The Canterbury Tales and the Panchatantra: Two Frame Narratives Contrasted
English and Literature
Submitted By myquest
Professor Padma Baliga
English Literature Upto 1900
13 September 2010
The Canterbury Tales and the Panchatantra: Two Frame Narratives contrasted
The East has a wonderful tradition in teaching morals through interesting tales; India has given the world the earliest such tales in the form of the Panchatantra, the Hitopadesa and even the Puranas. The Canterbury Tales and the Panchatantra are both frame narratives- often known as ‘story within a story.’ Yet the target audience of both these works is different. And this arises from the nature of these works. Whilst The Canterbury Tales was written by Chaucer originally for a courtly, upper class audience, the Panchatantra was written to teach the high morals and sensibilities of Vedic literature to three disinterested princes in the simplest language, using animals as symbols and characters. Indeed, the Panchatantra and its derivative work, the Hitopadesa are often dismissed as stories for children. Though these fables are indeed vastly instructive, they also teach a way of thriving in the material world and a way of life itself; the Panchatantra is referred to as a niti-shastra. This paper attempts to contrast the Canterbury Tales with the Panchatantra and illustrate the manner in which the latter is a niti-shastra without being merely populated by abstruse, pithy phrases.
We know that in The Canterbury Tales, a group of about 30 pilgrims gather at the Tabard Inn in Southwark, across the Thames from London, and agree to engage in a storytelling contest as they travel on horseback to the shrine of Thomas à Becket in Canterbury, Kent, and back. Harry Bailly, host of the Tabard, serves as master of ceremonies for the contest. The pilgrims are introduced by vivid brief sketches in the General Prologue. Interspersed between the 24 tales told by the pilgrims are short dramatic scenes...