Analyze characters in Canterbury Tales


The Age of Chaucer The Prologue from The Canterbury Tales Poem by Geoffrey Chaucer Translated by Nevill Coghill

did you know? Geoffrey Chaucer . . . • was captured and

held for ransom while fighting for England in the Hundred Years’ War.

• held various jobs, including royal messenger, justice of the peace, and forester.

• portrayed himself as a foolish character in a number of works.

Meet the Author

Geoffrey Chaucer made an enormous mark on the language and literature of England. Writing in an age when French was widely spoken in educated circles, Chaucer was among the first writers to show that English could be a respectable literary language. Today, his work is considered a cornerstone of English literature.

Befriended by Royalty Chaucer was born sometime between 1340 and 1343, probably in London, in an era when expanding commerce was helping to bring about growth in villages and cities. His family, though not noble, was well off, and his parents were able to place him in the household of the wife of Prince Lionel, a son of King Edward III, where he served as an attendant. Such a position was a vital means of advancement; the young Chaucer learned

the customs of upper-class life and came into contact with influential people. It may have been during this period that Chaucer met Lionel’s

younger brother, John of Gaunt, who would become Chaucer’s

lifelong patron and a leading political figure of the day.

A Knight and a Writer Although

Chaucer wrote his first

important work around 1370, writing was always a sideline; his primary career was in diplomacy. During Richard II’s troubled reign (1377 to 1399), Chaucer was appointed a member of Parliament and knight of the shire. When Richard II was overthrown in 1399 by Henry Bolingbroke (who became King Henry IV), Chaucer managed to retain his political position, as Henry was the son of John of Gaunt.

Despite the turmoil of the 1380s and 1390s, the last two decades of Chaucer’s life saw his finest literary achievements— the brilliant verse romance Troilus and Criseyde and his masterpiece, The Canterbury Tales, a collection of verse and prose tales of many different kinds. At the time of his death, Chaucer had penned nearly 20,000 lines of The Canterbury Tales, but many more tales were planned.

Uncommon Honor When he died in 1400, Chaucer was accorded a rare honor for a commoner—burial in London’s Westminster Abbey. In 1556, an admirer erected an elaborate marble monument to his memory. This was the beginning of the Abbey’s famous Poets’ Corner, where many of England’s most distinguished writers have since been buried.

Geoffrey Chaucer 1340?– 1400


Go to KEYWORD: HML12-142B

Author Online

advancement; the the customs o

came into co people. It m period that

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life po



READING 3 Evaluate the changes in sound, form, figurative language, and dramatic structure in poetry across literary time periods.

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What makes a great character? Creating a great character requires a sharp eye for detail, a keen understanding of people, and a brilliant imagination—all of which Chaucer possessed. Chaucer populated The Canterbury Tales with a colorful cast of characters whose virtues and flaws ring true even today, hundreds of years later.

QUICKWRITE Work with a partner to invent a character. Start with an intriguing name. Then come up with questions that will reveal basic information about the character, such as his or her age, physical appearance, family and friends, job, home, and personal tastes. Brainstorm possible answers for the questions. Then circle the responses that have the best potential for making a lively character.

literary analysis: characterization Characterization refers to the techniques a writer uses to develop characters. In “The Prologue,” the introduction to The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer offers a vivid portrait of English society during the Middle Ages. Among his 30 characters are clergy, aristocrats, and commoners. Chaucer employs a dramatic structure similar to Boccaccio’s The Decameron—each pilgrim tells a tale. Some of the ways Chaucer characterizes the pilgrims include

• description of a character’s appearance • examples of a character’s speech, thoughts, and actions • the responses of others to a character • the narrator’s direct comments about a character

As you read, look for details that reveal the character traits, or consistent qualities, of each pilgrim.

reading strategy: paraphrase Reading medieval texts, such as The Canterbury Tales, can be challenging because they often contain unfamiliar words and complex sentences. One way that you can make sense of Chaucer’s work is to paraphrase, or restate information in your own words. A paraphrase is usually the same length as the original text but contains simpler language. As you read, paraphrase difficult passages. Here is an example.

Chaucer’s Words Paraphrase

“When in April the sweet showers

fall/And pierce the drought of

March to the root, . . . ” (lines 1–2)

When the April rains come and end

the dryness of March, . . .

vocabulary in context The following boldfaced words are critical to understanding Chaucer’s literary masterpiece. Try to figure out the meaning of each word from its context.

1. The refined gentleman always behaved with courtliness. 2. She remained calm and sedately finished her meal. 3. The popular politician was charming and personable. 4. When you save money in a bank, interest will accrue. 5. Does she suffer from heart disease or another malady? 6. She made an entreaty to the king, asking for a pardon.

Complete the ac tivities in your Reader/Writer Notebook.

Name: Bartholomew Throckmorton

1. What is his occupation? duke squire to a knight sea captain town doctor grave digger

2. Where does he live?




the canterbury tales 143

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144 unit 1: the anglo-saxon and medieval periods

When in April the sweet showers fall And pierce the drought of March to the root, and all The veins are bathed in liquor of such power As brings about the engendering of the flower, When also Zephyrus with his sweet breath Exhales an air in every grove and heath Upon the tender shoots, and the young sun His half-course in the sign of the Ram has run, And the small fowl are making melody That sleep away the night with open eye (So nature pricks them and their heart engages) Then people long to go on pilgrimages And palmers long to seek the stranger strands Of far-off saints, hallowed in sundry lands, And specially, from every shire’s end Of England, down to Canterbury they wend To seek the holy blissful martyr, quick To give his help to them when they were sick. a

It happened in that season that one day In Southwark, at The Tabard, as I lay





background In “The Prologue” of The Canterbury Tales, a group gathers at the Tabard Inn in Southwark, a town just south of London, to make a pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Thomas à Becket at Canterbury. At the suggestion of the innkeeper, the group decides to hold a storytelling competition to pass the time as they travel. “The Prologue” introduces the “sundry folk” who will tell the stories and is followed by the tales themselves—24 in all.

�he canterbury tales Geoffrey Chaucer

The prologue

5 Zephyrus (zDfPEr-Es): the Greek god of the west wind.

8 the Ram: Aries—the first sign of the zodiac. The time is mid-April.

13 palmers: people journeying to religious shrines; pilgrims; strands: shores. 14 sundry (sOnPdrC): various. 15 shire’s: county’s. 17 martyr: St. Thomas à Becket.


PA R A P H R A S E Restate lines 1–18. Why does the group make its pilgrimage in April?

Illustrations by Teresa Fasolino.

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146 unit 1: the anglo-saxon and medieval periods

Ready to go on pilgrimage and start For Canterbury, most devout at heart, At night there came into that hostelry Some nine and twenty in a company Of sundry folk happening then to fall In fellowship, and they were pilgrims all That towards Canterbury meant to ride. The rooms and stables of the inn were wide; They made us easy, all was of the best. And, briefly, when the sun had gone to rest, I’d spoken to them all upon the trip And was soon one with them in fellowship, Pledged to rise early and to take the way To Canterbury, as you heard me say.

But none the less, while I have time and space, Before my story takes a further pace, It seems a reasonable thing to say What their condition was, the full array Of each of them, as it appeared to me, According to profession and degree, And what apparel they were riding in; And at a Knight I therefore will begin. b There was a Knight, a most distinguished man, Who from the day on which he first began To ride abroad had followed chivalry, Truth, honor, generousness and courtesy. He had done nobly in his sovereign’s war And ridden into battle, no man more, As well in Christian as in heathen places, And ever honored for his noble graces.

When we took Alexandria, he was there. He often sat at table in the chair Of honor, above all nations, when in Prussia. In Lithuania he had ridden, and Russia, No Christian man so often, of his rank. When, in Granada, Algeciras sank Under assault, he had been there, and in North Africa, raiding Benamarin; In Anatolia he had been as well And fought when Ayas and Attalia fell, For all along the Mediterranean coast He had embarked with many a noble host. In fifteen mortal battles he had been And jousted for our faith at Tramissene









45 chivalry (shGvPEl-rC): the code of

behavior of medieval knights, which

stressed the values listed in line 46.

51 Alexandria: a city in Egypt,

captured by European Christians in

1365. All the places named in lines

51–64 were scenes of conflicts in

which medieval Christians battled

Muslims and other non-Christian


64 jousted: fought with a lance in

an arranged battle against another




Paraphrase lines 35–42. What does the narrator set out to accomplish in “The Prologue”?

23 hostelry (hJsPtEl-rC): inn.

Language Coach

Roots and Affixes The suffix -ship can mean “someone entitled to a specific rank of” (lordship), “art or skill of” (craftsmanship), or “state of” (friendship). Which meaning applies to fellowship? Give another example of each use of -ship.

the canterbury tales 147

Thrice in the lists, and always killed his man. This same distinguished knight had led the van Once with the Bey of Balat, doing work For him against another heathen Turk; He was of sovereign value in all eyes. And though so much distinguished, he was wise And in his bearing modest as a maid. He never yet a boorish thing had said In all his life to any, come what might; He was a true, a perfect gentle-knight. c

Speaking of his equipment, he possessed Fine horses, but he was not gaily dressed. He wore a fustian tunic stained and dark With smudges where his armor had left mark; Just home from service, he had joined our ranks To do his pilgrimage and render thanks.

He had his son with him, a fine young Squire, A lover and cadet, a lad of fire With locks as curly as if they had been pressed. He was some twenty years of age, I guessed. In stature he was of a moderate length, With wonderful agility and strength. He’d seen some service with the cavalry In Flanders and Artois and Picardy And had done valiantly in little space Of time, in hope to win his lady’s grace. He was embroidered like a meadow bright And full of freshest flowers, red and white. Singing he was, or fluting all the day; He was as fresh as is the month of May. Short was his gown, the sleeves were long and wide; He knew the way to sit a horse and ride. He could make songs and poems and recite, Knew how to joust and dance, to draw and write. He loved so hotly that till dawn grew pale He slept as little as a nightingale. Courteous he was, lowly and serviceable, And carved to serve his father at the table.

There was a Yeoman with him at his side, No other servant; so he chose to ride. This Yeoman wore a coat and hood of green, And peacock-feathered arrows, bright and keen And neatly sheathed, hung at his belt the while










77 fustian (fOsPchEn): a strong cloth

made of linen and cotton.

81 Squire: a young man attending

on and receiving training from a


82 cadet: soldier in training.

88 Flanders and Artois (är-twäP) and

Picardy (pGkPEr-dC): areas in what is

now Belgium and northern France.

93 fluting: whistling.

103 Yeoman (yIPmEn): an attendant

in a noble household; him: the


65 thrice: three times; lists: fenced

areas for jousting.

66 van: vanguard—the troops

foremost in an attack.

67 Bey of Balat: a Turkish ruler.



Reread lines 43–74. What do

the Knight’s actions on and off

the battlefield reveal about his

character? Cite details to support

your answer.

148 unit 1: the anglo-saxon and medieval periods

—For he could dress his gear in yeoman style, His arrows never drooped their feathers low— And in his hand he bore a mighty bow. His head was like a nut, his face was brown. He knew the whole of woodcraft up and down. A saucy brace was on his arm to ward It from the bow-string, and a shield and sword Hung at one side, and at the other slipped A jaunty dirk, spear-sharp and well-equipped. A medal of St. Christopher he wore Of shining silver on his breast, and bore A hunting-horn, well slung and burnished clean, That dangled from a baldrick of bright green. He was a proper forester, I guess.

There also was a Nun, a Prioress, Her way of smiling very simple and coy. Her greatest oath was only “By St. Loy!” And she was known as Madam Eglantyne. And well she sang a service, with a fine Intoning through her nose, as was most seemly, And she spoke daintily in French, extremely, After the school of Stratford-atte-Bowe; French in the Paris style she did not know. At meat her manners were well taught withal; No morsel from her lips did she let fall, Nor dipped her fingers in the sauce too deep; But she could carry a morsel up and keep The smallest drop from falling on her breast. For courtliness she had a special zest, And she would wipe her upper lip so clean That not a trace of grease was to be seen Upon the cup when she had drunk; to eat, She reached a hand sedately for the meat. She certainly was very entertaining, Pleasant and friendly in her ways, and straining To counterfeit a courtly kind of grace, A stately bearing fitting to her place, And to seem dignified in all her dealings. d As for her sympathies and tender feelings, She was so charitably solicitous She used to weep if she but saw a mouse Caught in a trap, if it were dead or bleeding. And she had little dogs she would be feeding With roasted flesh, or milk, or fine white bread. And bitterly she wept if one were dead










122  Prioress: a nun ranking just below the abbess (head) of a convent.

116  dirk: small dagger.

117  St. Christopher: patron saint of travelers.

124  St. Loy: St. Eligius (known as St. Éloi in France).

129  Stratford-atte-Bowe: a town (now part of London) near the Prioress’s convent.

131  at meat: when dining; withal: moreover.

120  baldrick: shoulder strap.

143  counterfeit: imitate.

courtliness (kôrtPlC-nGs) n. polite, elegant manners; refined behavior

sedately (sG-dAtPlC) adv. in a composed, dignified manner; calmly

113  saucy: jaunty; stylish; brace: a leather arm-guard worn by archers.

d characterization

Reread lines 122–145. Which details suggest that the Prioress may be trying to appear more sophisticated than she really is?

the canterbury tales 149

Or someone took a stick and made it smart; She was all sentiment and tender heart. Her veil was gathered in a seemly way, Her nose was elegant, her eyes glass-grey; Her mouth was very small, but soft and red, Her forehead, certainly, was fair of spread, Almost a span across the brows, I own; She was indeed by no means undergrown. Her cloak, I noticed, had a graceful charm. She wore a coral trinket on her arm, A set of beads, the gaudies tricked in green, Whence hung a golden brooch of brightest sheen On which there first was graven a crowned A, And lower, Amor vincit omnia.

Another Nun, the secretary at her cell, Was riding with her, and three Priests as well.

A Monk there was, one of the finest sort Who rode the country; hunting was his sport. A manly man, to be an Abbot able; Many a dainty horse he had in stable. His bridle, when he rode, a man might hear Jingling in a whistling wind as clear, Aye, and as loud as does the chapel bell Where my lord Monk was Prior of the cell. The Rule of good St. Benet or St. Maur As old and strict he tended to ignore; He let go by the things of yesterday And took the modern world’s more spacious way. He did not rate that text at a plucked hen Which says that hunters are not holy men And that a monk uncloistered is a mere Fish out of water, flapping on the pier, That is to say a monk out of his cloister. That was a text he held not worth an oyster; And I agreed and said his views were sound; Was he to study till his head went round Poring over books in cloisters? Must he toil As Austin bade and till the very soil? Was he to leave the world upon the shelf? Let Austin have his labor to himself.

This Monk was therefore a good man to horse; Greyhounds he had, as swift as birds, to course. Hunting a hare or riding at a fence










159  span: a unit of length equal

to nine inches. A broad forehead

was considered a sign of beauty in

Chaucer’s day.

171  Abbot: the head of a monastery.

172  dainty: excellent.

163  gaudies: the larger beads in a

set of prayer beads.

166  Amor vincit omnia (äPmôr

wGnPkGt ômPnC-E): Latin for “Love

conquers all things.”

176  Prior of the cell: head of a

subsidiary group of monks.

177  St. Benet . . . St. Maur: St.

Benedict, who established a strict set

of rules for monks’ behavior, and his

follower, St. Maurus, who introduced

those rules into France.

190  Austin: St. Augustine of Hippo,

who recommended that monks

engage in hard agricultural labor.

194  to course: for hunting.

150 unit 1: the anglo-saxon and medieval periods

Was all his fun, he spared for no expense. I saw his sleeves were garnished at the hand With fine grey fur, the finest in the land, And on his hood, to fasten it at his chin He had a wrought-gold cunningly fashioned pin; Into a lover’s knot it seemed to pass. His head was bald and shone like looking-glass; So did his face, as if it had been greased. He was a fat and personable priest; His prominent eyeballs never seemed to settle. e They glittered like the flames beneath a kettle; Supple his boots, his horse in fine condition. He was a prelate fit for exhibition, He was not pale like a tormented soul. He liked a fat swan best, and roasted whole. His palfrey was as brown as is a berry.

There was a Friar, a wanton one and merry, A Limiter, a very festive fellow. In all Four Orders there was none so mellow, So glib with gallant phrase and well-turned speech. He’d fixed up many a marriage, giving each Of his young women what he could afford her. He was a noble pillar to his Order. Highly beloved and intimate was he With County folk within his boundary, And city dames of honor and possessions; For he was qualified to hear confessions,





220 222  confessions: church rites in

which people confess their sins to

clergy members. Only certain friars

were licensed to hear confessions.

211  palfrey (pôlPfrC): saddle horse.

e characterization

List three character traits of the

Monk. In what ways does the

narrator appear to poke fun at


212  Friar: a member of a religious

group sworn to poverty and living

on charitable donations; wanton

(wJnPtEn): playful; jolly.

213  Limiter: a friar licensed to beg

for donations in a limited area.

214  Four Orders: the four groups

of friars—Dominican, Franciscan,

Carmelite, and Augustinian.

personable (pûrPsE-nE-bEl)

adj. pleasing in behavior and


the canterbury tales 151

Or so he said, with more than priestly scope; He had a special license from the Pope. Sweetly he heard his penitents at shrift With pleasant absolution, for a gift. He was an easy man in penance-giving Where he could hope to make a decent living; It’s a sure sign whenever gifts are given To a poor Order that a man’s well shriven, And should he give enough he knew in verity The penitent repented in sincerity. For many a fellow is so hard of heart He cannot weep, for all his inward smart. Therefore instead of weeping and of prayer One should give silver for a poor Friar’s care. He kept his tippet stuffed with pins for curls, And pocket-knives, to give to pretty girls. And certainly his voice was gay and sturdy, For he sang well and played the hurdy-gurdy. At sing-songs he was champion of the hour. His neck was whiter than a lily-flower But strong enough to butt a bruiser down. He knew the taverns well in every town And every innkeeper and barmaid too Better than lepers, beggars and that crew, f For in so eminent a man as he It was not fitting with the dignity Of his position, dealing with a scum Of wretched lepers; nothing good can come Of commerce with such slum-and-gutter dwellers, But only with the rich and victual-sellers. But anywhere a profit might accrue Courteous he was and lowly of service too. Natural gifts like his were hard to match. He was the finest beggar of his batch, And, for his begging-district, paid a rent; His brethren did no poaching where he went. 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 Before he left, and so his income came To more than he laid out. And how he romped, Just like a puppy! He was ever prompt To arbitrate disputes on settling days (For a small fee) in many helpful ways, Not then appearing as your cloistered scholar With threadbare habit hardly worth a dollar,










240  hurdy-gurdy: a stringed musical

instrument, similar to a lute, played

by turning a crank while pressing

down keys.

237  tippet: an extension of a hood or

sleeve, used as a pocket.

252  victual (vGtPl): food.

f paraphrase

Restate lines 237–246. How

does the Friar spend the money

he earns through hearing


accrue (E-krLP) v. to be added or

gained; to accumulate

261  farthing: a coin of small value

used in England until recent times.

265  settling days: days on which

disputes were settled out of court.

Friars often acted as arbiters in

the disputes and charged for their

services, though forbidden by the

church to do so.

230  well shriven: completely

forgiven through the rite of


231  verity: truth.

225  shrift: confession.

152 unit 1: the anglo-saxon and medieval periods

But much more like a Doctor or a Pope. Of double-worsted was the semi-cope Upon his shoulders, and the swelling fold About him, like a bell about its mold When it is casting, rounded out his dress. He lisped a little out of wantonness To make his English sweet upon his tongue. When he had played his harp, or having sung, His eyes would twinkle in his head as bright As any star upon a frosty night. This worthy’s name was Hubert, it appeared.

There was a Merchant with a forking beard And motley dress; high on his horse he sat, Upon his head a Flemish beaver hat And on his feet daintily buckled boots. He told of his opinions and pursuits In solemn tones, he harped on his increase Of capital; there should be sea-police (He thought) upon the Harwich-Holland ranges; He was expert at dabbling in exchanges. This estimable Merchant so had set His wits to work, none knew he was in debt, He was so stately in administration, In loans and bargains and negotiation. He was an excellent fellow all the same; To tell the truth I do not know his name. g

An Oxford Cleric, still a student though, One who had taken logic long ago, Was there; his horse was thinner than a rake, And he was not too fat, I undertake, But had a hollow look, a sober stare; The thread upon his overcoat was bare. He had found no preferment in the church And he was too unworldly to make search For secular employment. By his bed He preferred having twenty books in red And black, of Aristotle’s philosophy, Than costly clothes, fiddle or psaltery. Though a philosopher, as I have told, He had not found the stone for making gold. Whatever money from his friends he took He spent on learning or another book And prayed for them most earnestly, returning Thanks to them thus for paying for his learning.










281  motley: multicolored.

282  Flemish: from Flanders, an area

in what is now Belgium and northern


301  preferment: advancement.

287  Harwich-Holland ranges:

shipping routes between Harwich

(hBrPGj), a port on England’s east

coast, and the country of Holland.

288  exchanges: selling foreign

currency at a profit.

305  Aristotle’s philosophy: the

writings of Aristotle, a famous Greek

philosopher of the fourth century b.c.

306  psaltery (sôlPtE-rC): a stringed


307–308  Though a philosopher . . .

gold: The “philosopher’s stone”

supposedly turned metals into gold.

295  Cleric: a student preparing for

the priesthood.

g paraphrase

Paraphrase lines 284–294.

Is the Merchant a successful

businessman? Why or why not?

270  double-worsted (wMsPtGd): a

strong, fairly costly fabric made from

tightly twisted woolen yarn; semi-

cope: a short cloak.

the canterbury tales 153

His only care was study, and indeed He never spoke a word more than was need, Formal at that, respectful in the extreme, Short, to the point, and lofty in his theme. A tone of moral virtue filled his speech And gladly would he learn, and gladly teach. h

A Sergeant at the Law who paid his calls, Wary and wise, for clients at St. Paul’s There also was, of noted excellence. Discreet he was, a man to reverence, Or so he seemed, his sayings were so wise. He often had been Justice of Assize By letters patent, and in full commission. His fame and learning and his high position Had won him many a robe and many a fee. There was no such conveyancer as he; All was fee-simple to his strong digestion, Not one conveyance could be called in question. Though there was nowhere one so busy as he, He was less busy than he seemed to be. He knew of every judgment, case and crime Ever recorded since King William’s time. He could dictate defenses or draft deeds; No one could pinch a comma from his screeds And he knew every statute off by rote. He wore a homely parti-colored coat, Girt with a silken belt of pin-stripe stuff; Of his appearance I have said enough.

There was a Franklin with him, it appeared; White as a daisy-petal was his beard. A sanguine man, high-colored and benign, He loved a morning sop of cake in wine. He lived for pleasure and had always done, For he was Epicurus’ very son, In whose opinion sensual delight Was the one true felicity in sight. As noted as St. Julian was for bounty He made his household free to all the County. His bread, his ale were finest of the fine And no one had a better stock of wine. His house was never short of bake-meat pies, Of fish and flesh, and these in such supplies It positively snowed with meat and drink And all the dainties that a man could think. i










319  Sergeant at the Law: a lawyer

appointed by the monarch to serve

as a judge.

320  St. Paul’s: the cathedral of

London, outside which lawyers met

clients when the courts were closed.

324  Justice of Assize: a judge who

traveled about the country to hear


325  letters patent: royal documents

commissioning a judge.

328  conveyancer: a lawyer

specializing in conveyances (deeds)

and property disputes.

329  fee-simple: property owned

without restrictions.

334  King William’s time: the reign

of William the Conqueror.

336  screeds: documents.

341  Franklin: a wealthy landowner.

343  sanguine (sBngPgwGn): cheerful

and good-natured.

346  Epicurus’ very son: someone

who pursues pleasure as the chief

goal in life, as the ancient Greek

philosopher Epicurus was supposed

to have recommended.

349  St. Julian: the patron saint of

hospitality; bounty: generosity.

h characterization

Reread lines 295–318. In what ways does the Oxford Cleric differ from the Monk and the Friar? Cite details.

i characterization

What does the narrator state directly about the Franklin in lines 341–356?

154 unit 1: the anglo-saxon and medieval periods

According to the seasons of the year Changes of dish were ordered to appear. He kept fat partridges in coops, beyond, Many a bream and pike were in his pond. Woe to the cook unless the sauce was hot And sharp, or if he wasn’t on the spot! And in his hall a table stood arrayed And ready all day long, with places laid. As Justice at the Sessions none stood higher; He often had been Member for the Shire. A dagger and a little purse of silk Hung at his girdle, white as morning milk. As Sheriff he checked audit, every entry. He was a model among landed gentry.

A Haberdasher, a Dyer, a Carpenter, A Weaver and a Carpet-maker were Among our ranks, all in the livery Of one impressive guild-fraternity. They were so trim and fresh their gear would pass For new. Their knives were not tricked out with brass But wrought with purest silver, which avouches A like display on girdles and on pouches. Each seemed a worthy burgess, fit to grace A guild-hall with a seat upon the dais. Their wisdom would have justified a plan To make each one of them an alderman; They had the capital and revenue, Besides their wives declared it was their due. And if they did not think so, then they ought; To be called “Madam” is a glorious thought, And so is going to church and being seen Having your mantle carried, like a queen.

They had a Cook with them who stood alone For boiling chicken with a marrow-bone, Sharp flavoring-powder and a spice for savor. He could distinguish London ale by flavor, And he could roast and seethe and broil and fry, Make good thick soup and bake a tasty pie. But what a pity—so it seemed to me, That he should have an ulcer on his knee. As for blancmange, he made it with the best.

There was a Skipper hailing from far west; He came from Dartmouth, so I understood.









373–374  livery . . . guild-fraternity:

uniform of a social or religious


365  Sessions: local court


366  Member for the Shire: his

county’s representative in Parliament.

368  girdle: belt.

369  Sheriff: a royal tax collector.

370  landed gentry (jDnPtrC): well-

born, wealthy landowners.

371  Haberdasher: a seller of hats and

other clothing accessories.

379  burgess (bûrPjGs): citizen of a


382  alderman: town councilor.

388  mantle: cloak.

397  blancmange (blE-mänjP): a thick

chicken stew with almonds.

399  Dartmouth (därtPmEth): a port

in southwestern England.

the canterbury tales 155

He rode a farmer’s horse as best he could, In a woolen gown that reached his knee. A dagger on a lanyard falling free Hung from his neck under his arm and down. The summer heat had tanned his color brown, And certainly he was an excellent fellow. Many a draft of vintage, red and yellow, He’d drawn at Bordeaux, while the trader snored. The nicer rules of conscience he ignored. If, when he fought, the enemy vessel sank, He sent his prisoners home; they walked the plank. As for his skill in reckoning his tides, Currents and many another risk besides, Moons, harbors, pilots, he had such dispatch That none from Hull to Carthage was his match. Hardy he was, prudent in undertaking; His beard in many a tempest had its shaking, And he knew all the havens as they were From Gottland to the Cape of Finisterre, And every creek in Brittany and Spain; The barge he owned was called The Maudelayne.

A Doctor too emerged as we proceeded; No one alive could talk as well as he did On points of medicine and of surgery, For, being grounded in astronomy, He watched his patient closely for the hours When, by his horoscope, he knew the powers Of favorable planets, then ascendant, Worked on the images for his dependent. The cause of every malady you’d got He knew, and whether dry, cold, moist or hot; He knew their seat, their humor and condition. He was a perfect practicing physician. These causes being known for what they were, He gave the man his medicine then and there. All his apothecaries in a tribe Were ready with the drugs he would prescribe And each made money from the other’s guile; They had been friendly for a goodish while. He was well-versed in Aesculapius too And what Hippocrates and Rufus knew And Dioscorides, now dead and gone, Galen and Rhazes, Hali, Serapion, Averroes, Avicenna, Constantine, Scotch Bernard, John of Gaddesden, Gilbertine.










402  lanyard (lBnPyErd): a cord worn

as a necklace.

414  Hull . . . Carthage: ports in

England and in Spain. The places

named in lines 414–419 show that

the Skipper is familiar with all the

western coast of Europe.

416  tempest: violent storm.

malady (mBlPE-dC) n. a disease or disorder; an ailment

424  astronomy: astrology.

430  dry, cold, moist . . . hot: in

medieval science, the four basic

qualities that were thought to

combine to form both the four

elements of the world (fire, air,

water, and earth) and the four

humors of the human body.

435  apothecaries (E-pJthPG-kDrQCz):


439–444  Aesculapius

(DsQkyE-lAPpC-Es) . . . Gilbertine:

famous ancient and medieval

medical experts.

406  vintage: wine.

407  Bordeaux (bôr-dIP): a region of

France famous for its wine.

156 unit 1: the anglo-saxon and medieval periods

In his own diet he observed some measure; There were no superfluities for pleasure, Only digestives, nutritives and such. He did not read the Bible very much. In blood-red garments, slashed with bluish grey And lined with taffeta, he rode his way; Yet he was rather close as to expenses And kept the gold he won in pestilences. Gold stimulates the heart, or so we’re told. He therefore had a special love of gold.

A worthy woman from beside Bath city Was with us, somewhat deaf, which was a pity. In making cloth she showed so great a bent She bettered those of Ypres and of Ghent. In all the parish not a dame dared stir Towards the altar steps in front of her, And if indeed they did, so wrath was she As to be quite put out of charity. Her kerchiefs were of finely woven ground; I dared have sworn they weighed a good ten pound, The ones she wore on Sunday, on her head. Her hose were of the finest scarlet red And gartered tight; her shoes were soft and new. Bold was her face, handsome, and red in hue. A worthy woman all her life, what’s more She’d had five husbands, all at the church door, Apart from other company in youth; No need just now to speak of that, forsooth.







452  pestilences: plagues.

455  Bath: a city in southwestern


458  Ypres (CPprE) . . . Ghent (gDnt):

Flemish cities famous in the Middle

Ages for manufacturing fine wool


461  wrath (rBth): angry.

463  ground: a textured fabric.

466  hose: stockings.

470 all at the church door: In

medieval times, a marriage was

performed outside or just within the

doors of a church; afterwards, the

marriage party went inside for mass.

472  forsooth: in truth; indeed.

446  superfluities (sLQpEr-flLPG-tCz):


450  taffeta (tBfPG-tE): a stiff, smooth


Analyze Visuals What does this image

reveal about the ways in

which a medieval doctor’s

practice differed from

that of a modern doctor?

the canterbury tales 157

And she had thrice been to Jerusalem, Seen many strange rivers and passed over them; She’d been to Rome and also to Boulogne, St. James of Compostella and Cologne, And she was skilled in wandering by the way. She had gap-teeth, set widely, truth to say. Easily on an ambling horse she sat Well wimpled up, and on her head a hat As broad as is a buckler or a shield; She had a flowing mantle that concealed Large hips, her heels spurred sharply under that. 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. j

A holy-minded man of good renown There was, and poor, the Parson to a town, Yet he was rich in holy thought and work. He also was a learned man, a clerk, Who truly knew Christ’s gospel and would preach it Devoutly to parishioners, and teach it. Benign and wonderfully diligent, And patient when adversity was sent (For so he proved in much adversity) He hated cursing to extort a fee, Nay rather he preferred beyond a doubt Giving to poor parishioners round about Both from church offerings and his property; He could in little find sufficiency. Wide was his parish, with houses far asunder, Yet he neglected not in rain or thunder, In sickness or in grief, to pay a call On the remotest, whether great or small, Upon his feet, and in his hand a stave. This noble example to his sheep he gave That first he wrought, and afterwards he taught; And it was from the Gospel he had caught Those words, and he would add this figure too, That if gold rust, what then will iron do? For if a priest be foul in whom we trust No wonder that a common man should rust; And shame it is to see—let priests take stock— A shitten shepherd and a snowy flock. The true example that a priest should give Is one of cleanness, how the sheep should live.










490  clerk: scholar.

500  sufficiency: enough to get by on.

501  asunder: apart.

505  stave: staff.

507  wrought �(rôt): worked.

509  figure: figure of speech.

473–476  Jerusalem . . . Rome . . .

Boulogne (bL-lInP), St. James of

Compostella and Cologne (kE-lInP):

popular destinations of religious

pilgrimages in the Middle Ages.

j characterization

Reread lines 455–486. Which

details help define the Wife of

Bath as a worldly woman?

480  wimpled: with her hair and

neck covered by a cloth headdress.

481  buckler: small round shield.

158 unit 1: the anglo-saxon and medieval periods

He did not set his benefice to hire And leave his sheep encumbered in the mire Or run to London to earn easy bread By singing masses for the wealthy dead, Or find some Brotherhood and get enrolled. He stayed at home and watched over his fold So that no wolf should make the sheep miscarry. He was a shepherd and no mercenary. k Holy and virtuous he was, but then Never contemptuous of sinful men, Never disdainful, never too proud or fine, But was discreet in teaching and benign. His business was to show a fair behavior And draw men thus to Heaven and their Savior, Unless indeed a man were obstinate; And such, whether of high or low estate, He put to sharp rebuke, to say the least. I think there never was a better priest. He sought no pomp or glory in his dealings, No scrupulosity had spiced his feelings. Christ and His Twelve Apostles and their lore He taught, but followed it himself before.

There was a Plowman with him there, his brother; Many a load of dung one time or other He must have carted through the morning dew. He was an honest worker, good and true, Living in peace and perfect charity, And, as the gospel bade him, so did he, Loving God best with all his heart and mind And then his neighbor as himself, repined At no misfortune, slacked for no content, For steadily about his work he went To thrash his corn, to dig or to manure Or make a ditch; and he would help the poor l For love of Christ and never take a penny If he could help it, and, as prompt as any, He paid his tithes in full when they were due On what he owned, and on his earnings too. He wore a tabard smock and rode a mare.

There was a Reeve, also a Miller, there, A College Manciple from the Inns of Court, A papal Pardoner and, in close consort,









l characterization

Compare the Plowman with

his brother, the Parson. What

character traits do they seem

to share?

555  tabard smock: a short loose

jacket made of a heavy material.

556  Reeve: an estate manager;

557 Manciple: a servant in charge

of purchasing food; Inns of Court:

London institutions for training law

students; 558 Pardoner: a church

official authorized to sell people

pardons for their sins.

536  scrupulosity (skrLQpyE-lJsPG-tC):

excessive concern with fine points of


517  set his benefice (bDnPE-fGs) to

hire: pay someone to perform his

parish duties for him.

k paraphrase

Restate lines 515–524. In what

ways does the Parson serve the

members of his parish?

the canterbury tales 159

A Church-Court Summoner, riding at a trot, And finally myself—that was the lot.

The Miller was a chap of sixteen stone, A great stout fellow big in brawn and bone. He did well out of them, for he could go And win the ram at any wrestling show. Broad, knotty and short-shouldered, he would boast He could heave any door off hinge and post, Or take a run and break it with his head. His beard, like any sow or fox, was red And broad as well, as though it were a spade; And, at its very tip, his nose displayed A wart on which there stood a tuft of hair Red as the bristles in an old sow’s ear. His nostrils were as black as they were wide. He had a sword and buckler at his side, His mighty mouth was like a furnace door. m A wrangler and buffoon, he had a store Of tavern stories, filthy in the main. His was a master-hand at stealing grain. He felt it with his thumb and thus he knew Its quality and took three times his due— A thumb of gold, by God, to gauge an oat! He wore a hood of blue and a white coat. He liked to play his bagpipes up and down And that was how he brought us out of town.

The Manciple came from the Inner Temple; All caterers might follow his example In buying victuals; he was never rash Whether he bought on credit or paid cash. He used to watch the market most precisely And got in first, and so he did quite nicely. Now isn’t it a marvel of God’s grace That an illiterate fellow can outpace The wisdom of a heap of learned men? His masters—he had more than thirty then— All versed in the abstrusest legal knowledge, Could have produced a dozen from their College Fit to be stewards in land and rents and game To any Peer in England you could name, And show him how to live on what he had Debt-free (unless of course the Peer were mad) Or be as frugal as he might desire, And make them fit to help about the Shire










576  wrangler (rBngPglEr): a loud,

argumentative person; buffoon

(bE-fLnP): a fool.

577  in the main: for the most part.

581  thumb of gold: a reference to

a proverb, “An honest miller has a

golden thumb”—perhaps meaning

that there is no such thing as an

honest miller.

585  Inner Temple: one of the Inns

of Court.

594  his masters: the lawyers that

the Manciple feeds.

595  abstrusest: most scholarly and

difficult to understand.

597–598  stewards . . . Peer: estate

managers for any nobleman.

m grammar and style

Review lines 570–575. Notice

how Chaucer uses similes,

or comparisons, to create

a remarkably vivid—and

unflattering—portrait of

the Miller.

559  Summoner: a layman with the

job of summoning sinners to church


561  stone: a unit of weight equal to

14 pounds.

160 unit 1: the anglo-saxon and medieval periods

In any legal case there was to try; And yet this Manciple could wipe their eye.

The Reeve was old and choleric and thin; His beard was shaven closely to the skin, His shorn hair came abruptly to a stop Above his ears, and he was docked on top Just like a priest in front; his legs were lean, Like sticks they were, no calf was to be seen. He kept his bins and garners very trim; No auditor could gain a point on him. And he could judge by watching drought and rain The yield he might expect from seed and grain. His master’s sheep, his animals and hens, Pigs, horses, dairies, stores and cattle-pens Were wholly trusted to his government. He had been under contract to present The accounts, right from his master’s earliest years. No one had ever caught him in arrears. No bailiff, serf or herdsman dared to kick, He knew their dodges, knew their every trick; Feared like the plague he was, by those beneath. He had a lovely dwelling on a heath, Shadowed in green by trees above the sward. A better hand at bargains than his lord,






611  garners: buildings for

storing grain.

617  government: authority.

620  in arrears: with unpaid debts.

621  bailiff: farm manager; serf: farm


625  sward: grassy plot.

604  wipe their eye: outdo them.

605  choleric (kJlPE-rGk): having a

temperament in which yellow bile

predominates, and therefore prone

to outbursts of anger.

608  docked: clipped short.

the canterbury tales 161

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, To earn his thanks and even coats and hoods. When young he’d learnt a useful trade and still He was a carpenter of first-rate skill. The stallion-cob he rode at a slow trot Was dapple-grey and bore the name of Scot. He wore an overcoat of bluish shade And rather long; he had a rusty blade Slung at his side. He came, as I heard tell, From Norfolk, near a place called Baldeswell. His coat was tucked under his belt and splayed. He rode the hindmost of our cavalcade.

There was a Summoner with us at that Inn, His face on fire, like a cherubin, For he had carbuncles. His eyes were narrow, He was as hot and lecherous as a sparrow. Black scabby brows he had, and a thin beard. Children were afraid when he appeared. No quicksilver, lead ointment, tartar creams, No brimstone, no boracic, so it seems, Could make a salve that had the power to bite, Clean up or cure his whelks of knobby white Or purge the pimples sitting on his cheeks. Garlic he loved, and onions too, and leeks, And drinking strong red wine till all was hazy. Then he would shout and jabber as if crazy, And wouldn’t speak a word except in Latin When he was drunk, such tags as he was pat in; He only had a few, say two or three, That he had mugged up out of some decree; No wonder, for he heard them every day. And, as you know, a man can teach a jay To call out “Walter” better than the Pope. But had you tried to test his wits and grope For more, you’d have found nothing in the bag. Then “Questio quid juris” was his tag. He was a noble varlet and a kind one, You’d meet none better if you went to find one. Why, he’d allow—just for a quart of wine— Any good lad to keep a concubine A twelvemonth and dispense him altogether! And he had finches of his own to feather: And if he found some rascal with a maid










656  tags: brief quotations.

658  mugged up: memorized.

660  jay: a bird that can be taught

to mimic human speech without

understanding it.

664 Questio quid juris (kwDsPtC-I

kwGd yMrPGs): Latin for “The

question is, What part of the law (is

applicable)?”—a statement often

heard in medieval courts.

650  whelks (hwDlks): swellings.

647–648  quicksilver . . . boracic

(bE-rBsPGk): substances used as skin

medicines in medieval times.

633  stallion-cob: a thickset, short-

legged male horse.

638  Norfolk (nôrPfEk): a county in

eastern England.

642  cherubin (chDrPE-bGnQ): a type

of angel—in the Middle Ages often

depicted with a fiery red face.

643  carbuncles (kärPbOngQkElz): big

pimples, considered a sign of lechery

and drunkenness in the Middle Ages.

162 unit 1: the anglo-saxon and medieval periods

He would instruct him not to be afraid In such a case of the Archdeacon’s curse (Unless the rascal’s soul were in his purse) For in his purse the punishment should be. “Purse is the good Archdeacon’s Hell,” said he. But well I know he lied in what he said; A curse should put a guilty man in dread, For curses kill, as shriving brings, salvation. We should beware of excommunication. Thus, as he pleased, the man could bring duress On any young fellow in the diocese. He knew their secrets, they did what he said. He wore a garland set upon his head Large as the holly-bush upon a stake Outside an ale-house, and he had a cake, A round one, which it was his joke to wield As if it were intended for a shield.

He and a gentle Pardoner rode together, A bird from Charing Cross of the same feather, Just back from visiting the Court of Rome. He loudly sang, “Come hither, love, come home!” The Summoner sang deep seconds to this song, No trumpet ever sounded half so strong. This Pardoner had hair as yellow as wax, Hanging down smoothly like a hank of flax. In driblets fell his locks behind his head Down to his shoulders which they overspread; Thinly they fell, like rat-tails, one by one. He wore no hood upon his head, for fun; The hood inside his wallet had been stowed, He aimed at riding in the latest mode; But for a little cap his head was bare And he had bulging eye-balls, like a hare. He’d sewed a holy relic on his cap; His wallet lay before him on his lap, Brimful of pardons come from Rome, all hot. He had the same small voice a goat has got. His chin no beard had harbored, nor would harbor, Smoother than ever chin was left by barber. I judge he was a gelding, or a mare. As to his trade, from Berwick down to Ware There was no pardoner of equal grace, For in his trunk he had a pillow-case Which he asserted was Our Lady’s veil.










701  wallet: knapsack.

705  holy relic: an object revered

because of its association with a

holy person.

711  gelding (gDlPdGng): a castrated

horse—here, a eunuch.

712  Berwick (bDrPGk) . . . Ware: towns

in the north and the south of England.

715  Our Lady’s veil: the kerchief of

the Virgin Mary.

696  flax: a pale grayish yellow fiber

used for making linen cloth.

673  Archdeacon’s curse:

excommunication—an official

exclusion of a person from

participating in the rites of the

church. (An archdeacon is a high

church official.)

681  duress (dM-rDsP): compulsion by

means of threats.

682  diocese (dFPE-sGs): the district

under a bishop’s supervision.

685–686  the holly-bush . . . ale-

house: Since few people could read

in the Middle Ages, many businesses

identified themselves with symbols.

Outside many taverns could be

found wreaths of holly on stakes.

690  Charing Cross: a section

of London.

the canterbury tales 163

He said he had a gobbet of the sail Saint Peter had the time when he made bold To walk the waves, till Jesu Christ took hold. He had a cross of metal set with stones And, in a glass, a rubble of pigs’ bones. And with these relics, any time he found Some poor up-country parson to astound, In one short day, in money down, he drew More than the parson in a month or two, And by his flatteries and prevarication Made monkeys of the priest and congregation. n But still to do him justice first and last In church he was a noble ecclesiast. How well he read a lesson or told a story! But best of all he sang an Offertory, For well he knew that when that song was sung He’d have to preach and tune his honey-tongue And (well he could) win silver from the crowd. That’s why he sang so merrily and loud.

Now I have told you shortly, in a clause, The rank, the array, the number and the cause Of our assembly in this company In Southwark, at that high-class hostelry Known as The Tabard, close beside The Bell. And now the time has come for me to tell How we behaved that evening; I’ll begin After we had alighted at the Inn, Then I’ll report our journey, stage by stage, All the remainder of our pilgrimage. But first I beg of you, in courtesy, Not to condemn me as unmannerly If I speak plainly and with no concealings And give account of all their words and dealings, Using their very phrases as they fell. 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, Or else the tale he tells will be untrue, The things pretended and the phrases new. He may not flinch although it were his brother, He may as well say one word as another. And Christ Himself spoke broad in Holy Writ, Yet there is no scurrility in it,










n paraphrase

Paraphrase the description of the Pardoner in lines 712–726. How exactly does he earn a living?

739  The Bell: another inn.

745–756  The narrator apologizes in

advance for using the exact words of

his companions.

759  broad: bluntly; plainly.

760  scurrility (skE-rGlPG-tC): vulgarity;


716  gobbet: piece.

717–718  when he . . . took hold: a

reference to an incident in which

Jesus extended a helping hand to

Peter as he tried to walk on water

(Matthew 14:29–31).

164 unit 1: the anglo-saxon and medieval periods

And Plato says, for those with power to read, “The word should be as cousin to the deed.” Further I beg you to forgive it me If I neglect the order and degree And what is due to rank in what I’ve planned. I’m short of wit as you will understand.

Our Host gave us great welcome; everyone Was given a place and supper was begun. He served the finest victuals you could think, The wine was strong and we were glad to drink. A very striking man our Host withal, And fit to be a marshal in a hall. His eyes were bright, his girth a little wide; There is no finer burgess in Cheapside. Bold in his speech, yet wise and full of tact, There was no manly attribute he lacked, What’s more he was a merry-hearted man. After our meal he jokingly began To talk of sport, and, among other things After we’d settled up our reckonings, He said as follows: “Truly, gentlemen, You’re very welcome and I can’t think when —Upon my word I’m telling you no lie— I’ve seen a gathering here that looked so spry, No, not this year, as in this tavern now. I’d think you up some fun if I knew how. And, as it happens, a thought has just occurred






780  settled up our reckonings: paid

our bills.

772  marshal in a hall: an official in

charge of arranging a nobleman’s


774  Cheapside: the main business

district of London in Chaucer’s day.

767  Host: the innkeeper of

the Tabard.

761  Plato (plAPtI): a famous

philosopher of ancient Greece.

the canterbury tales 165

To please you, costing nothing, on my word. You’re off to Canterbury—well, God speed! Blessed St. Thomas answer to your need! And I don’t doubt, before the journey’s done You mean to while the time in tales and fun. Indeed, there’s little pleasure for your bones Riding along and all as dumb as stones. So let me then propose for your enjoyment, Just as I said, a suitable employment. And if my notion suits and you agree And promise to submit yourselves to me Playing your parts exactly as I say Tomorrow as you ride along the way, Then by my father’s soul (and he is dead) If you don’t like it you can have my head! Hold up your hands, and not another word.”

Well, our opinion was not long deferred, It seemed not worth a serious debate; We all agreed to it at any rate And bade him issue what commands he would. “My lords,” he said, “now listen for your good, And please don’t treat my notion with disdain. This is the point. I’ll make it short and plain. Each one of you shall help to make things slip By telling two stories on the outward trip To Canterbury, that’s what I intend, And, on the homeward way to journey’s end Another two, tales from the days of old; And then the man whose story is best told, That is to say who gives the fullest measure Of good morality and general pleasure, He shall be given a supper, paid by all, Here in this tavern, in this very hall, When we come back again from Canterbury. o And in the hope to keep you bright and merry I’ll go along with you myself and ride All at my own expense and serve as guide. I’ll be the judge, and those who won’t obey Shall pay for what we spend upon the way. Now if you all agree to what you’ve heard Tell me at once without another word, And I will make arrangements early for it.”









794 dumb: silent.

807 bade him: asked him to.

790 St. Thomas: St. Thomas à Becket, to whose shrine the pilgrims are traveling.

Language Coach

Multiple Meanings Submit has several meanings: (1) to yield to someone else’s power, (2) to present for review, (3) to present as an opinion. Which meaning applies in line 798? Which meaning applies in this sentence? I will submit my article to the school newspaper.


TO N E In literature, tone refers to the attitude a writer takes toward a subject or character. A writer can communicate tone through diction, choice of details, and direct statements of his or her opinion. Tone can be serious, playful, admiring, mocking, or objective. How would you describe Chaucer’s tone toward his characters throughout “The Prologue”? Why do you think he portrays his characters this way?


TX_L12PE-u01s31-Prolog.indd 165TX_L12PE-u01s31-Prolog.indd 165 9/9/09 1:55:28 PM9/9/09 1:55:28 PM

166 unit 1: the anglo-saxon and medieval periods

Of course we all agreed, in fact we swore it Delightedly, and made entreaty too That he should act as he proposed to do, Become our Governor in short, and be Judge of our tales and general referee, And set the supper at a certain price. We promised to be ruled by his advice Come high, come low; unanimously thus We set him up in judgment over us. More wine was fetched, the business being done; We drank it off and up went everyone To bed without a moment of delay. p

Early next morning at the spring of day Up rose our Host and roused us like a cock, Gathering us together in a flock, And off we rode at slightly faster pace Than walking to St. Thomas’ watering-place; And there our Host drew up, began to ease His horse, and said, “Now, listen if you please, My lords! Remember what you promised me. If evensong and matins will agree Let’s see who shall be first to tell a tale. And as I hope to drink good wine and ale I’ll be your judge. The rebel who disobeys, However much the journey costs, he pays. Now draw for cut and then we can depart; The man who draws the shortest cut shall start.”







p characterization

Examine the way the pilgrims respond to the Host in lines 830–841. What type of person do you think would appeal to so many?

843  cock: rooster (whose cry rouses

people from sleep).

846  St. Thomas’ watering-place: a

brook about two miles from London.

850  If evensong and matins (mBtPnz)

will agree: if what you said last night

is what you will do this morning.

(Evensong and matins are evening

and morning prayer services.)

855  draw for cut: draw lots.

entreaty (Dn-trCPtC) n. a serious request or plea

Comprehension 1. Recall When and where does “The Prologue” take place?

2. Recall What event or circumstance causes the characters to gather?

3. Summarize What plan does the Host propose to the characters?

Literary Analysis 4. Analyze Characterization Throughout the selection, Chaucer uses physical

details—eyes, hair, clothing—to help develop his characters. Choose three pilgrims and describe how their outward appearances reflect their personalities.

5. Identify Irony Much of the humor of “The Prologue” is based on irony, the discrepancy between what appears to be true and what actually is true. Explain the irony in each of the following character portraits:

• the Nun Prioress • the Merchant • the Skipper • the Doctor

6. Draw Conclusions Review what you paraphrased as you read the selection. Describe the narrator’s personality and values.

7. Examine Satire A writer who pokes fun at behaviors and customs with the intent of improving society is creating satire. Review the descriptions of the Monk and the Friar in lines 169–279. What aspects of the medieval church does Chaucer satirize through these characters?

8. Interpret Tone In literature, tone refers to the attitude a writer takes toward a subject or character. Tone can be serious, playful, admiring, mocking, or objective. Review lines 455–486. What is Chaucer’s tone toward the Wife of Bath? Cite specific words and phrases to support your answer.

Literary Criticism 9. Critical Interpretations In 1809, the English poet and artist William Blake

made the following observation: “Chaucer’s pilgrims are the characters which compose all ages and nations. . . . Some of the names or titles are altered by time, but the characters themselves forever remain unaltered.” Do you agree or disagree that Chaucer’s characters seem timeless and universal? Support your opinion with details from the text and your own experiences.

What makes a great character? Which of Chaucer’s characters do you like best? Which character traits make this character appealing to you?

the canterbury tales 167

WRITING 3 Evaluate the changes in sound, form, figurative language, and dramatic structure in poetry across literary time periods.

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Vocabulary in Context

vocabulary practice

Use the details from “The Prologue” and your understanding of the boldfaced

words to help you choose the answer to each question.

1. Which of these characters shows the most courtliness?

2. Which of these characters seems the most personable?

3. What does the Doctor believe can cause a malady?

4. Which of these characters tries the most to behave sedately?

5. Which character has seen money accrue in his savings?

6. To whom do the pilgrims make an entreaty about judging the story contest?

academic vocabulary in writing

Chaucer characters embody abstract concepts like greed and vanity, yet remain

fully-realized, three-dimesional characters. Using at least two additional

Academic Vocabulary words, write about how the structure of “The Prologue”

allows Chaucer to give such a complete picture of the pilgrims.

vocabulary strategy: words from french

French has contributed words to English since the French-speaking Normans

invaded England in 1066. A huge number of our “Latin” words actually come

from Latin by way of Old French. Knowing the French origins of a word can help

you understand its meanings. For example, knowing that parley comes from the

French parler, which means “to speak,” will tell you that a parley is a conference.

PRACTICE Based on the word list to the right and the following word bank,

respond each item below:

1. The words accretion and ________ both contain the core

meaning of the Old French word acreu. What is that core

meaning? __________

2. The core meaning of the English word ___________ can be found in the Old

French word for “sick.” What is that word? _______________

3. If the Normans had not invaded England in 1066, we might not say a friendly

individual is ____________.

4. Although it did not survive into Modern French, the Old French word entrait-

er survives in English in the form of __________.

• concept • culture • parallel • section • structure

• malady • personable • entreaty • court • accrue

w o r d l i st







Go to KEYWORD: HML12-168

Interactive Vocabulary

Old French Root Original Meaning

acreu increased

entraiter to deal with, beseech

malade sick

persone person

168 unit 1: the anglo-saxon and medieval periods

READING 1A Determine the meaning of technical academic English words in multiple content areas derived from Latin or other linguistic roots. 1D Analyze and explain how the English language has developed and been influenced by other languages.