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

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

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1410

Shelfmark: Lansdowne MS 851

Item number: f.79r

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 prefaced by a short 'prologue', a transition from one tale to the next in which the speaker's character and social status are indicated or referred to in some way. This page has the prologue of the Squire's Tale and its beginning, "At Sarray, in the land of Tartarye." The elegant initial beginning the tale is fairly typical of the decoration of all of them. The manuscript is a luxurious copy of the tales, but who commissioned it or originally owned it is not known, although it is thought to have been made in London.

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