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Chaucer and His Past Time
Having traveled the world, I can see why and how Chaucer might fulfill the endless travel time formulating stories for his “Canterbury Tales”. How easy it might be to incorporate a local ledgin from some far away land into a tale to be told by one of his mismatched traveling band of companions.
Chaucer was from a wealthy family and most likely attended a well respected school for his education. As a young man he became a page to Lionel, Duke of Clarence. He served in the military and traveled aboard on official royal business. We know he was a diplomat and was in Italy, Spain and France.
Can one even imagine how long the trips must have been? Days and days in an old buggy or upon a horse, hours up on hours of looking out at forests and farm lands until your ready to scream. The mind of a writer would roam, slip off, to work on an over heard story from the last inn. Change it here and there; fit it into his Canterbury Tales.
Chaucer the traveler, a story about travelers, yes he wrote about what he knew. He assembled “twenty-nine assorted Travelers” (pg 1701) in an inn for a trip together. He gives us a broad range of travelers from a Knight to a Weaver, which one might expect to find in an inn along the road traveling. This allows for a wide range of stories that can be told on their long ride together.
You can see Chaucer in the role of the Host of the inn that decides to accompany the travelers on their journey, placing him in the position to hear and judge all the stories. He may vary well have created some such game with his real life traveling companions to pass the time on trips. How to make a long day on the road go by faster, listen to an interesting story and before you know it your there. Do we not have DVD's in our mini-vans now days?? To keep the kids occupied on trips, nothing new. Only then it was the old fashion form of a DVD, a word of mouth story and not something to be watched.
By placing himself in the position as host/judge he allows himself to listen fully and capture the entire story to memory and write about it at a later time, maybe that night at an inn, at his designation or even at home after he's returned from a trip. Either way he's free to listen, free to build and change on the stories he's heard along the way.
Since he's got twenty-nine travelers, each telling two tales, one going and one coming home from Canterbury he's got (our book is un-clear on this point. On page 1698 in the back ground about Chaucer it states 120 stories, “agree to tell two tales each, one while going to and one while returning from Canterbury.” On page 1701 in the Prologue it states “twenty-nine assorted Travelers” that makes (29x2=58) fifty-eight stories)(Wikipedia said they are were suppose to tell two going and two coming back, that makes the 120, of course why the host/judge is telling a story I don't understand) lots of lee-way in what he decides to write about. Having a wide range of society on the trip also allows for a wide range stories that can be included. He could include a story about a lay person he met along the road as well as reflect about some aspect of the upper class to which he belonged and it would fit into the frame work of the Canterbury Tales.
What fun it must have been, to sit back and hear local stories of something someone had done or over heard. He could have just as well of made-up stories about his fellow travelers on any one of his trips, just to pass the time. We use to play that game, go to the mall and sit at the food court and watch the shoppers. Someone picks a person and you create a life, a story about what they are doing or why they are at the mall shopping and then share it with your friends, something to pass the time of day when you're bored. Chaucer may well have created the game for us with Canterbury Tales.
One can only guess at why Chaucer wrote the Canterbury Tales the way he did. My first response was bedtime stories, but I just couldn't see some of these “Tales” as appropriate for children. But given cultural changes what was appropriate then may not be now. I would like to think he did it as a means of sharing an adventure with his wife when he got home. To come home from a long tiring journey, have a good hot home cooked meal and sit in front of the warm roaring fire, and tell your beloved wife a new story. Give her something to look forward to upon your return. What a treat that could have been, to look forward to a new story, a new adventure after weeks alone sweeping out the dark and dinghy castle. (I know I always wanted to hear about what my husband did when he returned from teaching trips, where did you go, where did you eat, what was Studio 54 really like. Would his wife be any different, I don't think so).
Given Chaucer education and his job as a diplomat one thing is clear, he did a lot of traveling. And he certainly had a lot of time on those trips to come up with the stories he wrote about. Where they came from, who knows, not really important. What is important is that he showed a sense of humor and wit in his stories that appeal to people across the board and give us a view of what medieval life was like from all of side's society not just his.