The Canterbury Tales

A Portrait Formed by a Split

Chaucer’s “General Prologue” to <i>The Canterbury Tales</i> explores the portraits of twenty-eight of the thirty pilgrims, all of whom are taking part in a trip to the shrine of the martyr Saint Thomas Becket in Canterbury. The pilgrims described in passing or extended detail include the following: the Knight, Squire, Yeoman, Prioress, Monk, Friar, Merchant, Clerk, Man of Law, Franklin, Haberdasher, Carpenter, Weaver Dyer, Tapestry-Weaver, Cook Shipman, Physician, Wife, Parson, Plowman, Miller, Manciple, Reeve, Summoner, Pardoner, Host, and the narrator himself. The characters in the General Prologue are fictitious characters, taking part in a fictitious arrangement set up by Chaucer; therefore, it is evident, as qualified by the text, that the narrator is also a fictitious character, someone distinct from the author. The portrait of the narrator is set up differently than the portrait of the other characters. The pilgrim narrator’s portrait is found in the space formed by the separation of the narrator and the author. Nevertheless, this separation is a literary device Chaucer uses to create a separate identity for himself, a theme that is recurrent in the other characters. By separating himself from the narrator,...

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