skip to main | skip to sidebar
Home » » Assess illustratively The Canterbury Tales-Its plan and Social Picture
Chaucer's  most criginal and truly English work is The Canterbury Tales , Which is the product of his sufficient maturity as a story-teller in verse . In this very ambitious project , Chaucer is found to turn to England and the English society of this time . The work ,breathing the spirit of genuine poetry , is a laudable effort to capture the spirit of England in the fourteenth century , and may well be taken as an emblem of truly national poetry , as a national social epic of fourteenth century England .

Chaucer began to work on The Canterbury Tales about 1387 , in which his wife philippa Chaucer , as far as known , died . He continued to work on it till his own death , some thirteen years after . Obviously , the work was left unfinished by him .The formulation of the scheme of The Canterbury Tales was certainly activated by the practice of a large number of pilgrims to visit the holy tomb of St. Thomas at Canterbury . It was common for such pilgrims to move in groups for security and to entertain themselves with  various stories for relaxation during their journey from London which generally lasted for three days or more .Chaucer planned a comprehensive portrait of his contemporary society from the conventional pilgrimage to Canterbury . He brought together several pilgrims , belonging to different stations and occupations and geared up his creative genius to enliven them all .

The Canterbury Tales , as already asserted , to Chaucer English period . His main inspiration is , no doubt , the English society of his own time . Yet , the influence of foreign masters mights well be traced in the work . The subtle deployment of realistic details in Dante's Divina Commedia appears to have an influence on his description of the pilgrims in the General prologue to the Tales . Again , Boccaccio mechanic contrivance of the collection of stories in the Decameron might have provided Chaucer with the plan to attribute different tales to different pilgrims . Of course , Chaucer literary genius is found to have transmuted Boccaccio metal into gold.Chaucer's plan in The Canterbury Tales , as noted already , is quite extensive. There are thirty pilgrims , including the author himself , who are to visit Canterbury . Those pilgrims  are selected from different walks of life . There are the friar , the monk , the priest , the pardoner , the summoner , the parson , the knight , the squire , the franklin , the merchant , the doctor of medicine , the cook and so on .

Chaucer first of all draws the portrait of each of his pilgrims before assigning them any speech . Those portraits from the prologue of his work. The portraits are drawn with a graphic ease and lively sense of humour. The characters become living and entertaining .They bring before the reader a full portrait of the English society of the time.Chaucer's plan is not exhausted here, but it is further extended .

He brings those pilgrims together and makes them talk and argue and even quarrel among themselves in their own way. He further assigns each of them a story to relate.  Their stories are as diverting as they themselves are, and indicate their own nature . The knight relates the tale of war and love and chivalry.  The friar speaks of religion , while the wife of Bath narrates the tale of domesticity. The Canterbury Tales, as already indicated , could not be finished by Chaucer . His original project was to assign two tales to each pilgrim  enroute to Canterbury and two more to each of them during the homeward journey . Thus he ought to have included a hundred and twenty tales, but Chaucer could complete actually a few more than a score of them. Some of these tales were even left out in fragments . These tales include The Knight's Tale , The Miller's Tale ,The Reeve's Tale, The Cock's Tale , The Man of Law's Tale , The Wife of Bath's Tale,The Friar's Tale, The Summoner's Tale, The Clerk's Tale , The Merchant's Tale , The Squire Tale,  The Franklin's Tale , The Physician's Tale,  The Pardoner's Tale, The Shipman's Tale , The Prioress's Tale, The Tale of Sir Thopac , The Second Nun's Tale, The Yeoman's Tale, The Manciple's Tale, The Parson's Tale, and so on.The Canterbury Tales,  though it is an unfinished work is, perhaps,  the greatest English work before the mighty Elizabethans.But what particularly marks the merit of this work is the social value which is tremendous here.  Chaucer , with a rare skill,  presents here accurately the English society of the fourteen century , with its different classes and profession . He makes The Canterbury Tales a great human document, containing a clear and comprehensive picture of the age,  the spirit of which is adequately expressed through literary and artistic channels.  He succeeds wonderfully in making the poem a living picture of his own country of his own time.In fact, Chaucer's pilgrims belong to different social ranks and positions,  secular as well as religious.  

These pilgrims represent the important strands of the English society in Chaucer's age and elevate the poem to the level of a national portrait gallery.  They cover the entire range of the society of the time,  except the barons, the bishops and the serf,  who could hardly be imagined . In Chaucer's period, as participating in a collective pilgrimage to Canterbury,  The Knight and the squire belong to the respectable gentry. The sergeant at law and the Physician represent two learned professions. The Franklin typifies the common people, growing prosperous in riches and rank. The Merchant,  the Wife of Bath, the Shipman,  etc., come from the world of trade and commerce . The Miller and the Plowman are from the simple innocent,  rural life . The prioress ,with her three attendant priests,  the village Person, the Friar and the Monk are the representatives of the ecclesiastical order. The Oxford Clerk stands for the educated youth of the university.  The Manciple's,  the Reeve, the cannon's  Yeoman and the Cook form a fairly large body of servants,  both high and low,  urban and rural. The Summoner and the Pardoner finely exemplify the corrupt wing of the Church , engaged in exploiting common men and women in the name of religion.  Chaucer's masterpiece contains a comprehensive and comprehensive picture of the English poetry society of the fourteen century.  The pilgrims,  whom he describes, are the living character in the great drama of the social life of the period.  A critic rightly sums up the greatness of Chaucer's social portraiture :

In all our literature,  there is not such another picture of a whole society,  which Chaucer contrived in some two and thirty character and in 860 lines.


Post a Comment

Back To Top