Great Books 101: Ancient to Medieval

“Chaucer, Canterbury Tales


Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, a collection of stories told by 29 fictional pilgrims who are travelling to worship at the Shrine of Canterbury, is a work of immense intellectual intricacy. A master at introducing and manipulating multiple frames of reference, Chaucer develops “The Knight’s Tale” in part through a transformation of works by Boethius and Boccaccio. One of the most famous of the Canterbury Tales, “The Knight’s Tale” is a story of two cousins who are torn apart by jealousy over a woman with whom neither can develop a legitimate relationship. By showing the reader the tragedy that results from unchecked passion, Chaucer reveals both the difficulty and the necessity of developing virtues such as courage and prudence which in turn allow us to govern ourselves.

Patricia Bart is an Assistant Professor of English at Hillsdale College. She obtained her B.A. from the University of Pittsburgh, and her M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Virginia.