Moral Values & Lessons in The Canterbury Tales

Instructor: Elisha Madison

Elisha is a writer, editor, and aspiring novelist. She has a Master's degree in Ancient Celtic History & Mythology and another Masters in Museum Studies.

In ''The Canterbury Tales'', the pilgrims are setting off to see the shrine of a martyr, which seems to color the stories they tell to each other on the way. This lesson discusses the morality and lessons learned in ''The Canterbury Tales''.

The Canterbury Tales

The Canterbury Tales is a book written by 14th century poet Geoffrey Chaucer. The story, which was published almost 80 years after Chaucer's death, tells of 29 people at the Tabard Inn who met each other while traveling to see the shrine of the martyr Saint Thomas Becket, which was located in Canterbury. It is there they also meet the host and narrator of the tale, Harry Bailly. They decide to travel together, and end up telling each other tales to pass the time and win a free dinner at the end of the trip.

Chaucer originally intended to write a story in which each character in the party told four tales, two tales on the way to the shrine and two tales on the way back. However, the published book consists of the main story, plus 24 additional tales. This has led some people to believe that the book was never finished.

When Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales, England was experiencing a lot of upheaval due to class wars, political tension, and the Black Death, a plague that was killing a lot of the population. These events and the ways in which the characters document social tensions impact the themes of this book. Although none of the characters state it specifically, there is a moral lesson in each of the tales.

Lust and Love

Many of the stories in The Canterbury Tales tell of men who act like fools while lusting after beautiful women. However, the moral seems to be that lust only gets you in trouble, so do not seduce other men's wives or daughters. In The Merchant's tale, we learn about May, a young beautiful woman who lusts after a young man that is not her husband. Magic intervenes and shows the husband the crimes of his wife. Although, lust does not always lead to punishment, it is definitely looked down upon in the story.

Another lesson that appears to be in the book is love conquers all, but life is still life. For example in The Man of Law's tale, Custance meets and falls in love with Alla. And although many, including his own mother, try to break them apart, they eventually find each other again. Unfortunately, Alla dies, reiterating what many of the tales do, life is short.


Although many call The Canterbury Tales blasphemous of the church, there is still an overriding theme of religion and morality being virtuous. First, the pilgrims are headed for the shrine of a martyr. But there are also stories like The Man of Law's tale about converting Muslims to Christianity and how the woman who does so is rewarded with love and a child.

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