It is spring and thirty people, men, women, monks, artisans, merchants and also the narrator, Chaucer himself (stesso), are going on a pilgrimage. They are travelling (si recano) to Canterbury in Kent to the shrine (tomba) of Thomas Becket. They gather (si riuniscono) at the Tabard Inn in London. The host of the inn (locanda) suggests that every pilgrim should tell (deve raccontare) two story. He says (dice) that there will be a prize (premio) for the best story and a penalty for anyone who gives up (per chi si arrende).
The collection is characterised by the juxtaposition (giustaposizione) of styles and subject (temi) within (entro) the lively (vivace) and dynamic (dimanica) frame (cornice) of the pilgrimage. It contains no (non contiene) logical orders (ordini logici) of events but all remains (tutto rimane) in change (mutamento) on the road. The work consists of a General Prologue, where the pilgrims are introduced the theme of the tale. The point of departure (partenza) is human while (mentre) the destination is holy (santa). The work remained unfinished (incompiuto). Chaucer had planned (aveva pianificato) to continue the tales with another cycle which would follow (che avrebbe seguito) the return to London, the terrestrial city, after the visit to Canterbury.
The General Prologue: a double view (una doppia visione)
The pilgrimage is set (compost) in the calendar of seasons (stagioni) as well as in that of (così come in quello della) piety. In the opening (in apertura) the springtime (primavera) is connoted in terms of rebirth (rinascita) In this context the Prologue treats (tratta) pilgrimage as an event in the calendar of nature. The horizon extends to distant shrines (si estende ai distanti santuari) and foreign lands (alle terre straniere) before the (prima della) vision focuses upon the English shrine at Canterbury (incentrata sul santuario inglese a Canterbury).
Chaucer wanted to give a portrait of (ha voluto fare un ritratto della) English society. He did not portray (non ritrasse) peasants because lower-class people (le persone di classe inferior) could not afford the expense of such a trip (non potevano permettersi la spesa di un tale viaggio). In the General Prologue Chaucer did not follow (non ha seguito) the social hierarchy of presentation of the time. The new factor in the Canterbury Tales is that there is individualization (individaulizzazione): the character exists because he has reactions (reazioni) and is in movement. His individualisation is dynamic in contrast with the conventional medieval character portrait (ritratto del convenzionale carattere medieval) which was generally rather (generalmente piuttosto) static. The descriptions of the pilgrims vary in length (variano in lunghezza), point of view (punto di vista) and tone (tono). The names given to the (dati ai) pilgrims refer to (si riferiscono alla) their professions.
Realism and allegory
Chaucer exploited (ha sfruttato) all the main (tutti i principali) genres of medieval narrative: the parable, the beast-fable, the fabliau, the romance. The achievement (successo) of the Canterbury Tales is its (la sua) stylistic variety. Realism is the most distinctive feature (caratteristica) of the work. Chaucer writes also using (anche usando) the conventions of exaggeration, caricature and grotesque. It is the frame (cornice) of the pilgrimage which gives (che dà) reality to the Canterbury Tales. The pilgrimage is also a metaphor for life religious (per la vita religiosa): we are all pilgrims on the way to the heavenly city (in cammino verso la città celeste).
The tales (racconti) are narrated by the different pilgrims but the reporting pilgrim (pellegrino di riferimento) is Chaucer. He tells us (ci dice) directly (direttamente) or sometimes ironically (a volte con ironia) what he sees (vede) and what he thinks. This creates a sort of interplay (interazione) between real and unreal.
The Canterbury Tales is a long narrative poem written in verse. Chaucer used rhyming couplets (distico rimato) made up of iambic pentameters, that is, ten-syllable lines alternating unstressed and stressed syllables.