The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

General Prologue Analysis

The General Prologue states that each pilgrim will be responsible for a total of four tales, for a grand total of 120 tales. However, only 24 tales are actually included in The Canterbury Tales, and only one character, Chaucer himself, is assigned more than one tale. It is unclear whether Chaucer was prevented from finishing the tales, abandoned them, or decided to stop at 24 and intended to edit the General Prologue to reflect this change.

In addition to setting up the terms of the contest, the General Prologue introduces each of the pilgrims, many of whom are described in detailed and colorful terms. Their descriptions provide clues to the purpose and intent of the tales. The characters’ qualities as described in the General Prologue are described under “Character Analyses” below.

Finally, the General Prologue clarifies in detail when the pilgrimage is taking place: not merely in April, but at the beginning of April, halfway through the astrological sign of Aries. Throughout the Tales, various characters refer to astrological terms to set dates and describe various personal characteristics.