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The General Prologue - Geoffrey Chaucer The most popular part of the Canterbury Tales is the General Prologue which has long been admired for the lively individualized portraits it offers More recent criticism has reacted against this approach claiming that the portraits are indicative of social types part of a tradition of social satire estates satire and insisting that they should not be read as individualized character portraits like those in a novel Yet it is sure that Chaucers capacity of human sympathy like Shakespeares enabled him to go beyond the conventions of his time and create images of individualized human subjects that have been found not merely credible but endearing in every period from his own until now It is the General Prologue that serves to establish firmly the framework for the entire story-collection the pilgrimage that risks being turned into a tale-telling competition The title General Prologue is a modern invention although a few manuscripts call it prologus There are very few major textual differences between the various manuscripts The structure of the General Prologue is a simple one After an elaborate introduction in lines 1 - 34 the narrator begins the series of portraits lines 35 - 719 These are followed by a report of the Hosts suggestion of a tale-telling contest and its acceptance lines 720 - 821 On the following morning the pilgrims assemble and it is decided that the Knight shall tell the first tale lines 822 - 858 Nothing indicates when Chaucer began to compose the General Prologue and there are no variations between manuscripts that might suggest that he revised it after making an initial version It is sometimes felt that the last two portraits of Pardoner and Summoner may have been added later but there is no evidence to support this The portraits do not follow any particular order after the first few pilgrims have been introduced the Knight who comes first is socially the
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