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The Reeve's Tale, in 'The Canterbury Tales'

The Reeve's Tale, in 'The Canterbury Tales'

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1410

Shelfmark: Lansdowne MS 851

Item number: f.48v

Length: 33.7

Width: 20.8

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Manuscript

It sounds ponderous to say that Geoffrey Chaucer (1342-1400) wrote one of the most important works of English literature, but it is true even though the 'Canterbury Tales' is so much fun to read. The first to exploit fully the literary form of the tale, it is a series of verse stories told in turn by each of a motley group of pilgrims en route from Southwark in London to Canterbury to visit the shrine of Thomas a Beckett ('the martyr'). Ranging in tone from vulgar humour to serious moralising, the stories are unified by common themes, notably a contrast of the 'loose woman' and the virtuously long-suffering one. Chaucer began writing the tales late in his career (1387), but died in 1400, leaving them unfinished. Made within a few decades of Chaucer's death, this manuscript is the earliest known copy of the 'Canterbury Tales'.

Each tale is identified at the top of the page in red writing, as here, 'The Reeve'. The Reeve's Tale continues on from the Miller's Tale with the theme of the cuckolded husband. Chaucer appears to have borrowed several of the situations from contemporary Italian literature, such as Boccaccio's stories. Each tale begins with a large, elegantly decorated first letter, giving a luxurious treatment to the book. The book's original owner is unknown.

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