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Home > Learning > Language & Literature > English Timeline > Accessiptcouncil.nete version > Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales
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The Canterbury Tales is one of the best loved works in the history of English literature. Written in Middle English, the story follows a group of pilgrims who are travelling the long journey from London to Canterbury Cathedral. Setting off from a London inn, the innkeeper suggests that during the journey each pilgrim should tell two tales to help pass the time. The best storyteller, he says, will be rewarded with a free supper on his return.

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Chaucer introduces us to a vivid cast of characters, including a carpenter, a cook, a knight, a monk, a prioress, a haberdasher, a dyer, a clerk, a merchant and a very bawdy miller. These characters come from all corners of 14th century society, and give Chaucer the chance to speak in many different voices. Some of the characters" tales are humorous, rude and naughty, while others are moral and reflective.

 

One of the reasons Chaucer is so important is that he made the decision to write in English and not French. In the centuries following the Norman invasion, French was the language spoken by those in power. The Canterbury Tales was one of the first major works in literature written in English. Chaucer began the tales in 1387 and continued until his death in 1400. No text in his own hand still exists, but a surprising number of copies survive from the 1500s - more than 80. This suggests the tales were enormously popular in medieval England. This early and handsomely ornamented manuscript copy, from c.1450, was made within a generation of Chaucer"s death.

 

Shelfmark: Harley MS 1758, f.1.

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Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales

Original text:

 

Prologue

 

Ere begynneth the book of tales of Canterburye compiled by Geffraie Chaucer of Brytayne chef poete.