The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

The Parson's Tale and Chaucer’s Retraction Analysis

One of the biggest analytical mysteries about the Canterbury Tales is how, exactly, they come to an end. In tales like The Monk’s Tale and the Tale of Sir Thopas, Chaucer proves that he knows how to create a “trick ending.” The Parson’s Tale and Chaucer’s Retraction seem to end the Canterbury Tales on a decidedly religious note – but the last proper tale is the Manciple’s Tale, the moral of which is clearly “know when to be silent.”

Is the retraction genuine, or is it the voice of a constructed Chaucer character? The retraction was written near the end of Chaucer’s actual life; he was dying, and he must have realized he wouldn’t have time to write the originally-promised 120 tales. Did he fear that his writing came too close to actual sin, and feel the need to protect his soul before death by retracting it? On the other hand, retractions in medieval writing are common; most authors begged the patience and prayer of their readers in one form or another. Is this just another genre of writing popular in the Middle Ages, like the saint’s life, cradle-trick tale, or beast tale? Or has Chaucer taken a decidedly religious turn in his old age? The questions are difficult to answer.

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