The Canterbury Tales The Prologue
ThePrologue: Lines 1-42 • Lines 1-11: description of spring time • Lines 12-18: • 1) People tend to go on pilgrimages in the spring. • 2) In England, people especially like to journey to Canterbury to see St Thomas a Becket’s shrine. • They hope for his blessing (“To give his help to them when they were sick.”) • Lines 19-27: • At the Tabard Inn in Southwark as the narrator waits ready to go on pilgrimage, he meets 29 other pilgrims who also plan to travel to Canterbury.
ThePrologue: Lines 1-42 • Lines 29-34: • The narrator describes the hospitality at the inn and joins the group of 29 pilgrims. • They plan to begin their journey the next morning. • Lines 35-42: • Before the narrator continues his story, he describes the pilgrims. • Profession and degree – job and social class • Apparel – appearance and dress
The Knight: ll. 43-80 • Embodies the qualities of an ideal crusader • He is chivalrous, truthful, honorable, generous, and courteous. • He has fought nobly in many battles. • Alexandria, Prussia, Lithuania, Russia, Granada (Algeciras), North Africa (Benamarin), Anatolia, Ayas, Attalia, Mediterranean • Although esteemed highly by others, the knight remains humble (“modest as a maid”) and polite. • He is dressed simply although he does ride a “fine” horse. • He has on a “fustian tunic” (undergarment to his armor). • He has come home from battle (his tunic still has the smudges of his armor). • Motive: “to render thanks”
The Squire: ll. 81-102 • Squire: an apprentice learning to be a knight; son of the knight • “A lover” • The squires epitomizes a courtly lover. • He fights “to win his lady’s grace,” sings, plays instruments, writes songs and poems, dances, jousts, draws, etc. • “A cadet” • He has proven himself agile and strong. • He has fought in a few battles, performing valiantly in each. • He is 20, has curly hair, and dresses in fashionable, flashy clothing. • “Courteous he was, lowly and serviceable,/ And carved to serve his father at the table.” • He dutifully and humbly serves his father, the knight. • The action of serving his father at the table fits the squire’s lower social position. • Motive: to serve father
The Yeoman: ll. 103-121 • Yeoman: a free man, frequently a farmer or forester, in the service of a knight • He wears a green coat, hood, and belt and carries a bow and a sheath of peacock-feathered arrows, a sword and shield, a long dagger, a hunting horn, and a medal of St. Christopher (patron saint of travelers) • Many yeoman were experts in using the long bow. • He has tan features and brown hair. • Motive: serving the knight
The Nun (Prioress): ll. 122-166 • Prioress: a nun in charge of a convent • Nuns were specifically ordered not to leave their cloisters except in cases of most urgent necessity. They were forbidden to go on pilgrimages. • Chaucer names her: Madam Eglantyne • Her manners are dainty and careful to the extreme • Lines 131-140 • She imitates the nobility in her mannerisms and in her use of French. • She speaks inferior French (school of Stratford-at-Bowe) • “Straining / To counterfeit a courtly kind of grace”
The Nun (Prioress): ll. 122-166 • Chaucer illustrates the nun’s compassion by describing her compassion to animals (not people). • Chaucer ironically states, “She was all sentiment and tender heart” • Appearance: She is attractive, even though she has a large forehead, and wears a set of prayer beads and a golden broach engraved with the phrase “Love conquers all.” • There is a slight hint in the Prioress’ description that she is preoccupied with romantic love. • Motive: religiously insincere
The Second Nun and the Three Priests • They travel with the Nun, but Chaucer provides no description of them.
The Monk: ll. 169-211 • Monks traditionally gave up wealth and worldly pleasures for a cloistered, spiritual existence. • They took three vows: poverty, obedience, & celibacy • He is more worldly than religious (like the Nun) • He rejects the idea that a monk must pray and study in the cloister or perform manual labor. • He prefers hunting, having greyhounds and horses, and wearing fine clothes (fur-trimmed). • Appearance: fur-trimmed sleeves; gold pin (lover’s knot), bald, shiny head; larger’ glittering eyes • This monk lives more like a lord that a cleric.
The Monk: ll. 169-211 • Interesting Points • For monks, wearing furs was forbidden. • A loveknot was a knot tied from strands of gold or silver, signifying the attachment of two lovers. • A fat swan was one of the rarest and most expensive dishes of the day. • Hunting was very expensive and a pursuit of the upper-class. • Motive: religiously insincere
The Friar, Hubert: ll. 212-279 • A “begging” friar”: he derived his income from begging in the district allotted to him; friars were to devote their time to helping the poor • His behavior and attire indicate that he has been corrupted by worldly pleasures. • Lecherous(characterized by inordinate indulgence in sexual activity) • “He’d fix up many a marriage, giving each / Of his young women what he could afford her” • He made many marriages at his own cost - he found husbands for young women he had got pregnant. • Selfish • He only concerns himself with those who can benefit him. • St Francis (the first friar) ministered specifically to beggars and lepers; however, the friar finds it beneath himself to associate with these people.
The Friar, Hubert ll. 212-279 • Greedy • He gives easy penance for extra money. • “He was an easy man in penance giving / Where he could hope to make a decent living” • He made acquaintances with the wealthy. • “But anywhere a profit might accrue / Courteous he was and lowly of service too” • He sweet-talked money from the very poor. • “For though a widow mightn’t have a shoe/ So pleasant was his holy how-d’ye do/ He got his farthing from her just the same” • Appearance: He wears a double-worsted cape; speaks with a lisp • Motive: religiously insincere
The Merchant, the Serjeant at the Law, the Franklin, and the Five Guildsmen all share a devotion to material wealth, and the narrator praises them in terms of their possessions.
The Merchant: ll. 280-294 • He likes to talk about himself: his opinions, his “wealth,” the market • Although he offers his opinions and explains his activities, he has a secret; he is in debt. • His cleverness at hiding his debt is undermined by the fact the narrator knows about it. • He is dressed liked a prosperous man: a beaver hat, fine boots, multicolored clothing, forked beard. • He does not provide his name. • Motive:
The Oxford Cleric (Clerk): ll. 295-318 • Clerk: a member of the clergy or a student preparing for holy order • He is the ideal man of learning, someone who has devoted his time to scholarship, although the purpose of his study is unclear. • He prefers books to clothes and is just happy to learn and teach. • “A tone of moral virtue filled his speech/ And gladly would he learn, and gladly teach” • According to Chaucer, good, truly religious clerics are poor, and the bad ones live in luxury. • He seems oblivious to worldly concerns. • Appearance: very thin, wears a threadbare coat • Motive:
The Sergeant at the Law: ll. 319-340 • Sergeant at the Law = a lawyer • Chosen from respectable lawyers with at least 16 years experience • Served as judges of the King’s courts and presided over the meetings of the Justices of the Peace in the counties • This lawyer charges large fees for his services; he has considerable social status; and he has a vast knowledge of medieval law and cases. • “His fame and learning and his high position/ Had won him many a robe and many a fee” • “He knew of every judgment, case, and crime/ Ever recorded since King William’s time”
The Sergeant at the Law: ll. 319-340 • Unlike the cleric, the lawyer has used his studies for monetary gain. • However, although Chaucer is critical of displays of wealth by pilgrims of the religious order, he does not seem to be very critical of this lawyers’ wealth. • Appearance: he wears a multicolored coat and a silk, pin-striped belt • Motive:
The Franklin: ll. 341-370 • Franklin = a wealthy gentleman farmer who possessed land but was not of noble birth. • He travels with the Sergeant at the Law. • He lives for pleasure of food and drink. • “He was Epicurus’ very son” • “His house was never short of bake-meat pies,/Of fish and flesh, and theses in such supplies/ It positively snowed with meat and drink” • Chaucer’s description of the Franklin's table is lavish a poetic tribute to hospitality and luxury. • Appearance: white beard, ruddy complexion, a dagger and silk purse hang from his belt • His white silk purse is a sign of wealth because very few people would have owned such a possession.
The Haberdasher, the Dyer, the Carpenter, the Weaver, and the Carpet Maker – ll. 371-388 • These five guildsmen travel together. • They seem worthy men, successful members of their respective guilds, proud of their wealth, and all think they deserve honored positions. (Their wives are also believe their husbands should be aldermen, mainly so they can attain recognition.) • The narrator’s approval of their pride is satirical. • They have hired a cook to prepare their food during the trip (which shows their wealth and prosperity). • Appearance: they wear shiny clothes, and the uniform of their individual guilds • Motive:
The Cook: ll. 389-397 • The Cook has an open sore on his knee, suggesting that the cook’s hygiene might be less than perfect. • Juxtaposing the fact that the cook has a sore beside the praise for his cooking skills is one of Chaucer’s many techniques of humor. • Motive: works for the Guildsmen
The Skipper: ll. 398-420 • Chaucer seems to balance bad and good qualities in the Skipper’s description; however, overall he hints at the Skipper’s dishonesty and greed. • The Skipper’s theft of wine and brutality in battle are slipped in among descriptions of his professional skills and nautical achievements. • He has taken advantage of many wine traders by drinking from their wine cargos while they slept. • He has fought in battles, taken prisoners, and made many walk the plank. • He has traveled the world, knows the waterways of England and Spain, and has unparalleled knowledge of the tides, currents, and harbors. • Appearance: wool garment, a dagger hangs from a lanyard • Motive:
The Doctor: ll. 421-454 • He uses knowledge of astronomy and the four humors to guide his practice of healing. • To obtain medicines, he makes deals with apothecaries that increase both his profits and theirs. • Greedy • He and the apothecaries make each other money. • “Gold stimulates the heart, or so we’re told/ He therefore had a special love of gold” • Worldly • He is well-versed in the works of medical philosophers but not the Bible. • In Chaucer’s view, the doctor has abandoned religion for astronomy and philosophy. • His clothing marks him as a prosperous member of his profession: wears a blood-red garments lined with taffeta • Motive:
The Wife of Bath: ll. 455-486 • Wife: housewife; seamstress • She has had five husbands and has widely traveled. • She has taken 3 pilgrimages to Jerusalem and has traveled to Rome, Cologne, Boulogne, etc. • She likes to be the first to enter at mass and becomes angry if someone goes before her. • She is jolly and talkative and gives good love advice. • “In company she liked to laugh and chat/And knew the remedies for love’s mischances,/An art in which she knew the oldest dances.” • Appearance: handsome face, gap teeth, and wide hips; wears red hose, a large hat, and flowing coat • Motive:
The Parson: ll. 487-538 • He is a poor man; however, he is rich in “holy thought and work.” • Devout/Sincere: • “truly knew Christ’s gospel” • “Or run to London to earn easy bread/ By singing masses to the wealthy dead” – he didn’t go to London find an endowment but stays with his poor parishioners to teach and preach. • “Or find some Brotherhood and get enrolled” – he did not take a job as a paid chaplain to a guild • Honest: • “He hated cursing to extort a fee” – the practice of threatening people with excommunication and damnation unless they paid a fee • “He did not set his benefice to hire” – he did not hire someone else to perform his duties
The Parson: ll. 487-538 • Generous/Self-less: • “he preferred beyond a doubt/Giving to parishioners round about/Both from church offerings and his property/ He could in little find sufficiency.” • Even though his parish is large, he never fails to visit his parishioners come sunshine or rain. • He is even kind to sinners, preferring to teach them by example rather than scorn. • Leads by example: • “That first he wrought, and afterward he taught” • “If gold rust, what will iron do?” • Gold refers to the priest, and iron to the parishioners. • Humble: • “He sought no pomp or glory in his dealings” • In Chaucer’s view, the parson possesses true holiness (“holy and virtuous he was”). Motive: religiously sincere
The Plowman: ll. 539-555 • He is brother to the Parson. • He is hard-working, honest, devout, and generous. • Hard-working: “Steadily about his work he went” • Honest: “He was an honest worker, good and true” • Devout: “And, as the gospel bade him, so did he,/ Loving God best with all his heart and mind” • Generous: “he would help the poor/ For love of Christ and never take a penny/ If he could help it” • Motive: religiously sincere
The Miller: ll. 561-584 • He is an uncouth man who brags he can tear a door off its hinges and enjoys telling dirty stories • “tavern stories, filthy in the main” • He is dishonest. • “thumb of gold” – He presses down on the scale and charges his customers three times the amount they should pay. • Appearance: 224 lb, red beard, wart with a tuft of hair on the end of his nose, carried a sword and buckler, wore a white coat and a blue hood, carries and plays the bagpipes • Motive:
The Manciple: ll. 585-604 • Manciple: a buyer of provisions (a manager) • This Manciple manages the Inner Temple • He would stock an Inn of Court (school of law) with provisions. • Even though he is uneducated, he is smarter than most of the lawyers he serves. • He is capable of shady dealings and clever at cheating his masters. • “That an illiterate fellow can outpace/ The wisdom of a heap of learned men?” • “And yet this Manciple could wipe their eye.” • Motive:
TheReeve: ll. 605-640 • Reeve: official on a manor, someone who interceded between the lord and the serfs. • He is ill-tempered and feared by the serfs. • “Feared like the plague he was, by those beneath” • He bargains well for his lord, keeps accurate records, is a skilled carpenter, and manages crops and animals well. • He manages his lord's estate so well that he is able to hoard his own money and property in a miserly fashion. • “A better hand at bargains than his lord,/He had grown rich and had a store of treasure/ Well tucked away, yet out it came to pleasure/ His lord with subtle loans or gifts of goods.” • Chaucer does imply the Reeve’s dishonesty. • Appearance: old, thin, short hair, wears a long, blue overcoat, carries a rusty blade
The Summoner: ll. 641-688 • Summoner: the church official responsible for calling people to appear before an church court to face charges of misdeeds, such as failing to pay church dues or committing adultery. • He is immoral. • He uses his power corruptly for his own gain. • He knows the people’s secrets and, for a price, keeps them from the archdeacon. • He is extremely lecherous, and uses his position to dominate the young women in his jurisdiction. • In exchange for a quart of wine, he would let another man sleep with his girlfriend for a year and then pardon the man completely.
The Summoner: ll. 641-688 • Misc: he frightens children, loves eating garlic, onions and leeks, and speaks Latin when he is drunk (although he only seems to know one phrase) • Appearance: repulsive – face is covered with carbuncles (pus-filled skin inflammations), he has scabby, black eyebrows, and a thin beard, and wears a garland, and carries a cake • Motive: religiously insincere
The Pardoner: ll. 689-734 • Pardoner: a pardoner had authority from the pope to sell indulgences – to provide forgiveness from sins or to extend the time before a guilty person had to atone for his or her sin before being punished. • Dishonest and greedy • He has a bag of fake relics (small objects serving as tokens of early Christianity) he sells at high prices. • He is a good preacher, storyteller and singer, but only in order to get money from congregations. • “And (well he could) win silver from the crowd./That’s why he sang so merrily and loud.” • Appearance: yellow, waxy hair; bulging eyes; wears no hood; voice sounds like a goat; no beard • Chaucer leaves the Pardoner’s sexuality ambiguous (“I judge he was a gelding or a mare”) • Motive: religiously insincere
Lines 735-766 • Lines 740-744: • The narrator states that he will describe what happened that night at The Tabard and then will describe their journey. • Lines 745-766: • The narrator asks forgiveness for any offensive language or content he presents in his tale. • His reason? • He is simply recording what each pilgrim said. • “For certainly, as you all know so well,/ He who repeats a tale after a man/ Is bound to say, as nearly as he can,/ Each single word, if he remembers it,/ However rudely spoken or unfit.” • Line 766: • Chaucer provides mock humility. • “I’m short of wit as you will understand”
Lines 767-841 • Lines 767-841 • Chaucer describes the host of the Tabard Inn. • The host welcomes the pilgrims, serves them good food and wine, suggests the contest of telling stories (2 stories there & 2 stories back), promises a free supper for the teller of the best tale, and agrees to judge the stories and guide the group. • The pilgrims agree to the Host’s proposal and then retire to bed. • Line 815-818: • Morality and pleasure = the characteristics of the best tale • Morality – the story teaches a moral lesson • Pleasure – the story entertains (delights)
Lines 842 - 856 • The host wakes them in the morning, and the pilgrims begin their journey. • The host reminds them of their arrangement,and they draws straws to determine who will tell the first story.
The Canterbury Tales The Pardoner’s Tale
The Pardoner’s Tale: The Prologue • Although the Pardoner preaches against greed (avarice), he earns his living through this very trait. • “I preach for nothing but for greed of gain” • Even though he is highly guilty of greed, he can win others from this fault through his smooth preaching. • As long as he gets money from people, he doesn’t care who the money comes from (“the poorest lad / Or poorest village widow”).
The Pardoner’s Tale: The Tale • After a Prologue in which he brazenly brags about his own avarice, the unscrupulous Pardoner tells his tale. • As three young men sit in a tavern, a coffin passes, bearing the body of a man who they learn has been murdered by a thief called “Death.” The three decide to find Death and kill him. Shortly after they set out, they encounter an old man who tells them that Death awaits under a nearby tree. There they find instead a stash of gold coins, which they decide to steal.
The Pardoner’s Tale: The Tale • While the youngest goes to town for supplies, including wine, the other two decide to kill the third on his return. But, in town, the youngest poisons the wine. When he returns, he is killed, but when his attackers drink the wine, they die, too.
The Canterbury Tales The Wife of Bath’s Tale
The Wife of Bath’s Tale • The Wife of Bath’s Tale is a vigorous defense of women that challenges the medieval view that Eve was responsible for the Fall of man. • The Wife of Bath tells the story of a “lusty” knight sentenced to death for rape. The queen, however, promises to spare his life if he can discover in a year and a day what women most desire. The knight receives many opinions on this issue. Finally, an ugly old woman promises that she will solve the riddle but only if the Knight will grant the first request she makes of him.
The Wife of Bath’s Tale • When he agrees, she explains that women want power over men. All agree that the answer is correct, but, ironically, the knight is still not free because the old woman requires the knight to marry her. Although he complains bitterly of her age, ugliness, and lack of money and noble birth, he does marry her. The old woman lectures him on what makes a good wife and offers him a choice between a beautiful, fickle wife or an ugly, faithful one. Understanding at last her need for power, he allows her to make the choice. She then rewards him by becoming young, beautiful and faithful.
The Wife of Bath’s Tale • Her message is that, ugly or beautiful, women should be obeyed in all things by their husbands. • After a knight rapes a woman, King Arthur hands him over to the queen, who decides to send the knight on an educational quest. His education comes through women, and the queen’s challenge puts him in a situation where what is traditionally thought of as a shortcoming—a woman’s inability to keep a secret—is the only thing that can save him.