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The Canterbury Tales. The Tales. Written by Geoffrey Chaucer, who served in various court positions throughout his life Follows the format of The Decameron by Boccacio Incorporates characters from most social classes, mixing together Excludes the very poor and the serfs

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the tales
The Tales
  • Written by Geoffrey Chaucer, who served in various court positions throughout his life
  • Follows the format of The Decameron by Boccacio
  • Incorporates characters from most social classes, mixing together
  • Excludes the very poor and the serfs
  • Written in vernacular: Middle English
  • First artistic literary work to do this
the general prologue
The General Prologue
  • Opens with a description of the effects Spring has on the world and on people
  • The story occurs at the Tabard Inn, just south of London
  • The poet falls in with a group of 29 travelers on pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral, to the shrine of St. Thomas á Becket
  • A list and description of the pilgrims is given
the general prologue4
The General Prologue
  • Knight: highest social standing, Crusader, in armor
  • Squire: his son, wants to impress ladies, very fashionable
  • Yeoman: works for knight, heavily armed
  • Prioress: Eglantine (wild rose), fashionable convent, highly refined, knows she’s pretty
  • Nun: companion to Prioress
  • Priest: chaplain to Prioress
  • Monk: finds excuses to leave monastery, loves good food, wine, and horses, very worldly
  • Friar: lives by begging, panders to the rich, gives light penance for money
the general prologue5
The General Prologue
  • Merchant: likes to talk about his prosperity, worried about profits and pirates
  • Clerk: religious scholar, totally unworldly, devoted to God and learning
  • Sergeant of the Law: high-ranking lawyer, “seemed busier than he was”
  • Franklin: wealthy country gentleman, likes to share good food and wine with others
  • Shipman: ship’s captain, sometimes pirate, doesn’t take prisoners in a fight
the general prologue6
The General Prologue
  • Tradesmen (Haberdasher, Carpenter, Webber, Dyer, Tapiser): members of a prosperous trade guild, traveling together
  • Cook: hired by Tradesmen
  • Doctor: good at his job, makes a good living
  • Wife: from city of Bath, widowed 5 times
  • Parson: poor rural clergy, perfect in his morality
  • Plowman: brother of Parson, also very good
  • Miller: dishonest in his weights, likes to break down doors and tell dirty stories
the general prologue7
The General Prologue
  • Manciple: buys provisions for a group of lawyers in London but cheats them
  • Reeve: manages a country estate dishonestly, ill- tempered
  • Summoner: an official of church courts, calls people to answer charges, takes bribes
  • Pardoner: even more corrupt than Summoner
  • The Poet: recounts the whole affair
  • The Host: Harry Bailley, suggests the contest
the general prologue8
The General Prologue
  • Each traveler will tell two stories on the way to Canterbury and two stories on the way home
  • The host will judge the best story
  • The winner will be treated to dinner at the Tabard by the other travelers upon returning from the pilgrimage
  • They all agree and set out the next morning
the pardoner
The Pardoner
  • A pardoner is someone who sells religious pardons or relics
  • It’s a church practice based on the idea of penance: you repent of your sins and then atone for them by doing acts of charity or by giving to the Church
  • This idea became distorted: you could skip the repentance and the penance by just giving money
  • This practice will become a major focus of the Protestant Reformation
the pardoner10
The Pardoner
  • He manipulates gullible people by taking advantage of their religious beliefs, superstitions, and sense of guilt
  • He admits to “stir[ring] the people unto devotion” so that they will give him money
  • The relics he sells are fakes but the people believe them to be real
the pardoner11
The Pardoner
  • Repulsive physical description
  • He has thin, scraggly hair, but is vain
  • He has no beard and a high voice, suggesting that he’s not manly (“a gelding or a mare”)
  • Travels with the Summoner who is his singing partner
  • The General Prologue suggests that they might be lovers
the pardoner s tale
The Pardoner’s Tale
  • basically a sermon, aimed at educating his listeners about the sin of greed
  • Exemplum: a story told within a sermon to illustrate a point
  • Pardoners were well-known for using lewd exempla in their sermons
  • At the end of the tale, he goes into a sales pitch for his relics
the wife of bath
The Wife of Bath

Alison, a widow from the city of Bath

Everything about her is larger than life:

  • Her body and her clothes
  • Her mouth (figuratively and literally)
  • Her number of marriages and her zeal for sex

(five dead husbands, looking for #6)

  • Her love of power in relationships
the wife of bath14
The Wife of Bath
  • One of three women on the pilgrimage, and the only one who hasn’t taken religious orders
  • The Prologue is about her own story, especially her marriages
  • She firmly believes that male/female relationships should be controlled by the woman and everybody would be happy
the wife of bath15
The Wife of Bath
  • She begins by defending the idea of multiple marriages, saying that holy men in the Bible had more than one wife and God doesn’t require chastity
  • Marriage isn’t for everyone but it is for her
  • Her first three husbands were elderly, rich, and easy for her to manipulate
  • She nagged, complained, accused them of imaginary crimes, used sex as a weapon
the wife of bath16
The Wife of Bath
  • Fourth husband cheated but she got revenge by cheating on him too
  • She married her fifth husband for love
  • He controlled her and was abusive
  • She always has the next husband lined up before the death of the previous
  • Her tale reinforces her idea of female dominance
the nun s priest
The Nun’s Priest
  • There is no introduction or physical description of him in the General Prologue
  • We just know that he is a chaplain to the Prioress
  • He seems to be meek and humble, dressed modestly and riding an old nag
  • Narrator seems to be neutral in his opinion of this priest
  • He is asked to tell a happy story to make the company merry again
the nun s priest s tale
The Nun’s Priest’s Tale
  • Animal/beast tale: a fictional oral narrative in which animals perform the principal plot actions.
  • Involve two main characters and one main plot: One deceives or tricks the other and then there’s a sudden ending.
  • Main conflicting ideas:

Weakness of body combined with cunning vs. physical strength combined with stupidity

Wild animals vs. domesticated animals

  • Not a fable, because there isn’t a clear moral