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ENCYCLOPEDIA OF BRITAIN
 
  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

 
More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)
The Canterbury Tales

(c.1387–1400)
Collection of narrative poems by *Chaucer. Incomplete in the form he intended, it amounts nevertheless to some 17,000 lines of mainly rhyming verse. The prologue explains the scheme. Thirty pilgrims gather in London, at the Tabard in Southwark, to make a pilgrimage to *Canterbury with the host of the inn, Harry Bailly, as their guide. Each pilgrim is to tell two tales on the way out and two on the way back (with a free supper at the Tabard for whoever is judged to have told the best). Of the 120 proposed tales, Chaucer completed only 24 (two of them told by himself as one of the pilgrims).
 






The leading pilgrims are vividly described in the humorous vignettes of the prologue. They span a wide social range, from the knight and prioress down to unscrupulous pedlars of religion (friar and pardoner) and relatively humble figures (miller and cook). The best known of them all is the irrepressible five-times-married Wife of Bath. Each individual tale reflects the character of the pilgrim telling it, as in the courtly romance of the Knight's Tale or the scurrilous rival farces of the Miller's Tale and the Reeve's Tale, in which a reeve (or bailiff) and a miller respectively are cuckolded in comic and unabashed detail.
 








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