A Poetic Display of Medieval Life in The Canterbury Tales

A Poetic Display of Medieval Life in The Canterbury Tales

The Canterbury Tales is one of the best known works in English literature, created by the father of English literature himself, Geoffrey Chaucer.

The Canterbury Tales is a collection of stories told by pilgrims on their route to Canterbury, a shrine in southern England, concerning their life experiences.

It’s vivid depiction of virtue and even sin through the experiences of the pilgrims in this story reflects the enlarging scope of the Middle Ages and culture in general.

The Canterbury Tales consists of 24 stories, each told by numerous spirited characters created by Geoffrey Chaucer. These stories are narrated by essential pillars of medieval society such as a clerk, a knight, a nun, a mancible, and a reeve.


An Excerpt From The Canterbury Tales:


There was a Knight, a most distinguished man,

Who from the day on which he first began

To ride abroad had followed chivalry,

Truth,honor,generousness,and courtesy.

He had done nobly in his sovereign’s war

And ridden into battle, no man more,

As well in Christian as in heathen places

And ever honoured for his noble graces.


The seemingly clever way in which Chaucer poetically describes these qualities of the knight espouses the idea of art, which is the expression of human imagination.

The deft use of vocabulary puts this character in a almost mythical spotlight, where our imagination and our interest is engaged on absorbing the information given to the reader. The reader uses their imagination to picture this knight with the almost-emphasized virtues of the knight that fights under the feudal system while unequivocally answering to the church.

This poetic skill here makes us forget that The Canterbury Tales is a collection of stories where pilgrims tell each other about their lives on the way to Canterbury, a shrine in southern England.

The Satire of the Canterbury Tales

The detailed storytelling is also coupled with clever uses of satire. This satire targets social issues numerous areas of medieval society, especially issues of idiotic and immoral people.

A portly Miller, hardly able to sit on his horse while rambling on about a flighty wife of an ill-tempered old carpenter and the scholar who becomes her lover, was one of the characters in one part of the story.

 This scholar and the wife does numerous tricks and misdeeds by faking insanity, exposing their nudity in public, and even staging a biblical flood.

Over the course of the story, the parish clerk is also seemingly smitten with the wife. He is lusting after her so much so, that arrives outside her house every night to sing.

The wife eventually gets so irritated by the clerk’s singing, that she attempts to frighten him with hanging her rear end out of her window for the clerk to kiss. This does not seem to work, as the clerk continues to sing.

There is a twist though, which shows a dynamic development of events in this story in The Canterbury Tales.

The couple attempts to scare off the clerk again. This time, scholar passes gas on the clerk in the same position that the wife was in. Unfortunately for the scholar, the clerk was waiting for this possibility with a red-hot poker to retaliate with.

The boundlessly bawdy tactics in which the author uses to display the consequences of the evils of lust and recklessness creates comical absurdity, which adds value to the satire The Canterbury Tales provide.


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