The Five Elements of the Short Stories in The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
During the medieval period, short stories were one of the many forms of literature that had risen in popularity. Yet, in order to be one, a short story must have five elements–a setting, a character, a conflict, a plot, and a theme. During this time, Geoffrey Chaucer, who is considered to be the father of English Literature, exemplified these elements in his works The Prologue of “The Canterbury Tales”, “The Pardoner’s Tale,” and “The Wife of Bath’s tale.”
Chaucer’s work The Prologue of “The Canterbury Tales” shows the characteristics of a short story. The story has a setting: both in a tavern and then on the road to Canterbury. As well, the story contains characters that are vividly described: the Host, the Knight, the Wife of Bath, the Pardoner, the Miller, the Prioress, the Monk, the Friar, the Summoner, the Host, the Parson, the Squire, the Clerk, the Man of Law, the Manciple, the Merchant, the Shipman, the Physician, the Franklin, the Reeve, the Plowman, the Guildsman, the Cook, the Yeoman, and the Nun. Although The Prologue doesn’t necessarily have a theme or a conflict, it does have a major plot. Each one of these characters are set out on a pilgrimage to Canterbury, While on this journey, to keep the entertainment up, the Host decides that each pilgrim will tell two tales on the way to Canterbury and two on the way back, and the pilgrim with the best tale will receive a free dinner. Through his writing, Chaucer includes many of the characteristics found in a short story in The Prologue, including setting, characters, and plot.
As well as The Prologue, Chaucer’s work “The Pardoner’s Tale” includes the characteristics that a short story contains. This tale includes a setting, which is a simple tavern. The main characters of this tale are three rioters. This is easily proven because the tale starts out with the narrator saying, “It’s of three rioters I have to tell / Who, long before the morning service bell, / Were sitting in a tavern for a drink…” (lines 1-3). The plot of this tale is also easily revealed. The three rioters are seeking to “murder Death” because of all of the people he’s brought Death upon. One of the rioters says, “I’ll search for [Death], by Jesus, street by street…The three of us together now / Hold up your hands, like me, and we’ll be brothers… / And we will kill this traitor Death, I say!” (lines 34-39). While on this search, an old man had told them that to find Death, they must look under a tree, Under the tree they find gold, and the three rioters plan to split it amongst themselves. When the younger goes to town, the other two plan to kill the younger with a stab in the back so that they can split the gold between the two of them. While those two are planning their murder, the younger is planning to poison them so he could get the gold to himself. This all goes downhill when they all kill each other in the end, and no one gets the gold. Included in these characteristics, the theme is also included. The theme of this tale is generally hypocrisy and irony: the three rioters longed to murder Death, but Death came upon them all in the end due to greed. Possessing a setting, characters, a plot, and a theme, “The Pardoner’s Tale” could be considered a short story.
As well as these two pieces of Chaucer’s work, “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” also includes the elements of a short story. The setting of this tale is “When good King Arthur ruled in ancient days” in “a land brim-full of fairy folk” (lines 1-3). The characters of this tale are the Loathly Lady, the Knight, and the Queen. The tale also contains a plot. The Knight has a bit of a conflict: he doesn’t know what exactly a woman wants and how to handle this confusion. When the Queen asks the Knight to marry her. With the thought that it’s like a sort of “test” to test his knowledge on a girl’s mind, he agrees to the proposal. He soon realizes when the Queen is satisfied with his answer and when she promises to stay young and faithful, that he chose the right one. The theme of this tale is power: after taking away the power that women had to their own bodies, his “punishment” is to figure out what women truly desire in romance and life. “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” could be considered a short story due to its possession of a setting, characters, a plot, and a theme.
Geoffrey Chaucer, the father of English Literature, included many elements of a short story in his tales. The Prologue, “The Pardoner’s Tale,” and “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” all include a setting, character(s), a conflict, a plot, and a theme. Together, these five characteristics complete the main idea of a short story.
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