Text Summary

The “General Prologue” tells a story about the narrator Geoffrey Chaucer joining a group of pilgrims in April, going to Canterbury, here the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket is located. The poem immediately opened with a discussion of April and why it is perfect for people to go into pilgrimages. According to the first lines, April rains and warm western wind restore people’s liveliness and fertility. It so happens that in England, a famous destination for pilgrimages is the shrine of Thomas Becket. This is why the narrator also went, where he observed all sorts of pilgrims. He provided a lively description of the people journeying to the shrine, talking about their conditions and social degree. He listed all the kinds of people he was with in the pilgrimage, which included a knight and his son, who is described as a squire, a yeoman, a monk, a clerk, a miller, a summoner, and much more. The pilgrims can be categorized as secular pilgrims and religious pilgrims. Each of the pilgrims was described in detail in the poem, where the narrator talked about their background and appearance, including their best traits and certain quirks. The host is described to as a big man. Towards the end, the author described the host proposing a story-telling contest, where each of the people part of the pilgrimage will share two stories as they make the journey to Canterbury then another two when they journey back. The best storyteller gets a free meal. The host described the best story as one with the greatest moral and the most entertaining. They all agreed to the deal and went to sleep. The next day, the drew straws to determine who would tell their stories first. It was the knight. As he starts the storytelling game, the group set sail for Canterbury.

Analysis of Text Using Article Chosen

As I read the text, even with its seemingly simple story, I can vividly imagine what the author is describing. He talks of the pilgrims in a colorful manner, as if he knows all of them and is already familiar with who they truly are. He was able to talk about their traits and quirks in clear terms. Why the author was able to do that is explained by the article I chose in relation to “General Prologue.”

The article I was chosen is entitled Girdles, Belts, and Cords: A Leitmotif in Chaucer’s General Prologue, and written by Lawrence Besserman. The author argued that the text is currently considered a masterpiece for its colorful portrayal of the complex characters in the story because it used many contrasting and cross-referencing terms. Moreover, Besserman argued that the use of leitmotifs made the work successful. Leitmotifs refer to words and things. In particular, the leitmotifs in the poem are the attires of the characters. More importantly, the author uncovered an interesting finding where specific pilgrims are not wearing certain accessories as they should be, which are the girdles, cords, and belts. Secular pilgrims have girdles, cords, and belts, while the religious people are apparently not wearing any or at least not described by Chaucer as wearing such. Because girdles, belts, and cords are said to signify spirituality and integrity, Besserman argued that Chaucer is somehow saying the churchmen on the specific pilgrimage are spiritually lax and corrupt.


Works Cited:

Besserman, Lawrence. “Girdles, Belts, and Cords: A Leitmotif in Chaucer’s General Prologue.” Papers on Language & Literature 50.3-4 (2014): 241.

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The general prologue. Vol. 2. University of Oklahoma Press, 1993.



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