O gluttony, the height of wickedness!
O primal cause of mankind’s utter fall!
O first and original sin that damned us all
O Christ redeemed us with his own dear blood! …
O stomach! O belly! O stinking bag of jelly,
Filled with dung, and reeking with corruption!
The procession that crosses Canterbury Tales pages are as full of life and richly textured as a medieval tapestry. The Knight, the Miller, the Friar, the Squire, the Prioress, the Wife of Bath, and others who make up the cast of characters — are real people, with the truest human emotions and weaknesses.
As Chaucer’s pilgrims take turns telling stories to while away the hours on their long walk to the shrine of St. Thomas a Becket, they do not shy away from indulging in a variety of physical violations or psychological tortures.
When it is remembered that Chaucer wrote in English at a time when Latin was the standard literary language across Western Europe, the magnitude of his achievement is even more remarkable. But Chaucer’s genius needs no historical introduction; it bursts forth from every page of his Canterbury Tales.
Chaucer never finished his enormous project. Scholars are uncertain about the order of the tales. As the printing press had yet to be invented when Chaucer wrote his works, The Canterbury Tales has been passed down in numerous handwritten manuscripts.
Even today, some 700 years after its publication, Canterbury Tales endears itself to readers through its sparkling dialogue, acute rendering of character, sympathetic understanding of humanity and the warmest humor.
GEOFFREY CHAUCER (1343–1400) is widely considered the greatest English poet of the middle ages and was the first poet to be buried in Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey. Chaucer’s work was crucial in legitimizing the literary use of Middle English vernacular at a time when the dominant literary languages in England were French and Latin. Among his many works are The Book of the Duchess, The House of Fame, The Legend of Good Women and Troilus and Criseyde. He is best known today for The Canterbury Tales.