Food Representation in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales



 
 Illustration from an edition of The Canterbury Tales depicting a cook with a meathook. Ellesmere manuscripts, c. 1410Food Representation in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales

By Terezie Marková

Bachelor’s Thesis, Masaryk University, 2012

Introduction: The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer written between 1387 – 1400 has always been a highly valued work of medieval literature. The way of life, thinking, but also indulgence and weakness of people living in author’s times is pictured through parody and ironic view of the characters. He uses food and drink as the means to express people’s characters, look, but also mood and situation.

The attitude to food used to be quite different in Chaucer’s times. The life was much harder, people had to toil all day long to have enough food for the family. Nevertheless, there was a crop failure quite often and people could face starving. Having a year supply of food guaranteed survival of the next winter. Most people could not afford to buy some more expensive food too often – things like meat, fish, milk products or alcoholic drinks were quite expensive. Especially spices like cinnamon or cloves were rare, being imported from foreign countries by ships. People were forced to be concerned with food and they probably thought about food more often than people today, when the danger of famine is something unknown in developed countries. Food influenced their way of thinking. Such a respect for food was reflected in literature.




 

Food could express the human experiences like love, hate, fear, joy, pleassure, happiness, sadness, anger and others. The beautiful woman´s complexion is often compared to milk, the nice smell with cinnamon or other spices. In addition, milk often symbolises childhood and innocence or, simply, illustrates a white colour. It is also worth mentioning that the language of the Bible is rich in food metaphors.

Click here to read this thesis from Masaryk University