The Prologue to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales is one of the most important works of literature ever written. Chaucer gives us a wonderful slice of medieval society as we meet the colorful characters.Through the characters, the author also makes allusions to the controversial topics of the time.
The Canterbury Tales is a frame story, a story, or in this case, stories, within another story. In thePrologue, we learn the framework of the plot that weaves the individual tales together: A group of pilgrims meet at the Tabard Inn the night before their trek to the shrine of Thomas Becket atCanterbury Cathedral.
Travel during the period was slow and arduous, so the innkeeper, Harry Bailey, comes up with an idea for passing the hours. He proposes that each traveller tells a story on the way tothe shrine and on the way back. He'll judge the contest, and the winner will be treated by the others to a feast at his inn. Everyone agrees, and the journey begins.
Chaucer's characters arefascinating. We meet dishonest businessmen like the merchant, the reeve, and the foul-mouthed miller. The merchant is on the verge of bankruptcy, and the reeve, who embezzles from his employer. The miller, whosells grain, cheats his customers by placing his thumb on the scales as the grain is weighed. Evidently, these were fairly common practices, and Chaucer is showing his disdain for cheating the poor.We also meet unsavory professionals like the greedy doctor, who has little compassion for his patients and little knowledge of healing, and the lawyer, a boring braggart who is often outsmarted byhis illiterate manciple. This reveals much about the way Chaucer viewed such "professionals."
The worst characters we meet are actually associated with the Church. During medieval Europe, the CatholicChurch was the most powerful entity on Earth. With power often comes corruption, and through powerful characterization, Chaucer reveals the vile practices of many Church officials. We meet a monk...
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