In our journey in 2014 we will try and follow as near as possible to the route taken by the pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales as well as the same time of year.
There is even mystery over how long the pilgrims took to get there too, as some of the tales hint at stops that could range from a journey of 3 to 5 nights and 6 days, coinciding with arriving for Easter falling on a Sunday any time between April 7th to April 18th.
We do know that the journey was taken in April due to it being seen as more temperate as indicated in the following in The Prologue at the very beginning where Geoffrey Chaucer tells the following:
“When in April the sweet showers fall
And pierce the drought of March to the root, and all
The veins are bathed in liquor of such power
As brings about the engendering of the flower”
However to get a true indication of when the trip took place it is necessary to look beyond the immediately obvious mention of April to a combination of understanding something more about the time from the rhyme in the opening Prologue.
As such, note carefully the end of the paragraph, as Chaucer continues:
“When also Zephyrus with his sweet breath
Exhales an air in every grove and heath
Upon the tender shoots, and the young sun
His half-course in the Sign of the Ram has run”
Chaucer shows an appreciation of astrology and the mystic side to him through his mention of “the Sign of the Ram”. This refers to the star sign of Aries, whose dates fall between March 20 to April 20. Moreover, the fact that he says in The Prologue that its “half-course….has run” indicates a start date for the journey some time after the end of the first week of April.
To get a more precise idea of what year and what date we have to know something about Chaucer’s life itself – and what may have led him to taking the journey.
It is most likely because of the unhappy coincidence of Chaucer having lost the patronage of John of Gaunt in the late 1380’s, and income that came from a pension tied to that – thus giving Chaucer cause and pause to reflect. As such, the journey must have been taken at a time after 1385.
Moreover, given that we know it is not in the first week from “the half-course of The Ram” indicating a time later than 7 April, the two dates left for Easter between 1385 to 1390 are therefore April 18th or April 22nd.
Given that 22nd April is outside the end-date for The Ram having taken its course then the only date remaining is 18th April, which is indicated in Introduction to The Man of Laws’ tale as follows
“He knew quite well it was the eighteenth day
Of April that is messenger to May”
This suggests that this was the last tale told before they arrived in Canterbury for the Easter feast. There seems to be an implication in this Introduction that the tale may have been told after midnight on the seventeenth, as it seems to me that Chaucer is implying that “The Man of Laws” was taking his time getting on with it, such that even the month of May was drawing nigh (given “April that is messenger to May”), and that they had all perhaps better get to bed instead with it now being the Sunday morning, and that The Man of Laws “knew quite well” that was officially “Easter” and a day of celebrating both Christ’s resurrection as well as the sacrifice made by St Thomas À Becket.
So how does this affect the start and end date of our journey in 2014??
The challenge for us is that the dates for Easter do not exactly coincide, now in the 21st Century.
Nevertheless, in keeping within the course of The Ram (i.e. arriving on or before 20th April) and assuming that the number of tales is accurate as being 24 (as may have been subliminal) – then we will look to arrive between 18th to 20th April, coinciding with the time that Easter fell in 1389.
The next challenge is when do we start?
This is where I believe there may be a subliminal hint to days and dates travelled in the very number of tales included in The Tales.
Assuming that the number of tales published in The Tales is actually accurate – and so 24 rather than 120 that there ought to be if each of the 29 or 30 travellers lived up to the challenge to tell two tales on the way there and two on the way back – then that would suggest a six day journey there and six on the way back. If so, then our intention should be to depart on either the 12th or 14th of April.
All of this is subject to debate of my analysis. The key is that my analysis seeks to go beyond what’s overtly stated in The Tales themselves to learning and seeing the importance of the tale of the architect of The Tales himself, Geoffrey Chaucer. So next we perhaps have to explore what may have led him to decide to leave the comfort of London, and his place in Aldgate, to travel a country road for 10 to 12 days with a bunch of total strangers.