry-maker, Cook, Shipman, Doctor of Physic, Wife of Bath, Parson, Miller, Manciple, Reeve, Summoner, and Pardoner. They are also introduced in order of their rank or importance in society. The knight is to start of the Journey with the first tale. He is an Honorable man still warring his tattered war clothes and the highest in rank. On the other hand, the Squire, who is the son of the night, is elegant and is somewhat of a romancer, and he also shows great vanity.The Yeoman is another servant of the knight along for the journey. The prioress is a fragile woman, who seems to be bothered by the slightest of tragedies. The second nun is the secretary to the Prioress and travels along with the Monk who is a stout, resolute man. The Friar is a man of little moral and is more concerned with profit rather than relieving the sins of others. The merchant is an egotistic man who is also only concern with his earnings. The Clerk is a student at Oxford who is somewhat jobless and is therefore humbled by his lack of salary but is still an extremely educated man. The Man of Law knows the law thoroughly and somewhat pretends he is busier than he really is. The Franklin is a man who enjoys the commodities of life such as fine cooking. The Weaver, Dyer, Carpenter, Tapestry-maker and Haberdasher are hard working men who bring with them a cook who is rude and vulgar. The shipman and Physician are also two travelers who are educated with the troubles of the world. The Wife of Bathe is a pompous overbearing woman who has been married five times. The Parson is a good man who is devoted to his congregation. The Miller, Manciple, and Reeve are somewhat rude and hot tempered. The Summoner and pardoner are impartial to others, shameless and unfair. The Pardoner convinces people to buy pardons making them believe that they have sinned, just for his own benefit and greed..