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Geoffrey Chaucer (Circa 1340 – 1400)

(comparison between the Pardoners Tale and Sam Raimi’s  film A Simple Plan)

Chaucer, one of England’s first writers, did more than anyone to prepare a place for the English language in the world’s literary canons.  Though born to merchant class parents, his early life was spent as a page boy in the court of the third son of Edward III.  Later he became a personal attendant of the King as his “beloved valet”, before being promoted to the position of esquire where his duties included entertaining the court.  At the age of thirty he was sent overseas on diplomatic missions for the next 8 years.  When he came back to London he was granted a life time lease of the Gatehouse at Aldgate and he became a wealthy man. Later his fortunes declined as he lost favour at court and he lived out his life in relative poverty.  His writing was done in his later years, using his vast experience of all aspects of life during his time. 

The Canterbury Tales 

His most famous work consists of a lengthy Prologue which introduces the other 29 Pilgrims on their way to Canterbury to visit the shrine of the martyr Thomas a’ Becket.  His plan to have each of the pilgrims tell two tales was never completed, yet we have one of the most vivid gallery portraits of a cross section of his society presented by a variety of tales with sharp interchanges of dialogue between the characters in between.

This portrait gallery is renown for its wit and use of Chaucerian irony;  praising a character, but undercutting it with subtle wit. Only one character survives Chaucer’s sarcasm unscathed – the lowly Parson. All of the other Pilgrims prove to fall short of their projected image.  He depicts society inverted; the top echelons are corrupted, while the lower orders have integrity and dignity. 

Much of the action takes place on the road to Canterbury and in the inns on their way.   The tales are part of a competition to see who can tell the most entertaining story.

The tales vary greatly in their style and content with the Knight’s romantic Chivalric tale, the Wife of Bath’s ribald tale, the Miller’s robust one to the more sedate Parson’s tale and the Pardoner’s hypocritical one.  Each gives us an indepth candid view of life in the 15th Century England.  

You can view a comparison between the Pardoners Tale and Sam Raimi’s  film A Simple Plan.

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