The Canterbury Tales Book summary

Geoffrey Chaucer




The Canterbury Tales is one of the greatest pieces of Middle English Literature that survives till the present day. It is argued that Chaucer may have been the first to create a masterpiece in Middle English since it was a vernacular language then and it wasn’t commonly used in written form. Additionally, the work was composed before the development of movable type printing, which is why it is surprising that the work survived. Chaucer had most likely composed these tales for the benefit of his colleagues and scholars, but 100 copies of The Canterbury Tales were created in the same decade as his death. Some scholars argue that Chaucer may have intended the order of the stories to be composed differently since he wasn’t alive to supervise the compilation of his tales into one volume.

The prologue of the book suggests that Chaucer had intended to write several more stories, but he limited himself to twenty-four tales. These stories are told by a large group of diverse pilgrims, that come from all walks of Medieval England society, and therefore represent a compelling portrait of life in the 14th century.


Plot Summary


The Canterbury Tales is a collection of stories that are shared by a group of twenty-nine pilgrims who are traveling to the healing shrine of St. Thomas Becket from London. The Pilgrims meet at the Tabard Inn to begin their journey, and the host of the Inn, Harry Bailey proposes a storytelling contest. He asks each of the pilgrims to share two stories during the journey to Canterbury Cathedral, and two stories on the journey back. Harry Bailey offers the winner of the competition a free meal upon their return and decides to travel along with the company to judge the contest.

It seems that Chaucer eventually abandons his initial goal, and presents just twenty-four stories that are shared by the pilgrims. Over the course of these stories, Chaucer presents a compelling portrait of human nature, and life during the fourteenth century. The pilgrims consist of a wide variety of people from all walks of English life. Overall, the stories can be seen to focus on the human capacity for sin and virtue. The tales are concluded with a sermon by a fictional Parson, who explains the place accorded to confession in Christianity and reminds them all of God’s unchanging love for humanity.

  • Author(s)

    Geoffrey Chaucer
  • Publication date


  • Language


  • Classification


  • Pages



Middle English Literature, Epic


Related books