While going on a journey to the shrine of Thomas Becket, the pilgrims, who belong to various ranks/classes of the society of fourteenth-century England, decide to tell the tales to each other in order to pass the time of the journey.
At their gathering at the Tabard Inn, the host sets the rules and promises a reward for the winner. It’s decided that every pilgrim would tell two tales on the way to Canterbury and two while coming back.
However, for the reasons unknown, the plan couldn’t be a success as we don’t have the tales which would have been told during the return journey. Also, there were thirty pilgrims on the way to Canterbury but only twenty-four tales exist currently because, perhaps, all the tales couldn’t survive till the time printing press was invented.
Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales remains one of the finest literary pieces in the history of the English language. Interestingly, Chaucer is considered to be the first person writing in the English language—a pioneer.
In a tightly and beautifully weaved language and dealing with almost every issue of fourteenth-century England, ranging from adultery, corruption… jealousy to loyalty, love… moral values, Chaucer tells us the tales of a Knight, his son the Squire, the Knight’s Yeoman, a Prioress, a Second Nun, a Monk, a Friar, a Merchant, a Clerk, a Man of Law, a Franklin, a Weaver, a Dyer, a Carpenter, a Tapestry-Maker, a Haberdasher, a Cook, a Shipman, a Physician, a Parson, a Miller, a Manciple, a Reeve, a Summoner, a Pardoner, the Wife of Bath, and Chaucer himself.
Please read about the Age of Chaucer before going through the summary of Canterbury Tales.