The Canterbury Tales were written by Geoffrey Chaucer in the form of short stories at the end of the fourteenth century. The stories are told as part of a story-telling contest by pilgrims as they embark on a journey together from Southwark to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket, the Canterbury Cathedral. This was his last work, written mostly after 1387, and thought to be incomplete at the time of his death. The Canterbury Tales were essentially his great work.
These tales were written in Middle English, which is the dialect associated with London. Story-telling, which was basically the theme of the story, was very popular in England. It had been a great source of entertainment for much time before this. Storytelling and contests had been around for hundreds of year. In the fourteenth century in England the English Pui were a group of appointed judges whom decided the winner of the songs and stories of groups, and at the end, the winner received a free crown. In The Canterbury Tales there was a group of appointed judges, as well as a reward for the winner to receive a free dinner.
The Canterbury Tales didn't focus on a distinct theme. Pilgrimage was used to get people gathered together for literary purposes. The introduction of competition to the characters and among the tales allows his skill to be shown in different kind of literary forms. Chaucer is sure to pay little attention to the relevance of time, the passing of the trip, and any specific scenery along the way to the destination. He keeps himself and the reader focused on the actual stories being told, not the journey at hand. Chaucer's tales allow his skill and familiarity with rhetoric and linguistic styles to be displayed. Medieval schools encouraged, and applauded such variety. Writers were stimulated to write in a manner that kept the speaker, audience, subject, and purpose in the forefront of the mind. Chaucer is able to display all of these concepts. It is to be considered "a multi-layered rhetoric puzzle of ambiguities."
The Canterbury Tales were written throughout a tempestuous time in English history. The Western Schism was taking place, and the Catholic Church was in an entirety of controversy. Lollardy was an early English religious movement. John Wycliffe led it, and is cited in the stories, as a specific occurrence concerning pardoners who gathered money claiming to be gathering for a hospital in England, but truly collecting in exchange for pardon of sin.
Several characters in the Tales are religious figures, as well as the setting of the pilgrimage is religious. Many of the religious characters are portrayed as highly immoral, revealing the corrupt lives of the religious higher powers. The Pardoner, Summoner, and another Summoner are shown to be working on the side of the devil, not God. The monk acts as if he is part of the upper class of society, having traits of self-centeredness. He ignored the rules lay down by St. Benedict, and was lazy, as well as unwilling to help the less fortunate. The parson, on the other hand, was a poor man who gave what little he had to the other poor people around him. He preached to whoever would listen, the teachings of Christ, and led by example. The Prioress's Tale is an account of how the Jews murdered a virtuous and innocent little Christian boy, and this became a part of English literary tradition.
Pilgrimage, the setting or journey of the story, was a projecting article of medieval society. Apparently the ultimate destination was Jerusalem, but Canterbury was a very popular destination in England. Saint Thomas Becket had been murdered in the cathedral by knights of Henry II. He was murdered because of a disagreement between Church and Rule. Soon after his death the location because a popular pilgrimage destination. The pilgrimage is what connects all of the stories in The Canterbury Tales together. It could be seen as a representation of metaphor of Christians' journey for holy and mighty, Heaven, regardless of the diversity, difficulties, and hardships.
The knight and his squire represent the upper class, at this time, were immersed in a culture of loyalty and gallantry. Nobles were expected to be ruthless in a war zone, yet gentle and well-mannered in the King's Court, as well as their personal actions. Knights were expected to form a tight link with those they fought alongside, but an even sturdier bond with a woman whom they adored, in order to reinforce their fighting skills. Often times the aim of courtliness was to noble an act, but often times ended in violence. The Knight's tale in The Canterbury Tales displays the bond of two knights, and how it turned into a deadly conflict when they both ended up loving the same woman. In Chaucer's day chivalry was on the back burner, and it's possible he was attempting to show the faults, though this is not for certain. Chaucer fought in The Hundred Years' War himself. The Tale of Sir Topas and The Tale of Melibee are narrated by Chaucer himself, nomadic along with the pilgrims in his own story. The stories emphasize on the negative effects of nobility, and notices against fierceness.
The conflict between classes is constantly depicted in the Tales. The division of the three estates, for example,
Chaucer's characters each show different, sometimes entirely opposite views of reality. His real-life identities for the Wife of Bath, the merchant, the man of law, and as well as the student, may have been due to the many jobs Chaucer held in medieval society-a page, soldier, messenger, valet, bureaucrat, foreman, and administrator. These jobs likely exposed them to the types of people shown and depicted in the tales.
The Canterbury Tales are not only interesting, but highly factual, although many statements still stand as mere opinions. The framework and array of literature in these stories is eye opening. Not only does it recite history, but also displays and overtly identifies faults and flaws that were in the English period during the early 1300s. Chaucer is a diverse, interesting character, in and out of the stories. The traditions, the characters, the religious meanings and implications, the style, and the historical context all tie the stories in together, as well as relate them correctly to the culture of England as well as the life of Geoffrey Chaucer.