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  • The General Prologue is the first part of Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales.

  • Synopsis The frame story of the poem, as set out

  • in the 858 lines of Middle English which make up the general prologue, is of a

  • religious pilgrimage. The narrator, Geoffrey Chaucer, is in The Tabard in

  • Southwark, where he meets a group of "sundry folk" who are all on the way to

  • Canterbury, the site of the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket.

  • The setting is April, and the prologue starts by singing the praises of that

  • month whose rains and warm western wind restore life and fertility to the earth

  • and its inhabitants. This abundance of life, the narrator says, prompts people

  • to go on pilgrimages; in England, the goal of such pilgrimages is the shrine

  • of Thomas Becket. The narrator falls in with a group of pilgrims, and the

  • largest part of the prologue is taken up by a description of them; Chaucer seeks

  • to describe their 'condition', their 'array', and their social 'degree':

  • To telle yow al the condicioun, Of ech of hem, so as it semed me,

  • And whiche they weren, and of what degree,

  • And eek in what array that they were inne,

  • And at a knyght than wol I first bigynne.

  • The pilgrims include a knight, his son a squire, the knight's yeoman, a prioress

  • accompanied by a second nun and the nun's priest, a monk, a friar, a

  • merchant, a clerk, a sergeant of law, a franklin, a haberdasher, a carpenter, a

  • weaver, a dyer, a tapestry weaver, a cook, a shipman, a doctor of physic, a

  • wife of Bath, a parson, his brother a plowman, a miller, a manciple, a reeve,

  • a summoner, a pardoner, the host, and a portrait of Chaucer himself. At the end

  • of the section, the Host proposes the story-telling contest: each pilgrim will

  • tell two stories on the way to Canterbury and two on the way back.

  • Whoever tells the best story, with "the best sentence and moost solaas" is to be

  • given a free meal. The Tales

  • General Prologue The Knight's Tale

  • The Miller's Tale The Reeve's Tale

  • The Cook's Tale {Unfinished} The Man of Law's Tale

  • The Tale of Gamelyn intended by Chaucer for The Cook'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's Tale

  • The Franklin's Tale The Physician's Tale

  • The Pardoner's Tale The Shipman's Tale

  • The Prioress Tale Sir Thopas Tale told by Chaucer

  • {Unfinished} The Tale of Melibee told by Chaucer

  • The Monk's Tale The Nun's Priest's Tale

  • The Second Nun's Tale The Canon's Yeoman's Tale

  • The Manciple's Tale The Parson's Tale

  • Chaucer's Retraction The Plowman's Tale a 15th-century

  • addition to the Canterbury Tales Siege of Thebes a 15th-century addition

  • to the Canterbury Tales Prologue and Tale of Beryn a 15th

  • Century addition to the Canterbury Tales which tells of the epilogue after the

  • Pilgrims arrive in Canterbury Gallery of the Pilgrims

  • Structure The General Prologue establishes the

  • frame for the Tales as a whole and introduces the characters/story tellers.

  • These are introduced in the order of their rank in accordance with the three

  • medieval social estates. These characters, while seemingly

  • realistically described, are also representative of their estates and

  • models with which the others in the same estate can be compared and contrasted.

  • The structure of the General Prologue is also intimately linked with the

  • narrative style of the tales. As the narrative voice has been under critical

  • scrutiny for some time, so too has the identity of the narrator himself. Though

  • fierce debate has taken place on both sides, it should be noted that most

  • contemporary scholars believe that the narrator is meant to be some degree of

  • Chaucer himself. Some scholars, like William W. Lawrence, claim that the

  • narrator is Geoffrey Chaucer in person. While others, like Marchette Chute for

  • instance, contest that the narrator is instead a literary creation like the

  • other pilgrims in the tales. Manly attempted to identify pilgrims

  • with real 14th century people. In some instances such as Summoner and Friar, he

  • attempts localization to a small geographic area. The Man of Law is

  • identified as Thomas Pynchbek who was chief baron of the exchequer. Sir John

  • Bussy was an associate of Pynchbek. He is identified as the Franklin. The

  • Pembroke estates near Baldeswelle supplied the portrait for the unnamed

  • Reeve. Translation

  • = First 18 lines = The following is the first 18 lines of

  • the General Prologue. The text was written in a dialect associated with

  • London and spellings associated with the then-emergent Chancery Standard.

  • In modern prose: When April with its sweet showers has

  • pierced March's drought to the root, bathing every vein in such liquid by

  • whose virtue the flower is engendered, and when Zephyrus with his sweet breath

  • has also enlivened the tender plants in every wood and field, and the young sun

  • is halfway through Aries, and small birds that sleep all night with an open

  • eye make melodies, then people long to go on pilgrimages, and palmers seek

  • foreign shores and distant shrines known in sundry lands, and especially they

  • wend their way to Canterbury from every shire of England in order to seek the

  • holy blessed martyr, who has helped them when they were sick.

  • References External links

  • Side by side Translation into Modern Verse - Illustrated

  • Modern Translation of the General Prologue and Other Resources at eChaucer

  • "Prologue to The Canterbury Tales" – a plain-English retelling for

  • non-scholars.

The General Prologue is the first part of Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales.

Subtitles and keywords

B2 H-INT UK tale prologue chaucer canterbury narrator nun

General Prologue

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