During his life, Geoffrey Chaucer (bornc.1340) was courtier, diplomat, revenue collector, administrator, negotiator,overseer of building projects, landowner and knight of the shire. He was servant, retainer, husband, friend andfather, but is now mainly known as a poet and ‘the father of Englishliterature’, a postion to which he was raised by other writers in thegeneration after his death. It wasBoccaccio’s Decameron which inspiredChaucer, in the 1390s, to begin work on TheCanterbury Tales, which was still unfinished at his death in October 1400.It tells the story of a group of 30 pilgrims who meet at the Tabard Inn inSouthwark, on the south bank of the Thames opposite the city of London, andtravel together to visit the then famous shrine of St Thomas Becket inCanterbury cathedral. The tavern host,who accompanies them, suggests that they amuse one another along the way bytelling stories, with the best storyteller awarded a meal in the tavern (paidfor by all the others) on their return. The stories told by the pilgrims range from bawdy comedies throughsaints’ lives and moral tracts to courtly romances, always delivered with agenerous helping of Chaucer’s own sly wit and ironic humour. Although basinghis characters on the stereotypes of ‘estates satire’, Chaucer succeeds in hisaim of producing an overview of his times and their culture, for posterity, inthe manner of Italian, proto-Renaissance, writers.
This transcription and edition is takenfrom British Library MS Harley 7334, produced within ten years of Chaucer’sdeath. The on-page notes and glosses aimto enable readers with little or no previous experience of medieva