The Canterbury Tales: First Modern English Poem

Important Points , Pdf and Notes on Canterbury Tales.

The Canterbury Tales (c. 1487)

Based on Boccaccio’s Decameron

General Prologue—Portrait gallery of 14th c. England

29 pilgrims meet at Tabard Inn, Southwark (31 incl. poet & Harry Bailey)

Pen-pictures of 21 pilgrims
23 pilgrims tell stories
24 stories
Chaucer tells two
Tale of Sir Thopas and Tale of Melibeus (prose)

Begins with Knight’s Tale, ends with Parson’s (prose treatise).
The Canterbury Tales ends with a “Retraction”, Chaucer’s apology for the vulgar and unworthy parts of this book, as well as previous works.

Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendered is the flour;

Thanne longen folk to goon pilgrimages

And specially from every shires ende
OF Engelond to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blissful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen whan that they they were seek”

Canterbury Tales Prologue

The General Prologue: The Beginning
When the sweet showers of April have pierced the dry soil of March down to the roots, and bathed every vein in moisture so that from its vital power the flowers are born,When the West wind has also breathed upon the tender shoots in every glade and field with its sweet breath or the spring sun has completed half of its course through the sign of the Rain and little birds that sleep all night with eyes open (for the dawn) make their music because their hearts are so thrilled by nature, then People become anxious to go on pilgrimage, and palmers to seek strange shores (visiting the shrines) of distant saints famous in many lands and above all from the ends of every county in England, they proceed to Canterbury to seek the holy blessed martyr (St. Thomas) who has helped them when they were sick.

One day in that season, as I stayed at the Tabard Inn in Southwark ready to go with devout heart on my pilgrimage to Canterbury, there happened to come to the inn in the evening as many as twenty nine in a party, a mixed company whom chance had brought together and they were all pilgrims who planned to ride to Canterbury.
Rooms and stable were ample and we were entertained comfortably in the best manner. And to be brief, by sunset I had spoken with everyone of them so that from thereon I became one of their party and we agreed to rise early to start our journey to Canterbury, as I describe it to you. But nevertheless, while I still have the time and space (and) before I continue this tale, I think it is reasonable to tell you all of the condition of each of them as it appeared to me and who they were and of what station and also the manner in which they were dressed; and I will begin with a Knight.
The following pictures of the characters in The Canterbury Tales are some of the reproductions of the woodcuts of the Ellesmere portraits made by W.D. Hooper and published in the Sixth Edition of The Canterbury Tales, ed.

The Knight
Member of the Household Group
Along with his son Squire and Yeoman; the first to arrive Tabard Inn, after Chaucer.
Epitome of chivalry
He was a verray parfit gentil knight”
Represents ideals of truth, honour, generosity, courtesy, modesty and gentleness; prudent.
Hero of over 15 religious battles (Crusades).
Has come on the pilgrimage in his armour, the rust and oil of which has stained his clothes.
Widely travelled and prudent.


Knight’s Tale
The first tale in The Canterbury Tales
The Knight tells the first tale because he drew the shortest straw, and because he is the most important character.
The story of two Greek noblemen, Palamon and Arcite, who are cousins and duel with each other for the love of Emelye .
Arcite wins, but is thrown off a horse and dies; Palamon wins Emelye.
Story taken from Boccaccio’s Teseida
Story retold by Shakespeare in Two Noble Kinsmen.


The Squire
Son of the Knight
Medium height, curly hair
Was “as fresh as the month of May”
“a lover. . . and lusty bachelor”
“slept no more than doth a nightingale”
Healthy and powerful – indication of lustfulness.
Fashionably dressed in a short gown with long sleeves.
Has fought battles like his father, but were for winning his lady loves.
Humble and modest (chivalric).
Spends leisure in singing, dancing and playing flute.
Loves jousting.
Tells an Oriental Tale of a falcon: talking to Canace about her husband’s adultery .

The Prioress
Name was Eglantyne (meaning sweet briar).
Beautiful, lady-like and romantic, pleasant and amiable.
Her French was after the fashionable school of Stratford.
Had fine table manners.
Never let a morsel fall from her lips.
Never dipped her finger too deep in the sauce.
Wiped her mouth clean and there was no grease on her cup.
Secretly amorous.
Revealed her fine forehead.
Wore a coral rosary with green beads and a brooch on which was the letter “A” (“Amor vincit omnia” or “Love conquers all”.
Had with her a few small dogs, whom she loved more than human beings.
Fed her dogs roast meat or milk white bread which was a rarity at that time
Pretentiously tender-hearted.
Would weep at the sight of a dead mouse.
If any one beat her dogs or one of them dies, she cries bitterly, but didn’t care much for the suffering of human beings.
Sang her service divine in a fashionable nasal tone. Swore fashionably by the oath of St. Loy
Accompanied by three priests and a nun.

Ful weel she soong the service dyvyne
Entuned in hir nose ful seemly,
And Frenssh she spak ful faire and fetisly,
After the scole of Stratford atte Bowe,
For Frenssh of Parys was to hir unknowe.

Canterbury Tales

Love will not be constrain’d by mastery.
When mast’ry comes, the god of love anon
Beateth his wings, and, farewell, he is gone.
Love is a thing as any spirit free.
Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales

Geoffrey Chaucer

The Monk
A manly man, to be an abbot able”
Shiny bald head and face, as if anointed with oil Compared to the Prioress in religious affectation.
His sleeves were fringed with expensive fur and his cloak was pinned with a gold brooch.
His eyes were bright and rolled in his head, which shone like a furnace.

He yaf nat of that text a pulled hen,
That seith that hunters ben nat hooly men,
Ne that a monk, whan he is recchelees,
Is likned to a fissh that is waterlees––
This is to seyn, a monk out of his cloystre.
But thilke text heeld he nat worth an oyster.

Canterbury Tales Quotes

Scorner of books.
Did not follow the dull routine of prayer, study and fasting.
Did not believe the saying that a monk out of his cloister is like a fish out of water.
Disregarded the strict rules of St Maurice and St Benedict.
Said, “Let Austin (Augustine) have his labour to him reserved
Loved hunting, full-blooded horses, good food (especially roasted swan) and fine clothes.
His grey hounds were as swift as birds.
His complexion was not pale but ruddy.


The Friar
Wanton and merry.
Belonged to the mendicant order.
Supposed to live a poor life by begging
But is more interested in love affairs of young people: “married many a woman at his own cost”.
His bag is full of pins and knives which he gave to young wives to win their favour .
Knew barmaids and tavern owners more than beggars and lepers.
Good singer; plays the fiddle.
Good at soliciting donations; takes bribes.
His neck was as white as a lily. although he had an athletic body
This might indicate his immorality or cowardliness.
Lisps in an affected manner so that his English might sound sweet.
Hubert was his name.

The Pardoner
Chaucer’s masterpiece in character drawing. Implies a whole world of moral hypocrisy.
Good story-teller; sing hymns beautifully.
Has long, greasy, yellow hair and is beardless; probably homosexual.
Wallet full of fake pardons “come from Rome all hot”
In the medieval times, pardons or indulgences were issued from the Catholic Church, which sinners bought from the corrupt clergy.
Collection of relics.
He admits to the pilgrims that they are fake; that he will claim a sheep bone to have miraculous healing powers
Had a pillow-case which he asserts is “Our Lady’s Veil”.

The Summoner
Pardoner’s companion
Lecherous, dishonest and “hot and wanton as a sparrow”.
Children are afraid of his fiery-red face full of pimples.
Had scaly eyebrows.
Loves garlic, onion, leeks & blood-red wine; drinks to excess.
Spouts the few Latin phrases he knows
Took bribes; was disdainful of the teachings of the church.
Had control over the young people of his diocese.

The Parson
Ideal parish priest.
Thought only holy thoughts and did only good deeds.
Pious and devoted to his duty.
Was very gentle, diligent, and always patient in the face of adversity.
Did not look down on the parishioners for not donating money; gave them the little he had Preached only what he practised .
Never left the parish to make money in London.
Was a simple shepherd who wanted to save the souls of his sheep .
Always asked himself “if gold rusts, what would iron do?”


The Clerk of Oxford
A neutral portrayal
Devoted to the study of philosophy (logic).
He, as well as his horse, is lean as a pole.
Was poor and wore threadbare clothes
Rather than have a job and own worldly possessions, he would own 20 books.
Whatever money his friends gave him is spent on books.Was eager to learn and to teach.
Prayed for the souls of those who helped him study.
Was polite, and spoke only when necessary.
His speeches were short and often about morality.
The Clerk’s Tale was a reply to the wife of Bath’s Tale, and is about the patient wife Griselda.

The Merchant
Wealthy business man.
Had a forked beard.
Wore rich and multicolored clothes, and hat from Holland.
Made sure everyone knew how wealthy and successful he is.
Carried himself so well that no one realized he was heavily in debt.
Newly and unhappily married.
The narrator regrets that he doesn’t know his name.
The Man of Law (The Sergeant of Law)
Wise and slightly suspicious of everything.
Spoke well.
Had vast knowledge of law.
Knows every statute of law by heart
Can cite cases as far back as William the Conqueror’s time.
Often appointed by the king as a judge in the court of assizes.
Wealthy land-buyer; social climber
Seemed busier than he really is
Wore a multicolored coat that was tied together with a silk belt and some small pins.


The Franklin
Man of Law’s companion
Wealthy gentleman farmer of sanguine temperament (sociable and pleasure seeking).
His beard was as white as a daisy
Liked to have wine, with pieces of bread or cake dipped into it, in the morning. Because he loves pleasure, he is called the “son of Epicurus”.
Was a good householder and is compared to St. Julian in his hospitality
Meat and wine are so plenteous in his house that they are said to “snow”
The Franklin.
He kept fat partridges (bird) and many fish.
If his sauce was not pungent and sharp, his cook would be in trouble
Varied his food or supper according to the seasons of the year.
At county meetings, he was representative and Chairman, and on many occasions, he had been Knight of the Shire.
He has also been sheriff and legal auditor.
A dagger and a hawking pouch hung at his girdle, which was as white as morning milk..
The Franklin’s Tale is a Breton Lay (story set in Brittany)


The Five Guildsmen
The Five Guildsmen are artisans, and are newly rich, representing the urban middle class.
They are a Haberdasher, a Carpenter, a Weaver, a Dyer and a Tapestry Maker
They are dressed in the livery, or uniform, of their guild (workers’ union), which was fresh and newly trimmed.
Their sword-sheaths were tipped with silver, and not brass, and their belts and purses were beautifully wrought after the same manner.
Their wives undoubtedly pushed them to such a high position for they liked to be called “madams”.
The guildsmen are accompanied by the Cook.


The Wife of Bath
Gap-toothed : sign of boldness, gluttony and lasciviousness.
Deaf in one ear (because of a slap from her previous husband).
Expensive clothes.
A hat that was as wide as a shield, sharp spurs, and a pleated cloak over her legs to keep the mud off her dress
Scarlet stockings (sign of wealth) and comfortable new shoes.
Kerchiefs were made of high-quality fabric, a veil that must have weighed ten pounds.
Bath is famous for cloth-making and she was herself an expert in weaving / embroidery (even better than the famous weavers from Europe.
Lived an honourable life
Had five husbands at church door, and many lovers in her youth (the narrator says there is no need to talk about that now!).
Now on the lookout for a sixth husband.
She was pretentious.
Always wanted to be the first wife at church to make a donation to the poor but if any woman made a donation before she did, the Wife would get angry and keep her money.
Widely travelled in Italy, Spain; been to Jerusalem thrice.
Rode her horse well.
Loved to tell romantic tales and to gossip.
Worldly in three ways
Experienced in love.
Wealthy.
Travelled the world.

The Physician (The Doctor of Physique)
Extremely good at his profession
Learned man well-instructed in medicine and astronomy].
Knew of every disease and where it came from, and gave cure immediately
He has made a deal with the apothecary about giving which medicines would benefit them most.
Eats a simple, moderate diet that is healthy.
But his spiritual health is not so good: he has little knowledge of the Bible
He saved gold, because of his love of gold.
The narrator says this is because “gold in phisik is a cordial”
Two meanings:
(i) medieval doctors used gold powder in potions
(ii) Greed for money
Dressed in bright red and blue gown made of the finest silk.


The Reeve
Slender and choleric (irritable) man named Oswald.
Came from Norfolk and lived near a town called Baldewelle .
Head was tonsured (shaven) like that of a priest.
Legs were lean and long like a walking stick.
For twenty years, he has managed estates.
Was fully in charge of his master’s sheep, cattle, dairy, swine, horses, stock and poultry.
He was good at keeping a granary and a bin and no auditor could detect mistakes in his accounts.
He could observe the seasons and foretell the harvest.
There was no agent, shepherd or labourer whose deceits he did not know, and they hated him like the plague.
His home was set amongst shady trees
He could make purchases better than his master, and he had secretly enriched his own barns, while being careful to please his master.
Good carpenter, a trade which he had learnt in youth .
His low-bred, undersized horse was called Scot.
He wore an overcoat of bluish grey tucked into his girdle like a friar, and carried a rusty sword.
Always rode at the rear of the company.


The Shipman (The Sailor)
Lived in the west country, and comes from Dartmouth.
Wore a coarse gown and hung a dagger on a cord about his neck which passed down under his arm.
The hot summer sun had made his complexion brown.
Bold and prudent; beard shaken by many a tempest.
Widely travelled.
Undoubtedly he was a rascal.
He had stolen much wine while the merchant slept.
Not troubled by a scrupulous conscience, for he has thrown his prisoners into the sea.
Expert in matters regarding the position of the moon, the tides, the currents and the perils of the seas
His ship was called The Magdalen .


The Yeoman
Wore a coat and hood of green and carried a bow and a sheaf of shiny sharp arrows fitted with peacock feathers under his pouch.Head was closely shaven and his face was brown
Knew all the techniques of carpentry and carried a fine guard on his arm, a sword and shield on one side, and a finely decorated spear-shaped dagger on the other side.
Wore a shining silver picture of St. Christopher on his breast.
Also carried a horn which had a green baldric (belt)
He is a Woodsman, compared to Robin Hood .

The Manciple
Worked at a college for lawyers.
Whether he bought for cash or on credit he always came out well and ahead of everyone else.
He had more than 30 masters who were expert and skilled lawyers
His masters would help him in any legal case that rose against him
Yet, in spite of all this, the Manciple made fools of them all.


The Miller
Short, stout fellow with big muscles and bones; can out-wrestle even a ram; there was no door that he could not heave off its hinge, or break open with his head by running at it.
Had a broad beard red as a sow or fox
Nostrils were of black and wide and his mouth was as big as a furnace.
There was a wart on the tip of his thick nose, with a tuft of red hair on it, like the bristles in a sow’s ear.
Robyn was his name.
Fond of telling indecent tales.
Expert in grinding corn.
Stole corn by pushing the scales with his thumb, for which the narrator swears he had a “gold thumb” (This is against the saying that ‘An honest miller has a golden thumb’).
Wore a white coat and blue hood
A sword and a small round shield hung at his side.
Played the bagpipe as the pilgrims left the town.
Disrupts the Host’s story-telling order and insists on telling the second tale
Tells a bawdy fabliau.


The Ploughman
Parson’s brother.
Wore a simple shirt.
Wore a lowly labourer who worked with his hands.
Sincere, humble and good at his work
Thought only about God and the needs of other people.
He donated a good portion of his income in paying tithes (taxes) to the church.


The Cook
The Cook was employed by the Guildsmen.
For them, he would boil chicken with marrow-bones, sharp flavoured powder and spice.
He could recognize the flavour of London ale, and could roast, steam, boil and fry, make stew and bake a pie well.
The narrator pities him for the running sore on his shin.
His masterpiece was minced chicken in white sauce.
His name is Roger .


The Host
Acts as a guide to the pilgrims, like the director of a play.
Built-in audience of the tales
Impressive man; bold ,wise and well-instructed.
Takes the tales seriously, becomes involved emotionally.
Creates conflicts as much as he solves them.
Quarrels with pardoner when he tries to sell fake pardons.
Makes fun of the Cook’s drunken state
His name was Harry Bailey.


The Narrator
Chaucer himself
The narrator’s accounts of the other pilgrims show the narrator’s own prejudices and interests.
Depicted as fat, sociable and naïve, eager to think well of others (this, however, amounts to irony).
For example, he says the Wife led an honourable life and goes on to describe her lasciviousness, says the Summoner is gentle and kind and goes on to talk about his taking bribes and seducing girls.

Published by Lucky Saxena

I am lucky saxena. Post Graduate student. Trying to fill some enthusiasm in everyone and provide UGC NET PGT TGT English literature Free Notes to everyone who can not reach to money oriented website or coaching. Try to spread kindness, knowledge and love through my blog.

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