The Canterbury Tales The Knight, The Squire, & The Yeoman
The Knight • The Knight is usually considered to be an experienced and distinguished professional man-of-arms, motivated by religious ideals. • Many see him as the pattern of perfection “against which all the other pilgrims may be measured.” • Chivalry: Truth, honor, generousness, and courtesy.
The Knight • The Holy Wars • The Knight fought in wars that spanned 40 years and fell into three categories: • Against the Moors in Spain & North Africa • Against the Arabs and Turks in Egypt, Turkey, and Armenia • Against the Tatars and other peoples along the Russian border. • All the wars Chaucer mentions were considered holy wars rather than political ones. • They were fought in defense of Christianity against non-Christians, whom the Church called infidels or heathens. • The Knight is presented as a spiritual man rather than simply a brave warrior.
The Knight • What qualities does the Knight possess that are different from those you might expect to find in a veteran soldier? • He is modest, considerate, and well-mannered. • He embodies the ideal of chivalry rather than our image of a tough, battle-hardened soldier.
The Knight • When the narrator presents details about the Knight’s equipment and clothing, rather than directly stating his qualities (as in lines 69-74), he is using indirect characterization. • What do these details reveal about the Knight’s character? • His course, worn, stained clothing suggests a plain, modest man who cares little about impressing others.
The Squire • How does the portrayal of the Squire differ from that of the Knight? • The Squire is basically an admirable and appealing character who embodies chivalrous ideals. • Yet the narrator seems to be poking fun at his youthful vanity and exuberance – his flashy clothes, stylish hair, and excesses of love. • The Squire clearly is not the model of perfection that his father, the Knight represents.
The Squire • Generally considered an attractive figure, and some critics, noting that Chaucer himself had been a squire & that the Squire is the only pilgrim said to write poetry, have suggested autobiographical overtones. • The Squire’s youthful, romantic enthusiasms, many critics have believed, will later develop into his father’s sober virtues.
The Yeoman • Yeomen were originally knight’s servants (though they later became landowners and occupied a class just below gentry). • The Yeoman is traveling with the Knight and the Squire. • How does the narrator portray his character? • He is portrayed as neat and orderly, careful with his weapons and equipment, and knowledgeable and skillful in his work as a woodsman.
The Nun • A nun is a woman who lives in a convent and takes a vow of poverty, obedience, and chastity (she is married to Christ). • As mother superior of a convent, a prioress is under oath not to leave her charges. • Notice whether the Prioress’s attitude and behavior are appropriate for a nun!
The Nun • It is ironic that the Prioress swears by Saint Loy – a saint known for his refusal to swear. • Her name, Eglantyne, is also ironic because it is the name of several romantic heroines in literature and thus not appropriate for a nun. • Notice the other ways Chaucer represents the Prioress as a romantic rather than a religious figure!
The Nun • What details in the description of the Prioress thus far suggest that the narrator thinks she is putting on airs – that is, trying to appear more refined and “high class” than she really is? • Though she speaks French, her French is not the real thing (as spoken in Paris). • Her table manners are “well taught,” but seem overly studied. • She is “straining to counterfeit a courtly kind of grace.”
The Nun • Nuns were not supposed to keep pets, because the money required for their care was meant for the poor. • What does this detail about her dogs suggest about the Prioress? • She is concerned more with worldly luxuries than with the poor.
The Nun • In Chaucer’s time physical characteristics were thought to reveal a person’s inner nature. • In this description of the Prioress one such revealing detail is her high forehead, considered a sign of intelligence and good breeding. However, a nine-inch brow would be most unusual! • Why do you think Chaucer exaggerates this feature? • Why might the narrator use understatement to describe her figure?
The Nun • Many critics have noted that the inscription on the Prioress’s brooch, meaning “Love Conquers All,” can be interpreted in either a secular or a religious way. • What can we infer about the Prioress from this key detail? • She may be devoted to either the divine ideal of God’s love or to the secular ideal of romantic love.
The Monk • How do the details in this portrait of the Monk imply that he is not serious about his vocation? • He ignores Saint Benedict’s Rule. • He doesn’t think a monk needs to study, do manual labor, or stay in his cloister. • He indulges in luxuries: He rides fine horses, races greyhounds, hunts, wears fancy clothes and jewelry, and eats delicacies.
The Monk • In the Middle Ages, fatness was a sign of wealth, because people didn’t always have enough to eat. • Why is it ironic that the Monk is fat? • A monk has taken a vow of poverty and should not be so well-fed.
The Monk • In what ways does the description of the Monk remind you of the Prioress? • They are both worldly, enjoying fine food, clothing, and other luxuries. • Chaucer hints that both have been tempted by love (her gold brooch, his gold pin like a lover’s knot).
The Friar • One of a friar’s main duties was to hear people’s confessions and absolve, or forgive, their sins after imposing a penance, or penalty – usually prayers or good works to be performed. • The Friar offers “pleasant absolution” (l. 226), or light penance, in exchange for money. What does this reveal about his character? • He is greedy and corrupt.
The Friar • In Chaucer’s day, people believed that certain physical characteristics revealed a person’s true nature. • What character trait do you think a lily-white neck might reveal? • A taste for luxury and easy living.
The Friar • The Fransciscan order of friars was founded by Saint Francis for the express purpose of ministering to the poorest and least fortunate – the very people the Friar considers beneath his notice.
The Friar • What details in these lines show the Friar’s love of luxury? • How does this Friar compare with your expectations of a religious figure? • He is greedy and corrupt. • He begs money from poor widows and settles disputes for a fee (though friars were forbidden to do so). • He dresses in expensive clothing despite his vow of poverty.
Activity #1 • Do some online research with your groups to find out what medieval nuns, monks, and friars looked like. • Make a list of the characteristics you see from these illustrations. • In your groups, designate members to draw the Nun, the Monk, and the Friar based on Chaucer’s descriptions. • Groups should also write a short paragraph that compares the medieval religious figures you found when doing Internet research & Chaucer’s versions.