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The Canterbury Tales: The Tabard Inn & Innkeeper

Instructor: Katherine Garner

Katie teaches middle school English/Language Arts and has a master's degree in Secondary English Education

This lesson explains the Tabard Inn's significance as one of the settings in Chaucer's 'The Canterbury Tales.' We will also examine the role of its innkeeper, Harry Bailly.

The Tabard Inn in The Canterbury Tales

At the beginning of The Canterbury Tales, the pilgrims gather in Southwark, England at The Tabard Inn before they embark on their pilgrimage, or journey to a religiously significant place. The characters are traveling to Canterbury Cathedral to see the shrine of Thomas Becket. According to Google Maps, this journey of about 60 miles would have taken about 20 hours to complete on foot.

The Tabard Inn is a real inn that existed in the 14th and 15th centuries in England. Southwark was a suburb of London, and it was common for pubs and inns outside of the city limits to have fewer rules and restrictions, so the Tabard Inn may have had unsavory characters visit such as thieves, drunks, and prostitutes. However, it was also on many pilgrimage routes, so devout Christians may have passed through as well. Chaucer probably chose this inn as the setting for the beginning of the pilgrimage because it was a place where people of diverse backgrounds would cross paths and really was on many pilgrimage routes.

The Tabard Inn burned down because of a fire in 1669 and when it was rebuilt was called The Talbot Inn. The Talbot Inn no longer exists, but visitors can still see the ground on which the Tabard and Talbot Inns stood in Southwark, which is now part of London proper.

Plaque in London showing where the Tabard Inn stood
Plaque in London showing where the Tabard Inn stood

Harry Bailly, Innkeeper in The Canterbury Tales

Harry Bailly, the innkeeper of The Tabard Inn, plays several important roles in the General Prologue, where Chaucer introduces the characters, the reason they are all together, and the premise of the storytelling contest.

Harry Bailly, as the host of the pilgrims, is a uniting force among these very different people as well as between the reader and the characters. He represents a sort of ''everyman'' with an occupation, social class, and values that would have been familiar and common to readers.

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