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The Prologue to The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

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1 The Prologue to The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
Chaucer’s Canterbury Pilgrims (1810) by William Blake. Engraving.

2 The Prologue to The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
Take a Tour If you went on a tour today, what types of people would you meet? Do you think you might come across a “character” or two? Chaucer’s characters are the kinds of people he would have known in real life and observed riding toward Canterbury on the old pilgrimage road.

3 The Prologue to The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
Chaucer used the East Midland dialect of Middle English. This dialect was the most common colloquial language at the time and became the basis for modern English.

4 English is a Melting Pot.
Celtic Latin German French

5 Beowulf is Old English.


7 Middle English The most important text of Middle English is Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.

8 Another Way of Looking at the History of English
Old English Beowulf (from Beowulf!) “Gaæþ a wyrd swa hio scel” (OE) = “Fate goes ever as it must” (MnE) Middle English Chaucer (from CT) “Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote ” (ME) = “When that April with its sweet showers . . .” (MnE) Early Modern English Shakespeare (from KL) “Sir, I loue you more than words can weild ye matter” (EMnE) = “Sir, I love you more than word can wield the matter” (MnE) Modern English 1800-present Austen (from P&P) It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. OE=Old English ME=Middle English EMnE=Early Modern English MnE=Modern English

9 The fact that Chaucer wrote in English (Middle English), rather than French or Latin like many of his fellow writers, meant that ordinary folk could enjoy The Canterbury Tales and their vivid characters.

10 The late fourteenth century world was still very much one of the spoken word. Books were copied out by hand and were a rare luxury till the advent of the printing press 70 years later. The educated elite could read, but they preferred to hear texts read out loud for entertainment. The Canterbury Tales, with their earthy humor and and vivid dialogue, were a runaway success.

11 Geoffrey Chaucer c. 1343-1400 Considered the father of English poetry
Wrote in the vernacular Served as a soldier, government servant, and member of Parliament Introduced iambic pentameter First writer buried in Westminster Abbey

12 All different social classes Each tell a tale Contest for best story
The Canterbury Tales Chaucer identified ‘archetypes’ to represent the main professions or positions in his society Feudal (farm / military) Ecclesiastical (church / politics) Urban (business / service) Religious pilgrimage All different social classes Each tell a tale Contest for best story

13 Consequently, Chaucer sent a message about the given social group
Prologue He picked 7 – 9 ‘people / profession’ and used humor, wit, and vivid description to characterize each in his prologue. Characterization revealed the flaws / positive traits of each individual Consequently, Chaucer sent a message about the given social group

14 Canterbury Tales as Satire
A satire is a form of humor where the writer or speaker tries to make the reader or listener have a negative opinion about someone, by laughing at them, making them seem ridiculous or foolish etc. If someone is being satirical, their aim is not just to amuse, but to affect the person that they dislike; to hurt them, ruin them, etc.

15 Why Satire Worked People like comedy (do not personally take offense) People realize flaws on their own by viewing the characters; rather than, in a direct lecture

16 The archetypes: Survivor, fighter, serial lover, lush, snob, bully, adulterer, hunter, preacher, convict, fugitive, philosopher, serial killer, a con-artist, and an infected As you read, see if you can figure out who’s who!

17 IV. The Three Estates Those who work Those who fight Those who pray

18 The Travelers to Canterbury
Working Class Plowman Haberdasher Cook Dyer Miller Carpenter Reeve Weaver Host Carpetmaker

19 The Travelers to Canterbury
Professional Class Military Knight, Squire, Yeoman Religious Nun, 3 Priests, Friar, Parson, Pardoner, Summoner Secular Cleric, Serjeant at Law, Merchant, Skipper, Doctor

20 The Travelers to Canterbury
Upper Class Wife of Bath Franklin

21 The Prologue to The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
Twenty-nine pilgrims are on their way to the shrine of Saint Thomas à Becket in Canterbury. The time is April, and the place is the Tabard Inn in Southwark (SUTH erk), just outside London. London Canterbury

22 The Prologue to The Canterbury Tales Literary Focus: Characterization
Chaucer uses indirect characterization when he tells how each character looks and dresses This yeoman wore a coat and hood of green, And peacock-feathered arrows, bright and keen speaks and acts Her greatest oath was only “By St. Loy!” thinks and feels And gladly would he learn, and gladly teach.

23 Indirect Characterization describes them by:
Their jobs (level in the estate) The type and color of their clothing Their “accessories” (jewelry, pets, other portables) The way they act (humble or haughty) and how others react to them Their income and how it shows Their “secrets” Their status in society as a whole The way they speak / their slang or accent Their modes of transportation Whether they behave corruptly

24 The Prologue to The Canterbury Tales Literary Focus: Characterization
Chaucer also uses direct characterization, when he comes right out and tells us what a character’s nature is—virtuous, vain, clever, and so on. There was a Friar, a wanton one and merry, A Limiter, a very festive fellow. In all Four Orders there was none so mellow, So glib with gallant phrase and well-turned speech.

25 The Prologue to The Canterbury Tales Literary Focus: Frame Story
A frame story is a literary device that binds together several different narratives. It is a story (or stories) within a story. In The Canterbury Tales, the pilgrims’ journey is the outer story. The tales the pilgrims tell are stories within a story. The tales themselves also have thematic unity.

26 The Prologue to The Canterbury Tales Reading Skills: Analyzing Style: Key Details
Chaucer had twenty-nine characters to introduce, so he couldn’t develop any one character at great length. Instead, he provided a few well-chosen details that would make each character stand out vividly.

27 The Prologue to The Canterbury Tales Reading Skills: Analyzing Style: Key Details
As you read the Prologue, pay close attention to any details that help give you an immediate impression of a character. Keep a pen and notebook handy to jot down key details of dress, appearance, and behavior. Note that some details contradict what the characters think of themselves (or want others to think of them).

28 But why go to Canterbury?

29 One Answer: Religion. Why was it important to them?
It’s the Middle Ages Plague Warfare High Infant Mortality Rate Short Life Expectancy …and if you were a peasant, you lived your whole life in harsh conditions About the best thing that you had to look forward to was dying and going to heaven

30 Also, Canterbury was a Pilgrimage Site
People of all classes went on pilgrimages to holy sites to ask for help with medical, financial or other problems.

31 The Shrine of St. Thomas à Becket

32 Becket was a trusted adviser and friend of King Henry II
Becket was a trusted adviser and friend of King Henry II. Henry named Becket Archbishop of Canterbury.

33 Becket’s outspoken style angered the King
Becket’s outspoken style angered the King. One day, Henry complained, “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” Three knights rode to Canterbury where they found Becket at the altar of Canterbury Cathedral.

34 Becket was murdered at the altar.

35 The death of Becket angered the peasants who felt his Saxon heritage made him one of them.

36 Canterbury Cathedral became a site for pilgrims to offer prayers to St
Canterbury Cathedral became a site for pilgrims to offer prayers to St. Thomas.

37 Today, a modern cross made from swords marks the site of the martyrdom.

38 So, let’s travel back to London, to the area called Southward, and stop at the Tabard Inn.

39 We’ll meet the characters and hear their stories.

40 The story begins...

41 Canterbury Tales 1    Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote       When April with its sweet-smelling showers 2   The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,        Has pierced the drought of March to the root, And bathed every veyne in swich licour       And bathed every vein (of the plants) in such liquid Of which vertu engendred is the flour;    By the power of which the flower is created;   Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth   When the West Wind also with its sweet breath, Inspired hath in every holt and heeth   In every holt and heath, has breathed life into The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne       The tender crops, and the young sun Hath in the Ram his half cours yronne,      Has run its half course in Aries, And smale foweles maken melodye,       And small fowls make melody, 10     That slepen al the nyght with open ye          Those that sleep all the night with open eyes 11     (So priketh hem Nature in hir corages),           (So Nature incites them in their hearts), 12   Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,            Then folk long to go on pilgrimages, 13 And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,           And professional pilgrims (long) to seek foreign shores, 14    To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes; To (go to) distant shrines, known in various lands; 15  And specially from every shires ende      And specially from every shire's end 16   Of Engelond to Caunterbury they wende,        Of England to Canterbury they travel, 17  The hooly blisful martir for to seke,         To seek the holy blessed martyr, 18   That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.                Who helped them when they were sick.

42 Group Activity Choose a group of 3 or less (5 points will be deducted for additional group members; no credit will be given to groups with identical answers) <all info must be school appropriate> Answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper. 1. Identify 3 main social groups in American Society? Ex: White Collar Workers 2. Create a list of ‘archetypes’ for each social group. (You must have 5-7 people / professions for each group) Ex: CEO 3. Choose one ‘archetype’ (person / profession) from a group to characterize You must have 5-10 sentences that clearly characterize your ‘archetype’ by pointing out their flaws / positive traits through the use of humor / vivid description. Your overall description of each ‘archetype’ must reveal an issue related to its corresponding class Ex: Describe their appearance should relate to message (Ex: gluttonous = large presence) Describe clothing and possessions (Ex: greedy = expensive name brands, jewelry, car, etc…) Describe mannerisms (Ex: arrogant = walk tall, loud, rude, …) Describe back story (Ex: fake = lots of money but in credit card debt, insider trading charges, …) 4. Write the class issue you are highlighting under your ‘archetype’s’ description Ex: Unequal distribution of wealth within companies, corruption of the upper class, materialism, …) 5. Construct a cartoon sketch of your ‘archetype’ that matches your description

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