ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Literature Review: The Canterbury Tales

Updated on September 14, 2015
Film Frenzy profile image

Written by: Jason Wheeler, Film Frenzy Senior Writer & Editor.


Sometime near the end of the 14th century, during the Hundred Years War, Geoffrey Chaucer wrote a collection of over 20 stories known as The Canterbury Tales. Mostly written in prose, it has been argued that the Tales’ greatest contribution to English literature was in popularizing the use of the vernacular in literature. One of the stories was adapted into a play written by Shakespeare and John Fletcher called The Two Noble Kinsmen and Michael Powell and Emeric Pressbuger wrote and directed a 1944 film loosely based on the native known as A Canterbury Tale. The 1995 film Se7en also references the work as does the 2014 Young Adult short novel by M. L. Millard, Anaheim Tales.


The story tells of group of pilgrims traveling together on a journey form Southwark to the shrine of St. Thomas Becket at Canterbury cathedral. To pass the time, they take part in a storytelling contest in which the prize is a free meal at the inn when they return.


A critique against the society of Chaucer’s life, The Canterbury Tales not only reflects the era’s views of the Church and the time’s social classes but also the conflict between them.

The story has quite a few religious elements, namely the setting of the pilgrimage as well as the existence of some characters. Two of which are the Pardoner and Summoner and both are given unfavorable portrayals reflecting the culture of Europeans questioning the Church’s authority. The former was the person from which indulgences were purchased. The people saw them as abusers of their office, doing so for personal gain, and the Pardoner in the story openly admits that he does so.

The latter brought sinners to the church to be excommunicated or given other penalties. However, they would also abuse their position and write false citations, expecting bribes. As with the Pardoner, the Summoner in the tale is guilty of doing so as well and is also hinted as having a corrupt relationship with the Pardoner.

Another religious figure, the Monk, isn’t as corrupt as the Summoner and Pardoner, but is also portrayed as negatively falling short of the ideals he prescribes to. He is dressed expensively and shows signs of a luxurious life when he is called to dress and live modestly. Those three and the other mentioned religious characters (the Prioress, Nun’s Priest, and the Second Nun) are part of an order that originated out of a desire to live a lifestyle separated from the world, but had become involved in worldly matters during Chaucer’s time. None of the characters are given completely favorable portrayals, especially the Prioress who is stated as not being able to tolerate cruelty to animals nor a lack of cruelty to Jews. It’s been noted that writings of virtuous characters in the medieval ages started with mentioning their manners and love of animals before going into how charitably they acted towards the poor. It seems what Chaucer was trying to do was subvert people’s expectations and show that the Prioress was nicer to animals than she was to people.

Speaking of the pilgrimage, which was prominent in medieval society, it’s an interesting frame story that ties the tales of all the characters together. It could also represent Christians as a whole too, showing them all striving for the same destination even though they have weaknesses, disagreements and more than a few differences in opinions.

As for social element, the upper class is represented by the Knight, whose tale tells of his feud with a fellow knight regarding a woman the two idealize. It’s possible that Chaucer was trying to show the flaws of chivalry, which was in decline at the time, where the aim was to be noble, but denigrated into violence many times. However, it should be noted that the Knight was given the most favorable portrayal by Chaucer.

And this all ties into the conflict and division of the three classes: the clergy (or those who pray), the nobility (or those who fight), and the common peasants (or those who work). It’s interesting that the Knight, who is of the highest social class in the group, starts off the Tales, but he is then followed by a Miller, who is part of a lower class. This demonstrates that the entirety of the work both respects and disregards upper class rules.

4 stars for The Canterbury Tales

Final Judgment

Demonstrating the link between classes and how the era saw the church and said classes, The Canterbury Tales is an interesting look into the 14th century. It’s recommended and, since Hubpages doesn’t allow for half stars, gets four stars.

thepostings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent WNI's positions, strategies or opinion


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)