Thursday, March 18, 2010


The Canterbury Tales is a collection of stories written by Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century. The tales feature 29 different characters on a pilgrimage together to Canterbury, England. The frame story sets up the premise; that each pilgrim will be responsible for entertaining the whole of the group by telling stories. Originally, Chaucer had intended for each pilgrim to tell two tales on the way to and the way home, thus doubling the number of stories in the Tales. In total, the Tales would then number over 100 stories. As it is, Chaucer completed only 22 tales and the general prologue. Scholars debate whether the sheer number of stories started to overwhelm Chaucer, or if he simply changed his mind as he progressed with the writing.

The Ellesmere Chaucer (referred to as the El by scholars), created sometime between 1400 and 1410, is widely regarded as the most magnificent collection of the Tales in existence. Their pre-eminence is due not only to the beautiful illumination and size of the manuscript, but also to the twenty three individual portraits of the storytellers. The Ellesmere manuscript is also in exceptional condition, allowing for detailed study of the manuscript, the text and the textual miscellanea acquired since its creation. The El is written in English, one of very few manuscripts to break away from Latin and French and embrace English as a language of poetry and learning.