[[caption-width-right:300:Are we there yet?]]
[[caption-width-right:300:I know a shortcut!]]
[[caption-width-right:300:My saddle chafes.]]
[[caption-width-right:300:If I tell you a story, will you all ''shut up?'']]

->''"Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,\\
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote,\\
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,\\
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;\\
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth\\
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth\\
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne\\
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne\\
And smale fowles maken melodye,\\
That slepen al the night with open ye,\\
So priketh hem nature in hir corages:\\
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,\\
And palmers for to seken straunge strondes,\\
To ferne halwes, couthe in sondry londes;\\
And specially, from every shires ende\\
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,\\
The holy blisful martir for to seke,\\
That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seke."''
-->--Geoffrey Chaucer, ''Literature/TheCanterburyTales'' - Prologue in Middle English

The Canterbury Tales is a collection of short stories written in Late [[HistoryOfEnglish Middle English]] by Creator/GeoffreyChaucer in [[TheLateMiddleAges the late 14th century]] about [[ShapedLikeItself a group of travellers on a pilgrimage]] to the tomb of St. Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral[[note]]Same guy who was murdered in Creator/TSEliot's ''MurderInTheCathedral''[[/note]]. To pass the time on what was then a journey of several days, they decide to hold a storytelling contest where each pilgrim will tell two tales on the journey to Canterbury and two tales on the return trip. Originally, Chaucer was going to write [[DoorStopper all 124 tales]], but was [[AuthorExistenceFailure unable to finish them before his death in 1400]].

The pilgrims' tales cover a wide variety of genres, from morality plays to romances to bawdy tales with lots of sex and fart jokes.

The tales are often published these days in verse "translations" (or even in prose), but as the excerpt of the opening lines above shows, they are perfectly comprehensible in the original in a good edition with footnotes.

Compare to ''Literature/TheDecameron'', another Late Medieval collection of stories within a FrameStory involving travel; some of the stories are similar, and indeed many of the stories seem inspired by those in Boccaccio's collection (that said, it appears that Chaucer never directly copied a story; he probably merely read ''The Decameron'' while on a diplomatic mission in Italy, and did not have access to a copy when he was writing the ''Tales'').

!!Contains examples of:

* AbhorrentAdmirer: The "loathly lady" in the Wife of Bath's Tale.
* AdaptationSpeciesChange: A particularly odd example in "The Merchant's Tale": Pluto and Proserpina, gods of Myth/ClassicalMythology, are portrayed as ''[[TheFairFolk fairies]]''.
* AllWomenAreLustful: Invoked repeatedly, most particularly with the Wife of Bath, but also subverted, {{lampshade|Hanging}}d, and deconstructed.
* AltumVidetur: The Pardoner's (hypocritical) motto, "Radix malorum est cupiditas" (greed is the root of all evil).
* AmbiguouslyGay: The Pardoner's sexuality has been much debated, and the Summoner is sometimes seen as his MachoCamp companion.
* [[AndYourRewardIsClothes And Your Reward is Dinner]]: The Host and the pilgrims come into agreement that the one who tells the best tale will get treated to dinner with everyone else footing the bill.
* AssShove: In the Miller's Tale.
* AuthorAvatar: The {{Narrator}}
* AuthorExistenceFailure: Chaucer didn't even finish writing even one tale for each named pilgrim.
* {{Backstory}}: Each pilgrim introduces himself or herself.
* BlackComedyRape: The seduction of the Miller's wife and daughter in "The Reeve's Tale".
* BlatantLies: The Pardoner has some pretty interesting descriptions of Literature/TheBible...
* BlondGuysAreEvil: The Pardoner.
* BoisterousBruiser: Harry Bailey, the Host; the Monk, the Miller and the Franklin also have some elements of this.
* BreakingTheFourthWall: Chaucer does this in "The Miller's Prologue," during the ContentWarning: "Turn over the leef and chese another tale."
* BreakTheHaughty: The theme of the Monk's Tale. It's not just one story, he picks a famous great figure, then tells about how he failed and died, then moves onto another one, over and over again. He says he has a hundred, but the Knight cuts him off after seventeen when he gets to Peter of Cyprus -- [[TooSoon The Knight's former commander]].
** The DesignatedHero of the Wife of Bath's tale also gets a well-deserved lesson or two on treating women right.
* BrokenAesop: The incredibly greedy Pardoner gives a story teaching the evils of greed. [[LampshadeHanging He even mentions how ironic this is]].
* BrotherSisterIncest: Canacee and Cambalo in "The Squire's Tale".
* BuffySpeak: No, really. Chaucer used "I guess" in the modern sense:
-->"Of twenty year of age he was, I guess."
* ButIDigress: The Knight does this ''all the time''. Naturally, everybody else mocks him for it.
* CainAndAbel: Arcite and Palamon in the Knight's Tale.
* CampStraight: Absalon in the Miller's Tale
* CardCarryingVillain: The Pardoner shows no shame in being greedy, and proudly exclaims being so.
* CharacterDevelopment: Most obvious (and essential) in the Wife of Bath's Tale, as a [[DesignatedHero rapist]] learns a [[BreakTheHaughty lesson in humility.]]
* TheCobblersChildrenHaveNoShoes / HypocriticalHumor: It's commented in the Prologue that while the Merchant is always giving financial advice, he is actually flat broke.
** There's also the fact that the Merchant tells his tale with an intent of showing how marriage is terrible and women are lying liars who lie. Made hilarious due to the fact that the Merchant is drawing from his two months of experience in the realm of marriage to condemn the whole thing.
* CockADoodleDawn
* ContentWarnings: In "The Miller's Prologue", the narrator makes an aside to warn the reader that the upcoming tale is going to be obscene, and whoever doesn't like it should "turn over the leef and chese another tale."
** An indirect example: the miller himself basically tells everyone "Okay, I'm stinking drunk, so if anyone gets offended by what I say, blame it on the Southwerk ale."
* CorruptChurch: All too common in the stories. Though the Church ''always'' formally condemned simony (''i.e.'', the sale of sacraments and Church offices), there were also always those making end-runs around the rules.
** Case in point, the Parson and the Nuns are about the only religious pilgrims in the story that ''aren't'' corrupt.
* CostumePorn: The General Prologue gives in-depth descriptions of each of the pilgrims' outfits, often containing clues as to their personalities.
* CountryMatters: "queynte" (The Miller's Tale, The Wife of Bath's Prologue). In "The Miller's Tale" Chaucer makes puns from the double meaning of "queynte"--at the end of the 14th century that word meant both CountryMatters and the modern meaning of "quaint".
* CourtlyLove: Arcite and Palamon for Emily in "The Knight's Tale".
* CreepyChild: The Prioress's tale concerns one. Gets even creepier when he gets killed...and [[NightmareFuel keeps singing that damn song of his]].
* CulturalCrossReference: The Squire's Tale is about none other than UsefulNotes/GenghisKhan (though the case has been made of the story fitting better with KublaiKhan, his great grandson). Ironically, medieval Europeans knew of him, but not of many of the places he conquered.
* CulturalPosturing: The Knight, for ancient Greece. Historically accurate, too.
* TheDanza: Chaucer himself.
* DirtyOldWoman: The Wife of Bath.
* DreamingOfThingsToCome
* DummiedOut: To say nothing of the fact that the characters never even reach the holy shrine, Chaucer actually just started the Cook's Tale...only to leave it as a short, unfinished fragment. Judging from the tone it would have resembled the crass anecdotes told by the Miller and the Reeve. (Coghill's tranlation advertises this tale on the back of the book for some reason.)
* EvilWillFail: The three villainous protagonists of "The Pardoner's Tale" kill each other because of their greed.
* ExactWords: In "The Pardoner's Tale", the protagonists are told that they can find Death under the oak tree. After killing each other over the gold they find at the oak tree, they do indeed find Death.
* FanSequel: Some of the earliest examples in English literature, including:
** Edmund Spenser followed up with "The Friar's Tale" in Book 4 of ''TheFaerieQueene''.
** Alexander Pope also wrote a few works that combined this with a pastiche/parody.
** In one of the first pieces of FanFiction, there is a narrative tale ''The Tale of Beryn'' which makes the Pardoner's sexuality less ambiguous by showing his attempts to seduce a tavern wench.
** The prologue of ''The Siege of Thebes'' by John Lydgate, one of Chaucer's literary successors, includes a SelfInsertFic in which the author meets the pilgrims after their arrival at Canterbury, and is asked to provide the first tale on the return journey.
** Numerous late medieval authors attempted to complete the unfinished bits of the Tales, as well; there are a few efforts at finishing the Cook's Tale, and two different efforts at a tale for the Plowman (the only pilgrim described in the General Prologue who doesn't tell even an unfinished tale), the better known of which was meant to suggest that Chaucer was essentially a proto-Protestant.
* FlyingDutchman: The old man in "The Pardoner's Tale".
* ForeignCussWord: Guess what the Wife of Bath meant with (Latin) "quoniam". Hint: it suffices to delete three letters.
* FramingDevice
* GenreRoulette: Each of the Tales is based on a different genre that existed at the time.
* GoldFever: The ultimate downfall of the protagonists of "The Pardoner's Tale".
* GoodBadGirl: According to her at least, the Wife of Bath. May be the UrExample.
* GoshDangItToHeck: the Prioress:
-->"Her greatest oath was but "By Saint Loy!"
* GoodShepherd: The parson, who is also the only religious character who isn't corrupt.
** That's not quite fair, some of the other nuns (minus the Prioress) seem pretty faithful and although the Nun's Priest has some worldly beliefs, he doesn't seem to act on them.
* HandsomeLech: Nicholas in "The Miller's Tale"
* HistoryOfEnglish: Hugely, hugely important in the development of English as a literary language. Chaucer's work is arguably responsible for the adoption of his London dialect as the standard from which modern English developed. The roughly contemporary ''Literature/SirGawainAndTheGreenKnight'', alliterative blank verse written in a northern dialect, makes a fascinating comparison.
* HolyCity: Canterbury itself.
* HonorRelatedAbuse: Virginius and Virginia.
* HurricaneOfPuns
* ItsAllAboutMe: Pretty much the Pardoner's worldview. And he's shockingly proud of that fact.
* TheJoyOfX: It's the origin of "The X's Tale" formula. The problem is that most references miss the "told by an X" instead of "about an" meaning of the original. For example, the film ''AKnightsTale'', is set in Medieval Europe.
* KnightInShiningArmor: The Knight fits personality wise (or so he would have us believe), but actually has rather dirty, worn-out armor, because he's an experienced soldier who has got a lot of use out of it.
** This KnightInShiningArmor was pretty obviously implied to be a [[HiredGuns hired sword]] who fought for any prince who paid enough. Despite the ValuesDissonance the sheer variety of his experience makes it clear that he was at least a {{Badass}} if not exactly IncorruptiblePurePureness. And to be fair, he presumably kept his contracts and fought decently and was about as honorable as a merc can be in his profession.
* LaserGuidedKarma: Most villains in the Man of Law's Tale don't escape justice. The Syrian jihadists are slaughtered by the Romans, and King Alla orders his mother dead once he finds out about her trickery. The drunken messenger is also tortured.
** KarmaHoudini: The Sultan's mother gets off scot-free, though.
* TheLadysFavour: An unorthodox example with the Monk, who basically acts like a typical nobleman in spite of his religious profession. He is described wearing a gold pin with a "love knot" (his sweetheart/mistress') hair inside it.
* LeftHanging:
** "The Cook's Tale" breaks off unfinished.
** The Tale of Sir Thopas is also interrupted by the Host, on the grounds that it is DarthWiki/SoBadItsHorrible.
* LiteralAssKissing: Yes. This happens. [[AssShove Then a hot poker gets involved.]]
* LiteralGenie: The Gods behave like this in the Knight's Tale.
** Venus and Mars, to be more precise. Diana is more of a JerkassGenie.
* LoadsAndLoadsOfCharacters
* LoveDodecahedron: In the "Miller's Tale"
* LoveTriangle: In the "Knight's Tale", the "Merchant's Tale" and the "Franklin's Tale".
* MaliciousSlander
* MayDecemberRomance: TropeNamer, per ''[[http://www.bartleby.com/81/11190.html Brewer's]]'': The story of May and January in "The Merchant's Tale" (the expression having altered over time). [[note]]Until the 18th century, the English calendar began the year in ''March'', so January was quite late in the year instead of being the first month.[[/note]]
* MistakenForApocalypse: In the "Miller's Tale", Fry Nicholas convinces the carpenter to take special precautions in order to escape the coming flood that will drown the world. Of course, there is no such flood, it's just a ploy to get more time with the carpenter's wife.
* MoralMyopia: The Prioress cares more for dogs than she does for Jews
* NamelessNarrative
* NiceToTheWaiter: The knight, we are told, has ''never'' spoken rudely to anyone.
* NobleDemon: In "The Friar's Tale".
* NoEnding: The tales simply stop before all the pilgrims have supplied one, and the framing narration never states that they have made it to Canterbury. Critics have argued about whether or not the story is unfinished. Chaucer's so-called [[AuthorsSavingThrow retraction]], which is usually appended to the tales as an ad hoc epilogue doesn't make matters any clearer.
* [[NotInFrontOfTheParrot Not In Front of the Crow]]: Pretty much the central plot point of the Manciple's Tale.
* OldMaid: Reading between the lines, the Prioress is getting past her prime and is overweight from her lifestyle, but is still pretty concerned with her features.
* PrettyBoy: Absalom in "The Miller's Tale" is so pretty as to be downright effeminate. In the frame story, the Squire is another example (vaguely feminine prettiness being in fashion for courtly types).
* PutOffTheirFood: Happens in the prologue. While the Cook is a SupremeChef, Chaucer unfortunately can't enjoy a dish of his because its appearance reminds him too much of a nasty running sore the Cook has on his leg.
* RefugeInAudacity: "The Pardoner's Tale" begins with the Pardoner bragging about his hypocrisy and all the fake relics he sells. At the end of his tale, an effective moral tale, he offers the same relics to the other pilgrims.
* RousseauWasRight: The Franklin's Tale -- the knight releases his lady from the guilt of the promise she made, the lady fulfills her promise, the squire releases the lady from her promise to him, and the magician forgives the squire of the thousand-gold-coin debt he'd incurred, when hearing of the nobility of the above people. Awww.
* RumpRoast: Absalom burns Nicolas's bottom with a hot poker.
* SatanIsGood: In "The Friar's Tale".
* SecretTestOfCharacter: The Wife of Bath's tale.
* SelfDeprecation: Chaucer assigns himself [[StylisticSuck a pair of awful stories]], the first of which is so bad it's [[CutShort forcibly halted]] by Harry Bailey, who orders him to tell a better tale.
* SelfInsertFic
* SexyPriest: The Friar loves associating with the fairer sex, and is kind enough to perform [[ShotgunWedding marriages which he has made necessary]]. The Pardoner also says he would like to keep a wench in every town... Probably the Monk too, given the love knot he wears, and the Host alleges the Nun's Priest is one of these (see UnwantedHarem below), but the Nun's Priest denies it. Most of these examples are more along the lines of "lecherous priest" than necessarily "good looking priest", and the Nun's Priest is probably the only example who isn't a slimy bastard.
** ''The Summoner's Tale'' features a Sexy Friar, being a TakeThat against the Friar, as does ''The Shipman's Tale''.
* ShortLivedBigImpact: The Canterbury Tales was never even finished. It is still considered one of the most influential books of the English language despite the fact it was written in Middle English.
* ShoutOut: ''Literature/ReynardTheFox'' and Chanticleer the rooster and his wife Pertelote appear in ''The Nun's Priest Tale''.
* SlidingScaleOfIdealismVersusCynicism: One of a small number of works that manages to range successfully over every part of the spectrum from extremely idealistic (The Knight's Tale, The Franklin's Tale) to extremely cynical (The Miller's Tale, The Pardoner's Tale), thanks to the framing device and the multiple narrators. Where Chaucer himself fell is a matter of some debate.
* SmallNameBigEgo: Chanticleer in "The Tale of the Nun's Priest".
* SmartPeopleWearGlasses: The Oxford Clerk is an UrExample of this trope; despite not actually wearing glasses in the text,[[note]]eyeglasses were just beginning to catch on in Europe when the tales were written[[/note]] he is mentioned as having terrible eyesight due to the long nights he's spent studying by candlelight. This hints that the trope might actually [[EvolvingTrope be descended from]] [[ForgottenTrope an older "Smart People Have Bad Eyesight" trope]].
* StarvingStudent: The Clerk of Oxford.
* StillBornSerial: An in-universe one: The Squire's Tale is set up to be sprawling epic that weaves through the lives of a Middle Eastern royal family, culminating in an epic battle. After roughly 700 lines, the Squire has [[BaitAndSwitch only managed to tell the story of the princess rescued a wounded bird]], at which point the Franklin butts in and starts his tale.
* StylisticSuck: Chaucer assigns himself a badly written Arthurian romance in verse as well as an interminable and boring prose tale; both the Cook and Monk have their tales booed down by the other pilgrims, as the Cook's is too bawdy and in the Monk's case, everyone expected him to tell a light, bawdy story, but instead he chose to recite a list of the tragic ends of various powerful people from ancient times to the present. Part of Terry Jones' reinterpretation of the Knight is to dispute that the Monk's Tale was bad [[note]]Jones argues that Medieval commoners would have enjoyed hearing about [[BreakTheHaughty the rich and corrupt brought low and the Knight cut him off because he ''is'' one of those corrupt aristocrats]].[[/note]], but in any case, it's been traditionally assumed to be intentionally bad.
* TakeThat:
** The awful prose tale told by Chaucer is actually a ''translation of a real work'', and arguably the Monk's Tale, which fits a contemporary genre of tragedy, and gets cut off by the Knight.
** In-story, "The Miller's Tale" is often read as a parody of "The Knight's Tale," and the Miller himself seems to treat it as such. "The Reeve's Tale" is a direct attack on the Miller, and response to his tale. "The Summoner's Tale" is an attack on the Friar whose story is told immediately before.
* TamperingWithFoodAndDrink: In "The Pardoner's Tale", the youngest of the three rioters sneaks a poison into the wine he was sent into town for, in the hopes of killing the other two rioters and claiming the gold they found for himself.
* TenderTears: The Prioress, for her little dogs. Intentional MoralDissonance, perhaps.
* ToiletHumour: Used extensively in the Miller's tale
* TheTourney: One is central to the Knight's tale.
* TrueBeautyIsOnTheInside: in the Wife of Bath's tale, the [[DesignatedHero knight hero]] finds himself wedded to a smart woman with a great personality -- who's also a terribly ugly crone. She catches on to his distress and delivers this Aesop to him, and then offers him a choice: she could make herself young and beautiful, but [[MyGirlIsNotASlut then he'd always have to risk her sleeping around with his friends]] -- or she could remain old and ugly, but be the best wife he could possibly ask for. His choice. He [[TakeAThirdOption humbly says that the choice is up to her]], and she, delighted that he's learned how to respect her, announces that she will be both beautiful ''and'' faithful. And they all live HappilyEverAfter. BrokenAesop? No, because the aesop is that women want some measure of autonomy.
* UglyGuyHotWife: The carpenter and Alison in "The Miller's Tale." As is most often the case in medieval literature, this ends with YourCheatingHeart (as well as an unsuccessful suitor).
* UnreliableNarrator: Everyone, including (especially!) ''Chaucer''
* UnwantedHarem: There's an interesting subtext to the "Nun's Priest's Tale". His story is a beast fable whose protagonist is a rooster with a number of wives. There is an implied parallel to the Nun's Priest himself who is a confessor for a group of nuns (possibly NaughtyNuns). He asserts that he is chaste though, and might be telling the truth.
** An alternate interpretation is that the Nun is the rooster, with the "wives" being the priests who work for her. Note the rooster's vanity and stupidity.
* WhatMightHaveBeen: Chaucer was planning for the tales to be between 100 and 120 chapters long. He only finished the first 24 before he died. We'll never know how much richer our language would be today if the man who contributed to our lexicon such phrases as ''arse'' and ''knobbe'' had survived to tell the remaining three fourths of his epic.
** Read more: [[http://www.cracked.com/article_18539_7-lost-bodies-work-that-would-have-changed-everything_p2.html#ixzz0yX8yCFMK 7 Lost Bodies of Work that Would Have Changed Everything]], from Cracked.
* WritersCannotDoMath: Averted in the Introduction to the Man of Law's Tale; Chaucer demonstrates knowledge of the properties of a right isosceles triangle (not in those words, of course):
-->''(He) saugh wel that the shadwe of every tree''
-->''Was as in lengthe the same quantitie''
-->''That was the body erect that caused it''
-->''And therefore by the shadwe he took his wit''
-->''That Phebus, which that shoon so clere and brighte''
-->''Degrees was fyve and fourty clombe on highte.''
--->(He saw that the shadows of the trees were the same length as the trees themselves; thus he calculated that the sun was forty-five degrees high.)
* YouAllMeetInAnInn

And then they all ate the Nun's Priest. AndThereWasMuchRejoicing. ([[Film/MontyPythonAndTheHolyGrail Yaaaay]])