Incipits are used as a way to refer to medieval manuscripts that have no obvious break points like chapters or subject headings. Incipits are most often used in place of a title or to identify specific text. Unlike most manuscripts lacking a discernable beginning and end – The Canterbury Tales have a built in format which aids in locating starts and stops in the text. As such, each beginning (or prologue) of a tale serves as an incipit. Scholars looking at the El will refer to the incipits of each section as The Knights Tale or The Pardoner’s Tale.
Explicits mark the end of a textual unit, providing a means of textual identification. Explicits in the El appear at the end of the character’s prologues and tales. It is interesting to note, however, that this usage is in no way uniform. Sometimes they appear, sometimes they don’t. This is odd, especially as the El was known to be written by a single scribe.
The original colophon was written by Chaucer himself and is situated on the final page of the El. The colophon comes right after the Retraction and states: “Here is ended the book of the Tales of Caunterbury, compiled by Geffrey Chaucer, of whos soule Jesu Crist have mercy. Amen.” There is an additional colophon created after the recent re-binding of the manuscript in 1995.