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Canterbury Tales The General Prologue.

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1 Canterbury Tales The General Prologue

2 Canterbury Tales Written around 1387-1400 Written by Geoffrey Chaucer
Soldier Courtier Royal emissary to Europe Controller of customs Justice of the peace Member of Parliament artist Chaucer’s background enables him to give us a rich and varied portraits of contemporaries from every walk of life Born around 1340

3 Prologue Chaucer has the idea to bring together 29 “sondry folk” in a pilgrimage (“by aventure [chance]”) Represent a wide range of 14th century English society Makes comprehensive study of humans Perfect way to present his irony By adventure (chance) Most of these people on the journey would never have anything to do with each other socially. Differing social classes, orders, etc. The best way for Chaucer to bring together Makes comprehensive study of humans (his favorite subject) Perfect way to present his special brand of irony

4 Prologue Represent a wide range of 14th century English society
3 Groups Represent: Feudalism Landownership and service Knight’s yeoman Franklin Urbanization – emerging middle class Change in feudal structure Doctor Guildsmen The Church One of the most powerful elements in medieval soceity 9 of pilgrims belong to clergy

5 Prologue Each pilgrim Teller of best tale is rewarded at the end
tell two stories on the way to Canterbury two stories on the way back Plan proposed by Harry Bailey, host of the Tabard Inn Teller of best tale is rewarded at the end A dinner provided by his fellow pilgrims at the Tabard Harry Bailey is judge Each pilgrim is supposed to tell two stories on the way to Canterbury and two stories on the way back. Plan is proposed by Harry Bailey, the host of the Tabard Inn Teller of best tale is rewarded at the end with a dinner provided by his fellow pilgrims at the Tabard. Harry Bailey will be the judge

6 Prologue Prologue sets the scene and introduces reader to the characters Between many of the tales Chaucer expounds upon the personalities of the pilgrims. Number of arguments that prepare for subsequent tales Some pilgrims introduce a tale with a commentary on his/her own personal life Prologue sets the scene and introduces reader to the characters Between many of the tales Chaucer provides links that expound upon the personalities of the pilgrims (adds more dramatic interest). Number of arguments that prepare for subsequent tales Some pilgrims introduce a tale with a commentary on his own personal life

7 Prologue Chaucer’s project was never finished
Only 24 tales exist Tales were probably composed at various times in Chaucer’s life

8 Prologue Begins with a long, rhetorical sentence in “high style” describing spring. Gradually descends into a more “realistic” style of expository narrative. Begins with a long, rhetorical sentence in “high style” describing spring. Gradually descends into a more “realistic” style of expository narrative. Very “easy to read” conversational

9 Prologue Group is on its way to the holy shrine of St. Thomas ă Becket
Archbishop of Canterbury opposed Henry II over the balance between royal and religious power was murdered in the cathedral Considered a martyr and later made a saint His blood was held to contain great curative qualities, restoring health to the sick Group is on its way to the holy shrine of St. Thomas à Becket Archbishop of Canterbury who opposed Henry II over the balance between royal and religious power; was murdered in the cathedral Considered a martyr and later made a saint His blood was held to contain great curative qualities, restoring health to the sick Some are going to the shrine to have their sicknesses healed. (Small quantities of Becket’s blood was given to pilgrims for centuries after his death

10 Knight Squire Yeoman Prioress Monk Friar Merchant Oxford Cleric (Clerk)

11 Sergeant Franklin Guildsmen Cook Skipper Doctor Wife of Bath Parson

12 Plowman Miller Manciple Reeve Summoner Pardoner Poet Host (innkeeper Harry Bailey)

13 The Knight Was an honorable warrior who fought for Christianity against the heathens. Appropriate that he is the first pilgrim to be introduced because he stands at the top of the social hierarchy, thus is the most socially prominent person on the journey. Tells the first story; many offer him compliments. All of the battles mentioned that he fought in were religious wars of some kind. The knight is the first of the pilgrims to be introduced. This is appropriate since the Kinght stands at the top of the social hierarchy in this gathering and since is is a virtuous character and embodies a standard of behavior against which some of the subsequent characters will be judged and found wanting.

14 The Knight Prologue’s description:
Worthy man – “True, perfect, and gentle” Loved the following Chivalry Fidelity Honor (good reputation) Generosity courtesy Honored for his worthiness in war

15 The Knight Prologue’s description:
Fought in many battles/ had “been at many a noble expedition” Alexandria Prussia Lithuania/Latvia Russia Grenada at siege of Algeciras to Belmarye (north Africa) Morocco The Mediterranean Tiemcen Turkey The list of the places in which the knight fought would have a romantic ring to Chaucer’s readers. Christendom in the The list of the places in which the knight fought would have a romantic ring to Chaucer’s readers. Christendom in the 14th century was relatively small, and circumscribed by heatheness – mysterious lands and peoples described by the occasional traveler. Yet the Knight’s campaigns are all real enough. They have been divided by historians into three group0s, chronologially: 1) inlcudes the long struggle to expel the Moorish invaders from Spain. The second group of campaigns occurred in the Great Sea – eastern Mediterranean & Asia Minor Third: borders of eastern and western Europe (

16 The Knight Prologue’s description:
Even though he was brave, he was prudent Deportment: “meek as a maid” Never said any rude word in all his life to any person Horses were good Clothing/dress Not gaudily dressed Tunic of coarse cloth, stained with rust from his chain mail suit Has just returned from an expedition

17 Squire Knight’s attendant Younger and flashier than knight
Hair is well-coifed Clothes are “embroidered like a meadow bright” “Short was his gown, the sleeves were long and wide” Short, embroidered gowns and long wide sleeves were the marks of the ultrafashionable in the late 14th century Short coats were declared “indecent” and embroidery was called unnecessarily expensive

18 Squire Has done some service in war
Seems more interested in singing and dancing Portrayed not as admirably as the Knight

19 Yeoman Small landowner; formerly knight’s servants (as this Yeoman is the Knight’s only servant) Doesn’t like to talk about himself Equipment in perfect condition Close-cropped hair and weathered face Wears medal of St. Christopher (patron saint of travelers)

20 Prioress Nun – in charge of the other nuns of the convent
Takes vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience Swears by St. Loy – irony Perfect manners; refusal to swear Known as Madame Eglantyne High forehead – supposed to indicate intelligence or good breeding Wears trinket with “amor vincit omnia” – interest in love?

21 Prioress Seems to have some respect for her, but does satirize her at the same time Sings well, but through her nose Spoke daintily in French, but her French is not good (school of Stratford-atte-Bowe) Is very concerned with courtly manners, but had “to conterfeit a courtly kind of grace” Keeps pets and cries if an animal is hurt, but her primary concern should be human souls and welfare

22 Monk Clergy – lived in monastery, center of learning; vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience; vowed not to leave the lands of the monastery without permission of their superior “Rule of good St. Benet or St. Maur / As old and strict he tended to ignore” “He took the modern world’s more spacious way”

23 Monk His dress and way he spends his time are in opposition to monastic rule Many horses in his stable Likes to hunt Wears rich clothes and jewelry Enjoys good food Chaucer’s sarcasm in lines

24 Friar Religious – went into the world to preach, help the poor, and cure the sick One duty was to hear people’s confessions and absolve or forgive them with a penance This Friar (his name is Hubert) gives light penances because people pay him.

25 Friar “His neck was whiter than a lily-flower”
Cowardice Immorality Double-worsted semi-cope (cape) Much emphasis on his greed “anywhere a profit might accrue” “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” “Arbitrate disputes. . . (for a small fee)”

26 Merchant Salesperson Wants to appear prosperous; arrogant
Brightly colored clothes Beaver hat (the latest rage) Daintily buckled boots Actually is in debt His name is not known

27 Oxford Cleric Student (probably for the Church)
Thin (both he and his horse) Coat is threadbare Preferred books (expensive) over clothes and entertainment Only care is study Respectable, moral, reserved

28 Sergeant at Law Lawyer, served as King’s legal advisor
Chaucer doesn’t spend much time on him; finds him unremarkable. Though he has a high position and can do his job well, Chaucer seems to disapprove “Though there was nowhere one so busy as he, / He was less busy than he seemed to be.” “Of his appearance I have said enough.”

29 Franklin Country landowner
Man of some substance, but just below the nobility Ruddy complexion – cheerful Lived for pleasure reference to Epicurus, Greek philosopher who taught the goal of life is pleasure Glutton; obsessed with food

30 Five Guildsmen Guilds – organization of trades people who taught their trade to apprentices (trainees) “So trim and fresh” “Knives of purest silver” Chaucer pokes fun at their social pretensions.

31 Cook Skipper Doctor Skilled in preparing medieval dishes
Has ulcer on his knee Skipper Captain of a ship Characterized as somewhat brutal with prisoners and dishonest with wine merchants Doctor Treats people according to laws of astrology and medieval theory of humors Profits from the illnesses of others

32 Wife of Bath Woman from city of Bath; has been married 5 times
Goes against the teachings of the church (I Cor 7:39) Has traveled widely Many religious pilgrimages Not common for women to have traveled so much Wants to be first to the altar (people approached altar according to social rank)

33 Wife of Bath Fine clothes Deafness & gap teeth
Medieval physiognomists believed physical abnormalities could indicate character weaknesses. May indicate that she was a good judge in matters of love or skilled in matters of love May be patterned after Chaucer’s paternal grandmother who was married 3 times

34 Parson Village clergyman or parish priest Poor
“Rich in holy thought and work” “Truly knew Christ’s gospel and would preach it” Not greedy “Hated cursing to extort a fee” Gave to the poor from church offerings and his personal property

35 Parson Visited the sick Two metaphors Actions speak louder than words
Shepherd of his flock Gold vs. iron: If gold corrodes, what will iron do? If the priest sets a bad example, what will his parish members do? Actions speak louder than words

36 Plowman Laborer (increasing importance in medieval society)
True Christian layman Wore tabard smock and rode a mare (simple, common)

37 Miller Operates a mill to grind grain or make flour
Description is mostly physical Large man Red beard Wart on nose Compared to sow or fox, a spade, a sow’s ear, & furnace door Rough, uncouth, wild, belligerent

38 Manciple Steward or servant who purchased provisions for a college, or in this case, for one of the Inns of Court, the four ancient law schools in London Although uneducated, the Manciple can outsmart his masters. “His masters All versed in the abstrusest of legal knowledge And yet [he] could wipe their eye.”

39 Reeve Superintendent of an estate Choleric and thin Does his job well
Is mean to the serfs and has become rich through embezzlement “feared like the plague he was, by those beneath” “he had grown rich With subtle loans or gifts of goods”

40 Summoner Employees of ecclesiastical courts, sent by the justices to summon those suspected of offenses against Church law Notorious for blackmailing people by threatening to have them summoned Drinks til all is hazy Limited education Goes easy on offenders if they pay him

41 Summoner Gross appearance “Face on fire” from boils or pimples
Narrow eyes Scabby brows Thin beard Terrible breath

42 Pardoner Sold pardons, often greedy, taking advantage of poor
Were not supposed to sell relics Remains (bones, hair, garments) of a holy person Came from Hospital of Blessed Mary of Roncivalles near Charing Cross (common offenders – series of money scandals in 1380s)

43 Pardoner Long blonde hair (violation of church code) Voice like a goat
Hangs like rat tails Voice like a goat Bulging eyeballs Greed “In one short day, . . He drew more than the parson in a month or two” “And (well he could) win silver from the crowd. / That’s why he sang so merrily and loud.”

44 The Host Probably a real person
Elsewhere in the Canterbury Tales he is called Harry Bailey, evidence that such a person did operate a tavern in Southwark during Chaucer’s time Merry-hearted man

45 The Host Suggests each pilgrim tells 2 stories on the way to Canterbury and 2 stories on the way back He will be the judge Winner receives free dinner at the Tabard They decide who will go first by “drawing straws.”


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