The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

Writing Style and Structure

The Canterbury Tales is Geoffrey Chaucer’s most well-known work. When he began writing the Tales in 1387, he had already completed a number of other works, including large epic poems like Troilus and Criseyde, and his work was already well-known in the English court.

The Canterbury Tales are presented as a collection of tales or stories. Most are in verse, although a few are written in prose. A “General Prologue” opens the collection of tales. It introduces the tale-tellers and their host, and it explains the context in which the tales are being told.

All of the separate tales in The Canterbury Tales, along with the general prologue, are written in English. In Chaucer’s time, very little poetry was written in English, even within England. Most written works were produced either in French, which was the language of the court, or Latin, which was the language of the church. Although Chaucer himself was probably fluent in both languages, he chose to write in English. His goal was to produce literature in the language most English people actually spoke and to demonstrate that his own language could be as poetic and expressive as any other. Consequently, The Canterbury Tales, like Chaucer’s other works, are written in Middle English – a language that differs somewhat from today’s modern English, but that is distinctively different from French or Latin.