A TO Z Literary Principles from History of English Literature: Note 35

Short notes on History of English Literature: Canterbury Tales

A Set of 26 Objective Questions & Answers

  1. Critics of Chaucer divided his work into three periods the French period, the Italian period, and the English period.
  2. To the first is assigned his " A. B. C.," a prayer to the Virgin, translated from the French; a translation of the " Romance of the Rose ; "  the " Compleynte of Pity" (1368?), and the "Book of the Duchess,” a poem commemorating the death in 1369 of the Duchess Blanche.
  3. To the second period, extending from 1372 to 1384, during which, as we have seen, Chaucer three times visited Italy, and is supposed to have fallen under Italian literary influence, are assigned his " Parliament of Fowls," " Troilus and Cresside," certain of the " Canterbury Tales," the " House of Fame," and some minor poems.
  4. To the third period belong the rest of the " Canterbury Tales."
  5. Canterbury Tales is the last and the greatest work by Chaucer, and marks the culmination of his English period.
  6. The plan of the " Canterbury Tales," a series of stories prefixed by a prologue and linked together by a framework, was probably derived by Chaucer from Boccaccio's " Decamerone," though there are other sources from which he might have borrowed the scheme.
  7. There is a wide difference, greatly in favour of the English writer, between the " Decamerone" and the " Canterbury Tales." Boccaccio's connections between the stories might have been omitted and his book has been none the worse; there is no dramatic propriety in the tales which he puts in the mouth of the several speakers. One of the great attractions of the “Canterbury Tales," on the other hand, is that Chaucer, with the true instinct of genius, took care that each of the stories should be such as the speaker would naturally have told.
  8.  The poem has a general Prologue which is especially interesting.
  9. It presents a vivid picture of contemporary life through the portrayal of a great variety of characters.
  10. Ranging in status from a Knight to a humble Plowman, they are a microcosm of 14th-century English society.
  11. A party of twenty-nine (29(the exact number is unclear)) pilgrims is assembled at the Tabarn Inn, to travel to the shrine of Thomas a Becket at Canterbury Chaucer draw a striking portrait of each of these pilgrims.
  12. In the "Prologue" he has hit off the points of the several characters with unrivalled grace and dexterity.
  13. “I see all the pilgrims in the 'Canterbury Tales,'" said Dryden," their humours, their features, and their very dress, as distinctlyas if I had supped with them at the Tabard in Southwark."
  14. They were a strangely mixed and jocund company.
  15. Here is a collection of stories set within a framing story of a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral, the shrine of Saint Thomas à Becket.
  16. The work contains 22 verse tales (two unfinished) and two long prose tales. Here are more than 18,000 lines of poetry.
  17. The Host proposes that he would accompany them and act as a guide. He asks the pilgrims to tell two stories each on the way out and two on the way back.
  18. He also declares that the last story teller shall have a fine supper at his return. But the poem was not completed and it contains only twenty-three tables.
  19. Chaucer takes up the pilgrims from diverse trades.
  20. It is a motley assembly of men and women, portrayed in the prologue with vitality through deadly satire is directed at the corrupt clergy men.
  1. The knight tells a tale of courtly and philosophical romance about noble love, chivalrous rivalry in love of tournament, tragedy and noble marriage.
  2. In immediate contrast the brawny Miller tells an earthly tale- deliciously bawdy story of seduction aimed at the Reeve, a parody of knight’s seriousness.
  3. The wife of Bath, a bold showy woman and a seething for of celibacy, she tells her companion about her life with five successive husbands.
  4.  The Wife, an outspoken champion of her gender against the traditional antifeminism of the church, initiates a series of tales about sex, marriage, and nobility (“gentilesse”). 
  5. Here the language breathes freshness unrivalled in narrative poetry and the tales come vividly alive. Though, of course, every deference is to be paid to
  6. Chaucer's other writings, excellent though many of them are, and interesting though they all are, partly for philological reasons, partly as indicating his mental growth, may be passed over by readers whose time is short; but the " Canterbury Tales" is of perennial importance, invaluable alike to the student of poetry, to the historian who aspires to delineate the social life of the period, and to the philologer.

Ref: 1. History of English Literature- Albert, 
      2. The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature

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