Chaucer’s People: Everyday Lives in Medieval England, Liza Picard
Chaucer’s People is pretty much what it says on the tin: a history of the lives of an assortment of everyday people through the frame of The Canterbury Tales. She discusses the various pilgrims and what they did for a living, what they ate, where they lived, the clothes they would have worn, etc. She digs into some of the details Chaucer gives us about them, and draws out what they mean.
One thing I have to note is that it rarely touches on the lives of everyday people, the people who couldn’t afford to go on a pilgrimage. The title is a bit of a contradiction because people who could go on pilgrimage weren’t everyday people! So it’s not as complete as it might sound.
In any case, I’d bet it’s a really good companion to reading The Canterbury Tales — I was somewhat hampered at times by the fact that I last read it when I was an English lit student, a good ten years ago. Because it wasn’t fresh in my mind, sometimes I didn’t have quite enough context, which is reflected in how much I enjoyed reading it.
That said, there’s a lot of detail that doesn’t require you to know or remember anything about The Canterbury Tales.