Part Three

The Pilgrims at The Tabard

haucer has his pilgrims gather at the Tabard Inn in Southwark, a disreputable area across the Thames from London. There actually was a Tabard Inn in Chaucer's day, and its innkeeper was Harry Baily, who is named in Canterbury Tales. And just as there was a real Harry Baily, so too was the character of the cook, Hodge of Ware, an actual person. A London cook named Roger Ware (Hodge is a nickname of Roger) was known at that time, and Chaucer obviously intended for some of his London readers to recognize Baily, Ware, and perhaps even others.

Southwark was the normal starting point for all pilgrimages, and although it is uncertain how individuals and small groups were organized into suitable companies, it seems certain that the Church also played the role of travel agency. A Canterbury pilgrimage was so popular and common that the route held few curiosities for Englishmen, and a written account of such a journey did not need descriptions of places or sights. Chaucer only mentions his pilgrims and their discussions; along the trip he barely names the towns they passed or where they stopped.

After leaving the Tabard he throws in an occasional poetic signpost, enough to maintain the illusion of a journey. He has the pilgrims stop at a site called the Watering of St. Thomas (an unidentifiable location), but other spots are barely mentioned, and when they are, merely in passing: "Lo Greenwich, there many a shrewe is inne." Chaucer does not even write of Blackheath, or Dartford, the place where most pilgrims spent their first night out. In the Monk's prologue the town of Rochester (about 30 miles from London) is mentioned, Sittingbourne is cited in the Wife of Bath's prologue, and the Blean Forest is where the Canon's Yeoman joins the group.

At Boughton-under-Blee there were two approaches to Canterbury, and Chaucer has his company stop to decide which path to take. It is here, no more than a mile from their destination, that Chaucer ends his poem, and the pilgrims end their fictional journey, the arrival in the city eternally postponed. In the final reference to their progress, Chaucer does not even clarify which route the pilgrims would have taken:

"Woot ye nat where ther stant a litel toun
Which that ycleped is Bobbe-up-and-doun,
Under the Blee, in Caunterbury weye?"

Hodge of Ware



Pilgrims Passing To and Fro © James L. Matterer

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