Discuss the setting Chaucer establishes in "The Prologue." Points to consider include the time and place, the purpose of the journey, and the people going on the journey. Also, identify any parts of the setting that hint at action that happens later in the story. Cite specific examples from the text to support your answer.
Purpose: "The Prologue" sets the scene—the Tabard Inn on Borough High Street in Southwark (pronounced SUTH erk), across the Thames River from central London—and introduces thirty pilgrims, including the narrator. [ It also introduces the host who will accompany them on their trip to Canterbury the following day. "The Prologue" reveals Chaucer's understanding of humanity, with all
its foibles and eccentricities, and his ability to write with concision, humor, and gentle satire. "The Prologue" is an important structural device that establishes the unity of a group of diverse middle-class citizens who will be telling separate stories on their way to the shrine of Saint Thomas à Becket. Absent from the group introduced at the Tabard Inn is the canon's yeoman, who catches up with the pilgrims on the road to Canterbury.
Setting: The action begins on a day in April in the late 1300s—probably 1383—at the Tabard Inn in the borough of Southwark, across the Thames River from central London. It continues the next morning.
Theme 1:Camaraderie: Although the pilgrims come from different backgrounds and exhibit different temperaments and preferences, they are all one in their enthusiastic acceptance of one another as comrades.
Theme 2: Adventure: The gathering of the pilgrims, many of them armed with swords and daggers to protect themselves on their journey, suggests adventure. True, their destination, Canterbury, was only fifty-six miles away. But in Chaucer's world, traveling such a distance took far more time time than it does today to travel by air from New York to Hongkong.
Theme 3: Atonement: Many pilgrims hope to gain expiation or other spiritual benefits from visiting Becket's tomb. To be sure, some pilgrims are merely going along for the ride. But other pilgrims seek the benefits of a religious experience.
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