onal accounts, designed to pass the time on the journey but real people, including authors and kings, and real places such as Flanders, France and of course Canterbury, and a few significant events are mentioned which allow us to fix the work in its time and place. In addition to those verifiable details, it is possible also to read between the lines and see how many of the stories do in fact link to actual historical events, even though they do it through indirect means such as parody or allegory.
The choice of Canterbury is significant, and the destination of the pilgrims points to the historical figure of Archbishop of Thomas Becket (1118-1170) who was killed on the orders of King Henry II, largely for resisting royal influence on Church affairs. Tensions between Church and State are a feature of the fourteenth century, and this pilgrimage is dedicated to his memory.
One major event in the history of that period casts its shadow on the work: a pandemic of bubonic plague, often called pestilence or “The Black Death” which raged across Europe in 1348-1349 and killed a third of the population of Europe. Chaucer was born around 1340 and so his memory of this would be a factor in his world view, and certainly he witnessed the devastating effects of the plague on the people around him. The Pardoner’s Tale, the Summoner’s Tale and the Physician’s Tale all speak of disfiguring illnesses and fear of death via this means was a very real fact of life in that time for all those who survived the pandemic.
One consequence of the decimation of the population was a sudden change in the economic conditions of the time and even more significantly a re-adjustment of the social structures. The beginning of the century saw periods of over-population and famine, where the landed gentry controlled all the resources but the Black Death changed all that : “The plague shifted the balance of power dramatically and hastened the end of feudalism as a social and economic ...
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