Chaucer's Canterbury Tales
General Prologue, lines 1-42, 79-100, 165-310, 333-362, 671-858
1-18 Notice the construction of the first
Whan... (1), Whan... (5), Thanne... (12).
all the words that derive from French:
veine, licour, vertu engendred, inspired,
melodye, Nature, corages, pilgrimages,
I'll discuss this passage in
What is a pilgrimage? Who was Thomas a Becket?
when did he live? under what king and queen? (Try a
What is a saint? Why do people
saints' bones? Having some idea of the
the journey will give you a point of view on
19-34 The narrator (persona, speaking voice--not to
confused with Chaucer the poet) meets the
pilgrims, a very diverse bunch of people, at
Inn by chance (25).
Look at the map of London (xeroxed on
the back of your map of England).
Southwark was a town (now part of London)
on the south bank of the Thames. The Tabard
was located near the (much later) Globe
the end of London Bridge (same as the one in
Now look at the other side of the map and
locate London and Canterbury. It
obviously makes sense to set out on the
from a place outside the city on the
side of London. There really was a Tabard
apparently a very comfortable place to stay
The narrator is obviously a very social
person (30-32)--a good trait in someone who
telling you stories about people.
to leave early the next morning (33-34).
35-42 The narrator interrupts his account to
cast of characters (and they are
their position in life (38), who they were,
what their status was (40), and how they were
dressed and equipped, horsed, etc. (41).
79-100 "Lusty" means "loving life" rather than (our more narrow meaning)
"loving sex." He has the body of an athlete and the energy and enthusiasm
to match. Look at his list of (courtly) accomplishments in lines 94-100.
(By the way, nightingales are said to sing all night.)
165-172 If you don't know what a monk is, look it up. Does this monk
accord with your idea of what a monk ought to be? A number of details in
his portrait point to his love, not just of hunting and horseflesh, but of
the ladies as well. Some readers have so interpreted his "stable" of fine
horses. What other details might point in this direction?
173-188 The narrator seems to think it is a fine thing for monks to ride
around the countryside instead of staying inside their cloisters
(monasteries) and leading lives of obdience and prayer. What do you
189-207 Monks take a vow of poverty as well. How well does the monk honor
this particular vow? (Swan was considered a delicacy in the Middle Ages.)
208-32 What is a friar? How do friars differ from monks?
How is this Friar different from the Monk?
you make of ll. 212-13?
Franklins (216) were
for their conspicuous middle-class attitudes
towards wealth and therefore, often, their
hospitality (see the Franklin, 341-48).
were notorious for absolving people from sins
fat fees) by giving easier penances than the
parish priest would (221-32); by so doing
income away from the local priests and led
people (according to many people) to
(we'll talk about this in class).
233-71 Why would he have little gifts to give wives
(233-34)? Does the description that follows
more of a holy man or of, for instance, the
(esp. 236-38, 250)?
Do you agree with the
narrator's statement in 243-48? Why is he
beggar in his house of friars (252)? What
you say the Friar loves most?
270-84 Would you say the Merchant's business is
Could you read line 280 in two different
does Chaucer have his narrator tell us that
not know the Merchant's name?
287-308 The word "clerk" is related to "clergy";
remember that the primary places of learning
church related (i.e., monasteries), and
how the word evolved.
Our Clerk is the ideal
student-scholar. In what way is he like
Note the description of his moral
671 Remember that "gentil" always means "noble" (not likely to be
true in this case). Just as the Knight and the Wyf of Bath have been
everywhere and done everything, so the Pardoner has been all the way to
Rome (believe it or not) to fetch his pardons.
675-83 Flax has approximately the texture of a horse's tail. Have you
ever seen uncolored wax? It is barely yellow. Sounds pretty greasy to
me, but he's obviously very proud of its appearance, since he wants to
show it off. Going bareheaded in public was considered somewhat
688-91 There has been (and still is) endless discussion of the
Pardoner's sexual condition and preferences. Is he gay? a eunuch? (if
so, from birth? or by surgical means?) or just a bit unappetizing
physically? Of course, one important question is, does it matter? That
is, does it matter for the purposes of understanding the character and
Goats are traditional symbols of lust.
It is a bit difficult to see how he could be a "mare" (unless he is a
woman cross dressed as a man).
694-705 Look up "relic" if you don't know what it means. If you don't
get a clear picture, ask in class.
710 The Pardoner is obsessed with filthy lucre.
The Pardoner is also a very talented man, something that doesn't come
through well in his portrait (except for his singing ability). It is
important to put together the portrait and the tale in order to begin to
make sense of the Pardoner--a very complex man.
715-46 Now the narrator picks up the thread of his
except that he interrupts himself again to
the reader/listener (7257-7424). Why?
Vilainye (726): the behavior of a villein or
low-class person; un-courteous or un-court-ly
Look up decorum (literary and non-literary
What do you think of the excuses
narrator makes for his low, sometimes rude
in what follows? What do you think of his
the examples of Christ (739-40) and Plato
his excuse that he is not too smart (746)?
747-87 What do you think of the Host? Do you think
the appropriate leader and guide for a
Would you like to meet him? What do you
his desire for mirthe?
Do you agree with his
statement in 773-74? Would you go along with
787-809 The Host proposes 4 tales per pilgrim
(792-94), only a fraction of the number that were
written (no pilgrim has more than one tale).
have speculated on why the Tales are not
did Chaucer die? get bored? change his mind?
get busy with other things? We simply don't
Note the terms sentence and solas (teaching
pleasure), an ancient pair of requirements
kind of literature (798). We'll talk about
What is the bargain the Host proposes?
810-end What does the Host threaten in 833-34?
pilgrims draw straws; why? Does this seem an
appropriate way to begin a pilgrimage?
is the person of highest social status on the
pilgrimage; do you think it is simply chance
that he draws the short straw?
What is the
of the General Prologue?
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