Chaucer’s social cross-section is a reflection of the late medieval society he was born into and wrote his stories.
The Canterbury Tales, the epic story of a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral in England, is one of the most important works in the history of literature. The sprawling tale features over 20 characters, each with its own unique story and personality.
The pilgrims included a Knight, a Monk, a Friar, a Merchant, a Clerk, a Wife of Bath, and a Miller, among others.
The Knight, a figure of authority and prestige, was only expected to tell the story of a battle. The Monk, likewise, represented the religious class, which in Chaucer’s time had yet to be challenged by the Protestant Reformation. The Merchant, taking on the role of narrator for the tales that took place during his travels abroad, represents business-minded people who were engaged in trade as a primary source of income. The Clerk and the Wife of Bath represent laypeople—the Clerk was an educated man who could read Latin and write (which was unusual outside an ecclesiastical setting), and the Wife of Bath was a member of the lower gentry with enough education to read French romances—while still being commoners.