It was Chaucer’s original plan to have all the Pilgrims tell two stories
whilst traveling to Canterbury, and two on the way back to the Tabard Inn in Southwark.
Due to various factors, including his time-consuming duties for the Court, Chaucer was never able to complete this project.
However, what is provided gives the reader a clear insight into the life of
Medieval England. It shows how the different stratums of England at this time interact with one another. Chaucer rarely passes judgment on any of the characters or the stories they tell.
This is left up to the reader.
There can be no doubt that readers during the Middle Ages would have found sections of The Canterbury Tales shocking.
It is important that the reader places each of the Pilgrims in the correct
social ranking. The highest rank comprises of the Knight and his household, which includes the Squire. These are representatives of the aristocrats or those who seek nobility.
The second highest group includes the Prioress, the Monk and the
Friar. The next group is those that specialize in a particular trade, who are craftsmen, and belong to a Guild. These would include the Haberdasher, the Dyer, the Carpenter, etc., none of whom tell a tale.
The next class down would comprise of the Cook, who at first sight would
appear to be out of place, but he is a master of his trade, together with the Shipman and Physician, the latter being less revered than today.
One might also include the Wife of Bath in this section.
The next group down would include the Parson and the Ploughman, who occupy this position purely on their Christian virtues. The last group, i.e. those who lead immoral lives, include the vulgar Miller, the Manciple, the Summoner, the Reeve and the Pardoner.
It was the Knight who drew the short straw and we start with his tale.