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1478GeoffreyChaucer

Image of Geoffrey Chaucer from a 1478 edition of The Canterbury Tales.

"Chaucer's Retraction" is the name given to the text which is placed at the end of editions of Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. It takes the form of an apology on behalf of Chaucer to his readers and to God.

Geoffrey Chaucer tells his readers that they should thank God, the source of all goodness, if they have found anything that they liked in The Canterbury Tales. He adds that any faults in the book are the result of his ignorance and that he made a sincere effort to compose educational stories that would benefit those who read them.

Chaucer apologizes for and renounces those of his works and translations which deal chiefly with secular themes, naming Troilus and Criseyde, The House of Fame, The Legend of Good Women, The Parliament of Fowls, The Book of the Duchess and The Book of the Lion. He also asks forgiveness for having written some stories which could be considered sinful in The Canterbury Tales[1] However, the author says that he is pleased with having written and translated lives of saints and other religious texts. He asks his readers to pray for him and asks for help from Heaven to live in righteousness for the rest of his life.

It is unknown whether or not "Chaucer's Retraction" was originally intended to be included in The Canterbury Tales. It is possible that it was a kind of "deathbed confession" by Chaucer which became attached to his most popular work. It is also possible that the text is not really a sincere retraction but an attempt by Chaucer to advertise his other works.

Footnotes

  1. Chaucer does not name the sinful stories from The Canterbury Tales but the bawdy and crudely comic ones, "The Cook's Tale", "The Merchant's Tale", "The Miller's Tale", "The Reeve's Tale", "The Shipman's Tale", "The Summoner's Tale" and "The Wife of Bath's Prologue", are obvious examples.

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