In Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales a group of about 30 pilgrims gather at the Tabard Inn in Southwark, across the Thames from London. They agree upon a storytelling contest as they travel to the shrine of Thomas Becket in Canterbury under the leadership of Harry Bailly, host of the Tabard, The pilgrims are introduced by vivid brief sketches in the General Prologue. Chaucer brings together people from many ranks of society: The Knight, The Prioress, The Monk, The Merchant, The Man of Law, The Franklin, The Clerk, The Miller, The Reeve, The Pardoner; The Wife of Bath and many others.

Interspersed between the 24 tales told by the pilgrims are short dramatic scenes called links. Chaucer did not complete the full plan for his book: the return journey from Canterbury is not included, and some of the pilgrims do not tell stories.

The storytelling contest allowed presentation of a highly varied collection of literary genres: courtly romance, fabliau, saint's life, allegorical tale, beast tale, sermon, prose treatise, and, nearly always, mixtures of these genres. All this is set within the unifying framework of a fictitious pilgrimage masterly presided by Chaucer, the poet, who appears as Chaucer, the omniscient narrator, and at the same time, as Chaucer, the pilgrim, within the dramatic narrative. Chaucer, the narrator and the pilgrim, often keep low profile and allow the audience to receive the impression of a somewhat slow-witted character presenting the story.

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The Canterbury Tales