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Both Boccaccio's Decameron and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales are 14th-century collections of short tales set within a frame story involving a group of people taking turns to tell stories one at a time. The Decameron dates to the early 1350s, and the Canterbury Tales to the the end of the century, so if there is any connection between them, it is clear which way the inspiration goes.

Was Chaucer directly inspired by the Decameron? Either by reading the Decameron himself (Wikipedia claims that he "may have" read it, but with a "citation needed" note), or by meeting Boccaccio (who died in 1375, during Chaucer's adult years) - I don't count if they were both inspired by the same or similar earlier stories.

I realise this question may be impossible to answer definitively, but I'd be interested to see evidence one way or the other.

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The short answer is yes. I found two resources worth investigating if this interests you, but I really don't have the background or the time to pursue them much deeper at the moment:

First there is an essay titled "Chaucer's Italian Inheritance" from The Cambridge Companion to Chaucer.

Exact details have been obscured by the centuries, but it is clear Chaucer visited Italy and it is only natural for him to have become familiar with the intellectual movements there:

Growing up in a mercantile family close by the Thames, Chaucer early acquired a familiarity with Italian shipmen, traders, and financiers that was put to good use in later professional life; and through his actual visits to Italy, he gained sophisticated, first-hand knowledge of the social and political settings from which the writings of Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch had emerged.2

Later in the essay:

But it is Boccaccio’s example, it would seem, that finally encourages Chaucer to organize a travelling company of tellers under a single narrative structure; fully one-quarter of Chaucer’s tales find analogues in the Decameron.44

From the way these scholars discuss the issue (rather above my level, to be honest), the main points of evidence are:

  1. The great familiarity that Chaucer had with the Italian scene. If you claim Chaucer was ignorant of Boccacio in whole or in part, this fact must be explained as an exception to the general pattern.

  2. The poetic analogues. If it is really true that a quarter of the many tales in Canterbury have analogues in Decameron then surely 'coincidence' is not a satisfying explanation. The simplest assumption to make is that Chaucer had been exposed to Decameron

That '44' is a citation of a rare monograph on the topic: The Decameron and the Canterbury Tales: New Essays on an Old Question. Investigations of that book would surely be illuminating; there is perhaps no more appropriate text for your question. Good luck tracking it down, though! It's a real shame how many books are lost obscurity before the ink even dries...

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    Thanks! That's a great answer: a summary of the arguments used as evidence and links/sources for further reading.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Feb 2 at 5:58
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Comparing Teseida with The Knight’s tale seems to lead to this conclusion. There is also evidence that Chaucer has been in Rome prior to writing the tales, and so must have read those. See the following article (poorly sourced but highly relevant to your question): The Decameron and Canterbury Tales by Penny (Beyond the Yalla Dog, June 2011).

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    Thanks, but I was hoping for more detailed information than this. What aspects of Teseida and The Knight's Tale? What is the evidence that Chaucer was in Rome? Can you edit to include some of the info from that linked blog post (as such links may go dead any time)?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jan 2 at 10:02

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