Literary Essay Example: The General Prologue as an Introduction to the Canterbury Tales

Date:  2021-06-25 23:09:43
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University of Richmond
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This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

When writing an essay or short story, an introduction is crucial as it serves several essential purposes. First, it attracts the attention of the audience by giving a preview of what the content will feature. This ensures the audience is curious to read the rest of the piece of work. Second, it presents some background information so that the audience will not be left questioning how things came to be in the content of the essay. Lastly, it presents the central idea of the essay or story. This way, the audience will know what the content is about without having to figure it out on their own. This paper features an analysis of how Chaucers General Prologue functions as an introduction to the Canterbury Tales.

The General Prologue as an Introduction

In the General Prologue, the author has used various phrases to give the background of the story. In the first lines, the story is situated in a particular time and place, where the environment is described effectively. Aside from this, the lines also act as attention getters since the audience is left wondering what will happen next or what will take place in such a serene environment (Livingston 2). The lines have a dreamy, timeless, and unfocused quality making it sound like a love story or something similar is about to be narrated.

For instance, he states When Zephirus with his sweet breath inspires life anew, through grove and heath(Chaucer 1852). He uses the first few lines to grab the attention of his audience by leaving them in suspense as he narrates the state of the environment. If he had just started by mentioning the pilgrimage, most of the audience would have gotten bored because the rest of the story may seem boring. However, with an attention getter, all kinds of people are interested in knowing what next.

Chaucer uses an effective transition when he introduces the issue of going on pilgrimage. As such, the attention of his audience is not lost in the process. He compares the way birds need to harmonize their sleep with the need of going to the pilgrimage. He states, And when small birds begin to harmonize that sleep throughout the night with open eyesthen folks, too, long to go on pilgrimage (Chaucer 1852). With this, he has effectively introduced the background of the story without losing his audience. It further makes them curious as to why he describes the act of pilgrimage in such a way. More individuals will want to read more so as to know the reason why he describes it as a beautiful thing, especially since one would initially think that the story is about love or something similar.

Most of the General Prologue is made up of background information to the Canterbury Tales. Chaucer begins describing the background by stating how he was preparing to start his journey to Canterbury. He introduces the fact that he met other pilgrims preparing for the same journey, hence informing the audience that he was not going on the journey on his own. Chaucer further takes the time to describe the background of each of these pilgrims. He states, While I have time and space, before much further in this tale I pace, it seems quite right and proper to relate to you the full condition and state of each of them (Chaucer 1853).

This is part of an effective introduction as he provides background information on all the characters of the story (Roscoe et al. 6). Here, the audience will learn about specific attributes of the individuals such that they will understand the content of the story effectively without getting confused. He goes ahead and describes their occupation, their achievements in life and even their characteristics. This is background information which the audience will rely on when trying to understand the behavior of a specific character in the story.

Background information is also presented by Chaucer (1869) where he excuses his vulgarity. He informs the audience, before starting the story, that he will at specific points use the exact words of the characters. He states that he will try to use words as closely to the original ones as he can. This prepares his audience such that they will know how to interpret the words in the tales, knowing that it is not of the authors make. Chaucer states, When I tell you their words and their demeanor, or if I speak their words, exact and true. For this you all know just as well as I do; whoever tells a tale after a man, he must repeat, as closely as he can (1869).

He argues that using the exact words will help the audience to understand the true behavior of the different characters. He states, that words must be cousin to the deed. (Chaucer 1869). Therefore, the audience is already aware that the words used will be exactly what the characters spoke. Hence they will use this to judge their behavior or actions. This is background information on the story as Chaucer cannot include such an explanation in the context of the story.

More background information is presented when Chaucer explains how the night was, where they rested preparing for their journey. He described how their host treated them well and the activities which he engaged them in. This paints a vivid picture of what goes on at night as they journey to the Pilgrimage. He states, "At once he set up supper for us here. He served us all with victuals that were fine." (1869). This shows how welcoming the host was to his guests. Also, Chaucer states that "Moreover, he was quite a merry man" (1869). He describes how they planned to each tell two tales on their way to the pilgrim and back so as to shorten their journey. This paints a picture of how the journey was. Many would have wondered what went on along the way as this is not part of the context of the story. However, with such pieces of information in the introduction, it becomes clear what transpired between the characters.

An important component of an introduction is the presentation of the main idea of the essay or story (Cottrell 9). Chaucer manages to do this effectively by introducing the first person who was chosen to tell his two tales; this was the Knight. This central idea is introduced effectively in the last parts of the general prologue. If there were no description of how the characters ended up giving their tales, then the central idea of the paper would not have been understood. However, Chaucer recalls how their host woke them up, and as they prepared to start their journey, the Knight was chosen, and he accepted to start.

This was how they started the tales. Chaucer (1871) states, Let me remind you that you gave your wordlet see now who shall tell us the first tale. The Knight was the one who drew the shortest straw, which is why he was given a chance to start off as they departed. He transitions effectively from the general prologue by stating, And he began with then a merry cheer, His tale at once, and said as you may hear. (Chaucer 1871).


It is clear that the General Prologue meets all the required features of an introduction. Although it is not termed as an introduction to the Canterbury Tales, it has served all the purposes of an introduction by acting like an attention grabber and also featuring the background information to the tales. It has also presented the central idea which is the tales told by the different characters as they journeyed to the pilgrimage. The General Prologue has specific areas where the attention of the audience has been grabbed. This ensures that they get interested in the tales and will thus read further into the book. A lot of background information has been given regarding the features of the characters, the activities of the night and how the characters met. Lastly, the central idea is presented when the author describes how it came to be that they all had to give their tales.

Works Cited

Chaucer, Geoffery. The Canterbury Tales; General Prologue. (2009): 1852-1871.

Cottrell, Stella. Critical thinking skills: Developing effective analysis and argument. Palgrave Macmillan. (2011): 10-55.

Livingston, Kathy. "Guide to writing a basic essay." (2001):1-3.

Roscoe, Rod D., et al. "Game-based writing strategy practice with the Writing Pal." Exploring technology for writing and writing instruction (2013): 1-20.


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