Geoffrey Chaucer is the last of the medieval and the first of the modern writers. As French has said, "In his poetry, we find the essential spirit both of the age that was passing and of the age that was to come."
The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales is a picture gallery of all classes of his contemporaries. Except for royalty and aristocracy on the one hand and tramps and beggers on the other, two extremes which could not be expected to meet in one company, he has painted in brief practically the whole English nation as it was in the 14th century. No class is left out.
1. The fighting class is represented by the Knight, Squire, and the Yeoman.
2. The liberal professions are represented by the Doctor, The Man at Law, The Clerk, and Chaucer himself.
3. The Plough-man, the Miller, the Reeve, and the Franklin represents the landed interest.
4. The Merchant and the Ship-man are the traders.
5. The Crafts are represented by the Wife of the bath, the Harber Dasher, the Carpenters, the Weaver, the dyer, and taper.
Chaucer embodies the spirit of his age in his works but we should not expect to find in him an echo of all the political, social, and religious events. The earlier part of his age saw the great Victories of Crecy and Poitiers.
The framework of Canterbury Tales is typical of his age. Companies of pilgrims going to some shrine were a common sight in those days. Generally, the pilgrims were not in a religious mood. Chaucer's pilgrims are ordinary men and women. They are not worried about the reigning monarch or his court's favorite or the court intrigues.
The age of Chaucer was also remarkable for the rise of the middle classes. The common people in the cities were becoming rich and powerful. Many of them were becoming Knights of their shires. Chaucer's pilgrims all belong to the middle class.