The Canterbury Tales
By Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1342-1400)
A Study Guide
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Type of Work
When Written and Published
Language
Narration and Structure
Frame Tale
Number of Travelers: 32
Number of Tales: 24
The Tabard Inn
What Was a Tabard?
When, Where Story Begins
When, Where Story Continues
Length of Trip, Road Condition
St. Thomas à Becket
Versification
Characterization
Genres of the Tales
Chaucer as Pioneer
Summaries of the Prologues
Summaries of the Tales
Text in Middle & Modern English
Text in Middle English
Complete Ellesmere Ms
Complete Hengwrt Ms
Complete Cambridge Ms
Complete Corpus Ms
Complete Lansdowne MS
Complete Harleian MS
Complete Petworth MS
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Background and Summaries by Michael J. Cummings...© 2008
Type of Work 
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.......The Canterbury Tales is a fictional account in a historical setting about pilgrims who tell stories on their way to a cathedral shrine. A tavern owner acts as their tour guide. The pilgrims' stories are in various genres, including chivalric romance, Arthurian romance, satire, beast fable, fabliau, and exemplum (an exhortation on morals and religion.) The Canterbury Tales opens with a general prologue introducing the storytellers after they gather at an inn. It continues the next morning. The pilgrims tell their tales to pass the time while journeying to Canterbury, about fifty-six miles southeast of London, to visit the shrine of Thomas à Becket, a saint of the Roman Catholic Church. In prologues between the tales, the travelers comment on a tale just completed or introduce a story about to be told. Sometimes they also make general observations. 

When Written and Published

.......Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1342-1400) wrote The Canterbury Tales between 1387 and 1400, about half a century before Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. The first copies of Chaucer's work were handwritten. William Caxton (1422-1491), the first printer in England, published two editions of The Canterbury Tales, one in the late 1470s and one in the early 1480s. 

Language

.......The language of The Canterbury Tales is Middle English, spoken and written in Britain between 1100 and 1500. Middle English followed Old English (450 to 1100), the first period in the development of the English language, and preceded Modern English (1500 to the present). 
.......Between 1100 and 1250, Middle English was the language of the middle and lower classes, French was the language of the upper classes, and French and Latin were the languages of literature. (William, Duke of Normandy, had brought French to England when he conquered the country in 1066 and acceded to the throne on Christmas day of that year.) 
.......Between 1250 and 1300, the upper classes also began speaking Middle English because of the decline of French influence in England, but French and Latin remained the language of literature. When Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales in Middle English between 1387 and 1400, he was among the first writers who told stories in MIddle English. Chaucer mainly used the East Midlands dialect of Middle English (spoken in London and nearby locales) in The Canterbury Tales.
.......During the Middle English period, rules of pronunciation and inflection were flexible, allowing the language to evolve. A notable characteristic of Middle English as used by Chaucer was the presence of a final -e in words that today are written without a final -e. Generally, the final -e of a word was pronounced if it preceded a word beginning with a vowel. Although midway through the Middle English period speakers were beginning to cease pronouncing the final -e before a vowel, Chaucer usually retained its pronunciation in The Canterbury Tales. It was pronounced like the a in coma and the second a in papa. (Note: A sounded e inside a word was generally pronounced like the modern long a. Thus, the first e in the word swete, the Middle English equivalent of sweet, was pronounced like the a in mate.)  Following are examples of words ending in e in lines 1-30 of the general prologue as presented in many popular editions of The Canterbury Tales
 

Aprille
April
roote
root
ende
end
nyne
nine
compaignye
company
felaweshipe
fellowship
alle
all
ryde
ride
wyde
wide
oure
our
devyse
devise
wende
wend

.......Another characteristic of Middle English was the use of the letter y (pronounced as a long e) followed by a hyphen and a verb to indicate the past tense of that verb. Examples from The Canterbury Tales are y-draw (drawn), y-know (known), y-shave (shaven), y-beat (beaten), y-hold (held), y-do (done), y-take (took), y-go (gone), y-crow (crowed), y-fall (fallen), y-grave (engraved), and y-run (ran). Sometimes the y and hyphen preceded verbs already in the past tense in modern English, as in y-bought (bought), y-told (told), and y-nourished (nourished). The use of y- before a verb continued until about 1600. On some occasions or in some editions of The Canterbury Tales, a y without a hyphen precedes a verb.
.......For additional information on Middle English, consult the following pages

Introduction to Chaucer’s Language: Siân Echard, University of British Columbia
Teach Yourself to Read Chaucer’s Middle English: Harvard University
Middle English Pronunciation Guide: Hamill Indexing
Middle English Pronunciation Pages
Middle English Phonology: Goucher College
Middle English: Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language Via High Beam Encyclopedia
Notes on Translating Middle English: Wessex Parallel Web Texts
A Basic Chaucer Glossary: Edwin Duncan, Towson University
Narration and Structure: the Frame Tale

.......The Canterbury Tales has one overall narrator, Chaucer himself in the persona of the first pilgrim, who presents his account in first-person point of view. In the general prologue, he establishes the time of the year, April, then begins telling the story about the pilgrimage to Canterbury. After describing the pilgrims gathering at their point point of departure—the Tabard Inn, across the Thames River from central London—he reports a proposal by their host, the proprietor of the Tabard, that the pilgrims tell stories on their journey to pass the time. Upon their return, the pilgrim deemed the best storyteller would receive a meal paid for by his companions. The proprietor, Harry Bailly (spelled Bailey or Bailley in some editions of The Canterbury Tales), says he would accompany the pilgrims, acting as their tour guide. The pilgrims enthusiastically approve his proposal. 
......Chaucer then allows the pilgrims to narrate their tales. They tell them in third-person point of view. Between their stories, Chaucer resumes his narration, reporting the discourse of the pilgrims and the words of Harry Bailly when he introduces the next storyteller. Thus, The Canterbury Tales consists of stories within a story. Bailly plays a crucial role in The Canterbury Tales. With his questions and comments, he stimulates conversation that helps to reveal the personalities and attitudes of the pilgrims. 
.......Scholars label as frame tales literary works that present a story (or stories) within another story. The inner story is like a painting on a canvas; the outer story is like the frame of the painting. In The Canterbury Tales, the inner stories told by the pilgrims form the images on the canvas; the outer story told by Chaucer forms the frame. The frame tale was not unique to Chaucer. Among other literary works with this format were The Seven Sages, a collection of tales (authors and dates of composition not established) originating in India that spread westward; The Thousand and One Nights, a collection of tales (authors and dates of composition not established) from India, Persia, Arabia, and Egypt, including the famous stories about Aladdin, Ali Baba, and Sindbad the Sailor; Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1902).

Frame Tale

The Frame:  the Gathering at the Tabard Inn and the Journey to Canterbury
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The Images on the Canvas: the Tales of the Pilgrims
 
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The Frame Includes the General Prologue, Other Prologues, and the Pilgrims' Interruptions of Tales
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Number of Travelers to Canterbury: 32

.......The group traveling to Canterbury to visit the the shrine of Saint Thomas à Becket includes the following:
 

Who How Many
Narrator, the first of the pilgrims to arrive at the Tabard Inn 1
Pilgrims who arrive at the Tabard after the narrator 29
Pilgrim (canon's yeoman) who joins the others on the road 1
Host at the Tabard Inn, who accompanies the pilgrims 1

Number of Tales

.......According to Chaucer's original plan, each pilgrim was to tell four tales, two on the way to Canterbury and two on the return trip, for a total of one hundred twenty-four tales (counting those of the canon's yeoman). However, Chaucer died before he could begin the twenty-fifth tale. Of the twenty-four stories in The Canterbury Tales, twenty are complete, two ("The Cook's Tale" and "The Squire's Tale") are incomplete, and two ("The Monk's Tale" and "Sir Thopas's Tale") are intentionally cut short.

The Tabard Inn

.......The Tabard was one in a row of inns lining Borough High Street in Southwark, across the Thames River from central London. In his Survey of London, published in 1598 and revised in 1603, John Stow (1525-1605) says the inns could be identified by images on their signs. In Southwark, he says, "be many fair inns for receipt of travellers, by these signs: the Spurre, Christopher, Bull, Queen's Head, Tabard, George, Hart, King's Head," &c." The Tabard was constructed in 1307, repaired during Queen Elizabeth I's reign (1558-1603), and destroyed in a fire in 1676. Among the lodgers at the Tabard and other Southwark inns were pilgrims traveling south to the shrine of Saint Thomas à Becket in Canterbury. The inns also hosted northbound travelers to London and other points.

What Was a Tabard?

A tabard was a short-sleeved or sleeveless cloak worn by a knight to prevent the gleam of his armor from signaling his position to an enemy. A tabard, made of a heavy fabric, was emblazoned with a coat of arms. Presumably, the sign at the Tabard Inn bore the image of such a garment. 

When and Where the Story Begins

.......The Canterbury Tales begins in April of a year in the late 1300s at the Tabard Inn in the borough of Southwark (pronounced SUTH erk), across the River Thames from central London. In Chaucer’s time, a traveler passing through London reached Southwark by boat or by the only causeway spanning the Thames, London Bridge. The bridge led directly into a Southwark street that was the starting point of the road to Canterbury and other destinations in southeastern England, including ports on the Strait of Dover, between England and continental Europe. Inns that lined the street, including the Tabard, hosted many southbound travelers. 

When and Where the Story Continues

.......After Chaucer introduces the pilgrims gathered at the Tabard Inn, the story continues the next morning when they begin telling their tales as they ride on horseback on the road to Canterbury, nearly sixty miles to the southeast. 

Length of Trip, Condition of Road, and Safety

.......In Chaucer's day, a leisurely journey to Canterbury on horseback probably took three to five days, with stops at inns along the way. April rains probably made the dirt road connecting Southwark and Canterbury muddy in spots with water pooling in holes and ruts. Robbers were a constant danger on rural roads. However, armed pilgrims traveling in a large group, like those in The Canterbury Tales, probably were safe from marauders. 

Thomas à Becket: Martyr, Saint

.......The destination of the pilgrims is the shrine of Saint Thomas à Becket (1118?-1170) in Canterbury Cathedral, in which he was entombed after he was murdered in the church on December 29, 1170. 
.......Becket was born in London to well-to-do parents of Norman birth. After receiving an education in England and France, he served as a secretary to a lord and as a city clerk and an auditor for sheriffs. 
.......When he was twenty-five, his father helped him gain employment in the house of the archbishop of Canterbury, Theobald of Bec. After proving himself competent, he acted on the archbishop’s behalf on missions to Rome and studied civil and church law in Bologna, Italy, and Auxerre, France. His talents won him an appointment as archdeacon of Canterbury. After Theobald introduced him to England’s King Henry II in 1154, Henry appointed him chancellor of England on the archbishop’s recommendation. In that position, Becket exhibited superior administrative skills in domestic and military endeavors and in the king’s effort to gain more control and authority over the activities of the Roman Catholic Church and its clergy.
.......After Theobald died in 1161, Henry recommended Becket as a replacement for Theobald and, in 1162, Thomas won election as Canterbury’s archbishop. Henry now had a powerful ally who could win popular support for Henry’s program to bolster his control of the church—or so he thought. But in his new position, Becket took the side of the church—in particular, in its contention that the right to try and punish priests accused of felonies should remain the sole responsibility of the church. 
.......In January 1164, Henry promulgated the Constitutions of Clarendon, a document limiting church authority. In a key provision, it decreed that priests accused of serious crimes must be tried in government rather than ecclesiastical courts. Although Becket at first accepted this document, he later rejected it. In retaliation, the king charged that Becket had committed graft as chancellor, and Becket took refuge in France in November 1170. 
.......In that same year, Henry ordered the crowning of his oldest son, Henry, as a co-ruler by the archbishop of York. Becket, maintaining that only the archbishop of Canterbury could preside at a coronation ceremony, excommunicated clergymen who conducted the ceremony. While Henry was in France, Becket returned to England and ordered additional excommunications. The people regarded him as a hero. 
.......Upon hearing of Becket’s action, as well as his soaring popularity with citizens of the realm, Henry exploded into a tirade against Becket. Four of Henry’s knights then took it upon themselves to return to England and get rid of Becket once and for all. On December 29, 1170, they murdered him in Canterbury Cathedral. Shortly thereafter, pilgrims began visiting his tomb in the church. Reports of miracles at the site prompted the Pope to canonize Becket a saint in 1173. A repentant Henry visited the tomb in 1174, and thereafter pilgrimages to Canterbury became a European tradition. 

Versification
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.......Except for two prose tales, Chaucer presents The Canterbury Tales in verse. The meter varies, although many lines are in iambic pentameter. However, metric classification depends often on whether the reader uses Middle English pronunciations. Even then, it may be difficult to determine whether Chaucer intended a syllable to be pronounced or skipped as silent. A further problem is that scribes copying his original manuscript may have deleted or inserted syllables. 
.......Most of the prologues and the tales of the pilgrims consist of a series of rhyming couplets (units of two lines, each about the same length, with end rhyme). The opening lines of the work in the general prologue demonstrate the couplet pattern. The rhyming pairs of words in each couplet are in alternating blue and red type.

1   Whan that Aprille, with hise shoures soote,
2   The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
3   And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
4   Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
5   Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
6   Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
7   The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
8   Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,
9   And smale foweles maken melodye,
10   That slepen al the nyght with open eye-
11   So priketh hem Nature in hir corages-
12   Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages
13   And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes
14   To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
15   And specially, from every shires ende
16   Of Engelond, to Caunturbury they wende,
17   The hooly blisful martir for the seke
18   That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seeke.
.......Some tales, however, use a different rhyme scheme. For example, "The Lawyer's Tale," "The Prioress's Tale" and "The Clerk's Tale" are in rhyme royal, in which stanzas of seven lines in iambic pentameter have a rhyme scheme of ababbcc, as in the following stanza from "The Prioress's Tale":
a.....Lady! thy bounty, thy magnificence,
b.....Thy virtue, and thy great humility,
a.....There may no tongue express in no science:
b.....For sometimes, Lady! ere men pray to thee,
b.....Thou go'st before, of thy benignity,
c.....And gettest us the light, through thy prayere,
c.....To guiden us unto thy son so dear.
Chaucer had earlier used rhyme royal in Parlement of Foules (1382) and Troilus and Criseyde (1385). 
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Characterization

.......In depicting the Canterbury pilgrims, Chaucer presents realistic descriptions that exhibit his understanding of the human drama and the foibles and eccentricities of its participants. Using concise and specific language, he enables the reader to see or hear the squire carving meat for his father, the prioress crying when she sees a mouse ensnared, the monk riding horses with bridles that jingle, and the wife of Bath wearing hose of scarlet red. In "The Reeve's Tale," Chaucer tells us that Simkin is a bully with a bald head who can play pipes, fish, and wrestle. In "The Man of Law's Tale," he tells us that the eyes of the evil knight pop from their sockets after he tells a lie. In "The Miller's Tale," he tells us that Absalom gains revenge by ramming a red-hot poker between the buttocks of Nicholas.
.......Among the pilgrims are the learned, the religious, the worldly, the romantic, the practical, the idealistic, the merry, the irreverent. The pilgrims come from the middle class but vary in their personal backgrounds and occupations. As a group, they are a microcosm of the English society that flourished beyond the pale of the highborn. However, the characters in the pilgrims' stories include royals as well as commoners. Thus, in The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer presents the whole range of humanity, a rarity in a day when most writers centered their stories primarily on kings and queens and legendary heroes. The host, Harry Bailly, plays a crucial role in The Canterbury Tales. With his questions and comments, he stimulates conversation that helps to reveal the personalities and attitudes of the pilgrims.
.......Generally, the tales the pilgrims tell reflect the attitudes and beliefs of the tellers. 
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Examples of Genres in The Canterbury Tales

Fabliau

.......Five of the tales that the pilgrims tell are fabliaux. The fabliau was a short verse tale with coarse humor and earthy, realistic, and sometimes obscene descriptions that present an episode in the life of contemporary middle- and lower-class people. The fabliau uses satire and cynicism, along with vulgar comedy, to mock one or several of its characters. Not infrequently, the ridiculed character is a jealous husband, a wayward wife, a braggart, a lover, a proud or greedy tradesman, a doltish peasant, or a lustful or greedy clergyman.  Plot development often depends on a prank, a pun, a mistaken identity, or an incident involving the characters in intrigue. The fabliau was popular in France from 1100 to 1300, then went out of fashion. Chaucer revived the format in The Canterbury Tales to write “The Miller’s Tale," “The Reeve’s Tale," “The Cook’s Tale," “The Shipman’s Tale," and The Summoner’s Tale." It is not entirely clear whether the fabliau was a pastime of the upper classes as a means to ridicule their social inferiors or of the middle and lower classes as a means to poke fun at themselves. 

Chivalric Romance (or Courtly Love)

"The Knight's Tale" is an example of a chivalric romance, or a tale of courtly love. In such tales, the knights exhibit nobility, courage, and respect for their ladies fair, and the ladies exhibit elegance, modesty, and fidelity. Although knights and ladies may fall passionately in love, they eschew immoral behavior. In conflicts between good and evil, justice prevails. 

Exemplum

"The Pardoner's Tale" is an example of an exemplum (plural, exempla), a short narrative in verse or prose that teaches a moral lesson or reinforces a doctrine or religious belief. Other tales can be regarded as exempla or contain elements of the exemplum in that they present examples of right or wrong living that teach moral precepts.

Arthurian Romance

"The Wife of Bath's Tale" is an example of an Arthurian romance, a type of work in which a knight in the age of the legendary King Arthur goes on a quest.

Beast Fable

"The Nun's Priest's Tale" is an example of a beast fable, a short story in verse or prose in which animals are the main characters. They exhibit human qualities, and their activities underscore a universal truth. 

Satire

A satire is a literary work or technique that attacks or pokes fun at vices and imperfections. Many of the prologues and tales contain satire that ridicules people who exhibit hypocrisy, greed, false humility, stupidity, self-importance, and other flaws. 

Burlesque

A burlesque is a literary work or technique that mocks a person, a place, a thing, or an idea by using wit, irony, hyperbole, sarcasm, and/or understatement. For example, a burlesque may turn a supposedly respected personsuch as old John in "The Miller's Tale"into a buffoon. A hallmark of burlesque is its thoroughgoing exaggeration, often to the point of the absurd.

Low Comedy

A type of comedy that is generally physical rather than verbal, relying on slapstick and horseplay as in "The Miller's Tale." Low comedy usually focuses on ordinary folk. 

Breton Lay

"The Franklin's Tale" is an example of a Breton lay, a Fourteenth Century English narrative poem in rhyme about courtly love that contains elements of the supernatural  The English borrowed the Breton-lay format from the French. A lay is a medieval narrative poem originally intended to be sung. Breton is an adjective describing anyone or anything from Brittany, France.

Allegory

An allegory is a literary work or technique that ascribes secondary or symbolic meaning to characters, events, objects, and ideas, as in "The Nun's Priest's Tale." The pilgrims' journey to Canterbury may also be regarded as an allegory in that it can be viewed as a representation of the journey through life or the journey toward the ultimate destination, heaven.
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Chaucer’s as a Pioneering Writer

.......Geoffrey Chaucer was among the first authors in Britain to write in the language of the masses, Middle English, rather than Latin or French, giving impetus to the development of English as a literary language. He was also among the first to write about ordinary folk in a contemporary setting rather than kings and queens or legendary heroes of the past. In doing so, he laid bare in fine detail both the psyche and the soma of his characters, setting an example for later writers to follow in drawing realistic portraits. In addition, he was among the first to write in such verse forms as iambic pentameter and rhyme royal. 
.......His innovations, along with the wit and insight he used to carry them out, earned him a place in the pantheon of England's greatest writers.
.......For a complete biography of Chaucer, click here.

The Canterbury Tales
Background and Summaries
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1. The Prologue

Purpose: "The Prologue" sets the scene—the Tabard Inn on Borough High Street in Southwark (pronounced SUTH erk), across the Thames River from central London—and introduces thirty pilgrims, including the narrator. It also introduces the host who will accompany them on their trip to Canterbury the following day. "The Prologue" reveals Chaucer's understanding of humanity, with all its foibles and eccentricities, and his ability to write with concision, humor, and gentle satire. "The Prologue" is an important structural device that establishes the unity of a group of diverse middle-class citizens who will be telling separate stories on their way to the shrine of Saint Thomas à Becket. Absent from the group introduced at the Tabard Inn is the canon's yeoman, who catches up with the pilgrims on the road to Canterbury.
Setting: The action begins on a day in April in the late 1300s—probably 1383—at the Tabard Inn in the borough of Southwark, across the Thames River from central London. It continues the next morning. 
Theme 1:Camaraderie: Although the pilgrims come from different backgrounds and exhibit different temperaments and preferences, they are all one in their enthusiastic acceptance of one another as comrades.
Theme 2: Adventure: The gathering of the pilgrims, many of them armed with swords and daggers to protect themselves on their journey, suggests adventure. True, their destination, Canterbury, was only fifty-six miles away. But in Chaucer's world, traveling such a distance took far more time time than it does today to travel by air from New York to Hong Kong. 
Theme 3: Atonement: Many pilgrims hope to gain expiation or other spiritual benefits from visiting Becket's tomb. To be sure, some pilgrims are merely going along for the ride. But other pilgirms seek the benefits of a religious experience. 

Summary

.......When April rains coax flowers from the soil, pilgrims begin traveling to holy places in distant lands and, in England, to the shrine of St. Thomas à  Becket in the great cathedral at Canterbury. The pilgrims themselves are flowers that bud and open on the journey to Canterbury.
.......At the Tabard Inn in Southwark, across the Thames from central London, the narrator sits at a table and observes  twenty-nine pilgrims as they arrive for the trip to Canterbury. Before the sun sets, the narrator speaks with all the travelers, who agree to get up early the next day to begin the trip. 
.......The narrator identifies the pilgrims as follows: 
.......A knight who has traveled throughout Christian and heathen countries, performing great deeds. With his sword, he has seen service in Alexandria, Lithuania, Russia, Spain, and elsewhere, taking part in fifteen battles and performing bravely and nobly. He is truly a man to look up to.
.......A squire who accompanies his father, the knight. Though only in his early twenties, the squire has already seen cavalry service in Flanders, Artois, and Picardy. With his deeds he hopes to win the heart of a fair lady. He sings, plays the flute, dances, and composes verses and songs. Not a little of his time he spends on the art of love. He is well-mannered and humble and carves meat for his father at the dinner table.
.......A yeoman who is the squire's servant. He has a bow and sheaf of arrows, as well as a dagger on his hip. Next to him, to one side, are a sword and shield. He is skilled at woodcraft.
.......A prioress, Madam Eglantine, who sings beautifully in church, can speak French well, and exhibits exquisite table manners. And how charitable this nun is. She cries when she sees a mouse caught in a trap. She wears a pleated wimple (head covering), a fine cloak, and a rosary on her wrist. 
.......A second nun and a priest, who accompany the prioress.
.......A monk, who is bald and husky and loves to hunt and ride horses with bridles that jingle. He has the makings of an abbot. He keeps not often to his cell, for he thinks the rules of his religious order are too strict. Nor does he favor long hours of study or long hours of manual labor. To aid him in his hunting of the hare, he keeps swift greyhounds.
.......A friar, Hubert, who is a merry chap talented at idle chatter and arranging marriages for beautiful ladies. Well known is he throughout his county, for he is pleasant to all when he hears confessions. He gives small penances that bring him gifts. He can sing and fiddle, and in taverns where he is a frequent guest. He also mingles with the merchants and the rich, from whom he accrues a profit.
.......Also among the pilgrims are a bearded merchant, proud and boastful, who buys and sells French currency; an Oxford student, thin and threadbare, who studies logic; a sergeant of the law in a motley coat who buys land with fees he collects; and a franklin (freeborn landholder), red in complexion with a white beard, who loves wine and meat and all the delights that tempt people. He once served as a sheriff and a county auditor.
.......Others include a haberdasher, dyer, carpenter, tapestry maker, and weaver. All bear the markings of success in the attire of their guild and in their fine belts and pouches. They have a cook to prepare their chickens and serve their Cyprus wine. 
.......There is a skipper with a dagger dangling from a strap. Because he has no conscience, he drank the wine of a sleeping merchant while sailing from Bordeaux on The Maudelayne. But he is the best of navigators, plotting his course by the moon and the stars. 
.......The pilgrims also include the following:
.......A physician who loves gold. 
.......A wife from near the town of Bath who has visited Jerusalem three times and gone to the marriage altar five times. An excellent clothier is she. She is a bit deaf and wears fine kerchiefs on her head and fine hose of scarlet red. 
.......A parson who is learned and holy and would rather give than take. He is never proud or self-righteous. 
.......A plowman, the parson's brother, who loves God and loves his neighbor. 
.......Rounding out the company of pilgrims are a miller, a reeve (officer of a manor), a summoner, (who serves legal papers accusing a person of a crime), a pardoner, (a priest who gives indulgences remitting sin in exchange for money for the church)  a manciple (a purchaser of provisions for an institution), and the narrator
.......After welcoming the pilgrims to the Tabard Inn, their host, Harry Baillymerry, robust man who is the proprietor of the Tabardserves them good food and strong wine. He then proposes a way for them to amuse themselves on their journey: Each pilgrim will tell two tales on the way to Canterbury and two more on the way back. The best storyteller will receive a supper at the Tabard paid for by all. The host says he is willing to ride along to make the pilgrims merry and act as their guide at his own expense. Everyone happily agrees to Bailly's proposal and accepts him as their guide.
.......In the morning, the host rouses everyone. When they draw lots to see who tells the first tale, the knight wins the honor. In a moment, they are on their way. 
 
2. The Knight's Tale

Type of Story: "The Knight's Tale" is a chivalric romance. It centers on the the love two young men have for the same woman. Although set in ancient Athens, it follows the practices and ideals of medieval chivalry. There is little character development. 
Source: Chaucer based "The Knight's Tale" on The Teseida of Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375). Written in 1340-41, the twelve-canto epic centers on two young men, Arcita and Palemone, who vie for the love of a young woman. 
Setting: The action takes place in ancient Athens and its environs over several years. However, the spirit, traditions, and ideals of medieval chivalry prevail during the story. 
Theme 1: Estrangement and Reconciliation: After two cousins fall in love at first sight with same woman, they become desperate rivals. After they lead knights in a duel for her hand, they become friends again after the winner suffers a mortal injury in a fall from his horse and recommends his cousin for the hand of the woman. 
Theme 2: Wise and Just Leadership in Overcoming Conflict: Theseus, the ruler of Athens, acts wisely and decisively when he goes to war against the ruler of Thebes, Creon, who refuses burial to three warriors killed fighting against him. Denial of burial, even to an enemy, is a violation of one of the most sacred rights of Greek citizens. Theseus defeats Creon and the burials take place. Theseus again acts wisely in resolving the conflict between the two cousins vying for the hand of the same woman. 

Summary of the Tale

.......Theseus, ruler of Athens, conquers Scythia, defeating the Amazons and marrying their queen, Hippolyta. Afterward, he returns to Athens with his new wife and her younger sister, Emily. Along the way, they meet three women who tell Theseus a sad tale. Their husbands died in a war against Thebes, but the ruler of that cityCreonhas refused to permit their burial. 
.......The noble Theseus then declares war on Creon, defeats him, and orders the burial of the three husbands. Afterward, he captures two of the enemy, cousins Arcite and Palamon, and casts them in jail in Athens for life.
.......One May morning, Arcite and Palamon look out their jail window and see a beautiful young woman, Emily, picking flowers. Both men fall immediately in love with her, and each lays claim to her even though neither can walk farther than the four walls imprisoning him. They become enemies.
.......By and by, a friend of Arcite speaks up for him, and the young man gains his freedom. But there is a condition: He must leave Athens and never return.
.......Several years pass. Arcite returns to Athens in disguise, calling himself Philostrate, and gets a job as a page in service to Emily. He distinguishes himself, and Theseus makes him a squire. 
.......Meanwhile, Palamon escapes prison and hatches a plot to win Emily in combat against Athens. While hiding in the woods, he encounters Arcite. They agree to fight to death on the following day. The winner gets to woo Emily. 
.......The next day, Theseus, Hippolyta, and Emily go hunting and come upon Arcite and Palamon dueling. Because Arcite has violated his vow never to return to Athens and because Palamon is an escapee, Theseus condemns them to death. When the women bewail the sentence, Theseus gives the young men a reprieve. He tells them that they may do as they please for one year, then face each other in a tournament in which each man will marshal one hundred knights to support him. Aware of their love for Emily, he decrees that the winner may marry the young lady.
.......Theseus erects an arena for the competition, with an altar honoring Venus on one side and an altar honoring Mars on the other. He declares that the competitors may not use lethal weapons, for he wants all participants to survive.
.......When the tournament day arrives, the fighting is fierce, but Theseus proclaims Arcite the winner. But, alas, Arcite is thrown from his horse and suffers a mortal injury. Before dying, he beseeches Emily to take Palamon as her husband if she decides to marry. 
.......All Athens grieves for Arcite after he dies. Theseus orders the construction of a fitting sepulcher for the hero and presides at Arcite’s funeral rites before a great pyre.
.......After several years pass, the leaders of the government decide to form alliances with other nations and to oversee the affairs of Thebes with a watchful eye. Theseus then summons Palamon and Emily. The time for grieving is at an end, he says. He tells them that upon the advice of his parliament he wishes Emily and Palamon to marry. And so they are wed in a ceremony attended by nobles and government leaders. As time passes, Palamon and Emily love each other dearly, and never does jealousy or a cross word come between them.
 
3. The Miller's Prologue

Purpose: "The Miller's Prologue" provides a continuation of the outer story, updating the reader on the activities of the travelers while enabling the narrator to further develop his characterization of them. The prologue also provides a transition from "The Knight's Tale" to the next tale. 
Summary: All the travelers agree that the knight’s tale is a fine one long to be remembered. When the host calls on the monk to begin his story, the miller, drunk with ale and wobbly on his horse, refuses to wait his turn, saying he has a tale to match the knight’s. After the host bids him wait his turn and the reeve bids him remain silent, the miller insists upon telling his tale immediately. If he makes mistakes in telling his tale, he says, blame not him but Southwark ale. And so the churl of a miller tells his story. 
 
4. The Miller's Tale

Type of Story: "The Miller's Tale" is a fabliau about an elderly carpenter who guards closely his pretty young wife. However, she and her paramour, a student, execute a scheme that tricks the old man and provides an opportunity for the young people to be together.
Source: Not established. Chaucer may have based "The Miller's Tale" on a similar story in Dutch that was retold in another language. 
Setting: The action takes place in Oxford, England, in the 1300s. 
Key Figure of Speech: Irony. After taking pains to avoid being made a cuckold, the old carpenter ends up a cuckold anyway.
Theme 1: Romantic Roguery: When a young man and the teenage wife of an elderly carpenter seek an adulterous relationship, they work an outrageous mischief that diverts the husband's attention and makes him appear demented. 
Theme 2: Gullibility: The old carpenter, John, readily believes the student's story that a great flood will come, and he accepts the student's ridiculous solution: to place tubs on the roof and enter them so that the three of them will float away when the waters come. 
Theme 3: Revenge: Absalom gets revenge for the prank played on him by wielding a red-hot poker against Nicholas when he sticks his buttocks out the window.
Comprehensive Analysis of The Miller's Tale: Universal Teacher, UK

Summary of the Tale

.......In Oxford lives a rich old carpenter, John, with a pretty young wife, Alison. Lodging with them in a rented room is a poor young Oxford student, Nicholas the Handy, who studies astrology. The carpenter’s wife, only eighteen, is wild and capricious. Not wishing to be made a cuckold, he closely guards her against the eyes of others.
.......One day, after the carpenter goes off to Osney, Nicholas importunes her to submit to him. Out of fear of the old man, she begs him to wait for a more opportune time and to keep secret what passes between them. Then Nicholas kisses her while his hands roam.
.......While she attends church one day, the eyes of the parish clerk, Absalom, fall upon her. Absalom has golden hair and wears a lacy blue tunic and red hose. From top to bottom, he is the picture of the latest fashions. Her beauty dazzles him, and in the evening he goes to the carpenter’s house and serenades her. Thereafter, he tries to impress her in many other ways, sending her gifts of wine, mead, ale, cakes, and money. However, she ignores him, and all of his wooing is for naught. It is Nicholas who interests her.
.......Meanwhile, Nicholas and Alison prepare a scheme to rid themselves of John. First, Nicholas keeps to his room for several days, not coming out a single time and not answering knocks on his door. On a Sunday, John sends a servant, Robin, up to knock on the door with a stone. He pounds and pounds but there is no response. When he looks through the keyhole, he sees Nicholas locked in an upward gaze. The carpenter concludes that he is sick or mad. With a staff, he pries at the door while Robin heaves against it. It falls, revealing Nicholas still locked in his gaze. 
.......When Nicholas finally awakens from his stupor, he tells John that his meditation has revealed to him the coming of a great flood. So that he and John and his wife can survive it, John must get three kneading tubs, affix them to the roof with a cord, and place provisions in them. The  tubs must be some distance apart so that no communication can take place. He must also get an axe to cut the cord when the high water comes. 
.......On the predicted night of the flood, the carpenter enters his tub and shortly falls asleep. Nicholas and Alison then go inside the house to be alone with each other. By and by, Absalom arrives to serenade Alison. He will not leave, he says, until they kiss. Alison opens the window and turns around, facing inside. Because it is so dark, Absalom proceeds to give her a kiss on her behind. After he realizes what has happened, he becomes angry, fetches a red hot coulter (plow blade) from a blacksmith, Master Gervase, and returns to the window and requests another kiss. This time, Nicholas decides to get in on the fun and pokes his behind out the window. Absalom then lets him have it right between the buttocks. 
.......Nicholas cries out in great pain. “Help! Water! Water!"
.......Awakening, the old carpenter thinks the flood has arrived. He cuts the cord, the tub crashes down, and the fall knocks him unconscious. People gather after Alison and Nicholas shout for help. When John comes to, he explains what happened. But Alison and Nicholas deny everything, saying John is insane. They tell the onlookers that John had a fear of “Noel’s flood, bought three kneading tubs, attached them to the roof, and asked Alison and Nicholas each to sit in a tub and wait with him for the calamity. The people laughed and thereafter regarded him a madman. 
.......Thus, Alison and Nicholas got what they wanted, each other, in spite of all the carpenter’s efforts to safeguard his wife’s virtue.
 
5. The Reeve's Prologue

Purpose: "The Reeve's Prologue" presents the pilgrims' reaction to "The Miller's Tale" and comments on the the reeve's temperament and his tendency to digress. 
Summary: Everyone laughs at the miller’s tale except Oswald the Reeve, an old man with white hair. He is angry that the miller ridiculed a practitioner of his trade, carpentry. After expressing his displeasure at the tale, he talks about the infirmities that he and other elderly persons must face. But the host objects to his digression, calling it preachy, and tells him to get on at once with his tale. Oswald then says he will tell a story that will make the miller look foolish.
 
6. The Reeve's Tale

Type of Work: "The Reeve's Tale" is a fabliau in which two students gain revenge against a miller who steals grain. 
Source: Not established.
Setting: The action takes place presumably in the 1300s at a mill in the countryside not far from the city of Cambridge, home of Cambridge University. Two of the characters in the story are Cambridge students who take grain to the mill to be ground into meal. The university received its first charter in 1207. 
Theme: The central theme is revengeor theft begets theft. After the miller steals grain from Cambridge University, two students from the university gain revenge by stealing the virtue of the miller's daughter and wife. 

Summary of the Tale

.......Next to a brook at Trumpington, not far from Cambridge, is a mill run by Simkin, a proud man and a bully with a bald head, a round face, and a snub nose. He can play the pipes, fish, and wrestle. Simkin carries several weapons, including a sword, a knife at his waist, a dagger in a pouch, and a Sheffield knife inside his hose. He steals corn and ground feed.
.......His wife is the illegitimate daughter of a parson who paid a large dowry to find her a husband after she was brought up in a nunnery. She is a proud woman and saucy in her speech. 
.......When she and the miller go to church on holy days, everyone treats her with respect, calling her “Madam." To do otherwise or, God forbid, to flirt with her would incur the wrath of Simkin. Simkin and his wife have daughter of twenty with broad buttocks and a snub nose and a six-month-old baby. 
.......Simkin makes a large profit from the fees he charges for grinding grain, especially from the wheat and malt he grinds for the Cambridge College Solar Hall. One day, while the college manciple (buyer of provisions) is sick in bed, the miller helps himself to huge amounts of the college’s graina hundred times more than he usually steals. Two young students from the town of Stretcher, John and Alan, decide to take action against the miller and receive permission from the college warden to take corn to the mill on his horse the next time the school needs meal.
.......After the young men arrive, they cheerfully greet the miller and inquire about the well-being of his wife and daughter. When the miller asks them what they will do while he grinds their corn, they tell him they will observe the process as a learning exercise. But the sly miller sees through their ploy. At an opportune moment, he sneaks outside to a tree in the back of the mill, where the horse is tied, and frees it. It runs off toward a fen. He then grinds and sacks the corn. When John goes out to fetch the horse and discovers it missing, the miller’s wife tells him they did not secure it properly to the tree and it ran off toward the fen. When he and Alan search for it, the miller steals half a bushel of their grain and tells his wife to make it into a cake. He brags that he, a miller, can outwit young men of learning.
.......Late in the evening, the young men return with the horse. Because of the lateness of the hour, they ask to lodge with the miller overnight. He arranges for them to sleep in the family bedroom. After the miller and his wife fall asleep, Alan takes revenge on the miller by joining his daughter in bed. John then moves the baby in its cradle from the foot of the miller’s bed to the foot of his and Johns bed. After the miller’s wife leaves the room and returns a moment later, the location of the baby's cradle disorients her, and she gets in bed with John.
.......While Alan is in bed with the miller’s daughter, he learns from her where the miller stashed the stolen grain. As night begins to give way to dawn, Alan goes back to his and Johns bed. But he too becomes disoriented by the location of the cradle and gets in bed with the miller. Because he thinks the miller is John, he tells him all about their shenanigans. An exchange of blows ensues. The miller’s wife and John then wake up. She takes up a club and wields it against John but strikes the miller instead. John and Alan run off with their ground corn meal. 
 
7. The Cook's Prologue

Purpose: "The Cook's Prologue" presents the pilgrims' reaction to "The Reeve's Tale," presents an appropriate biblical admonition, and comments on the quality of the food the cook prepares.
Summary: "The Reeve’s tale" pleased the cook from London, Roger, who quotes Solomon: “Into your house not every man invite." Roger says never before has he ever heard of a miller being so completely hoodwinked. The host then advises the cook to tell a story that goes down better than his warmed-over pastries or the geese he prepares. 
 
8. The Cook's Tale

Type of Work: Because this tale is unfinished, it is difficult to categorize it. However, it resembles both an allegory and an exemplum—an allegory because the main character appears to symbolize thieving spendthrifts, an exemplum because the main character sets a bad example that people should not imitate.
Source: Not established.
Setting: The action takes place in the Cheap side district of London.
Theme: Crime doesn't pay. After an apprentice pilfers money from his master to pay for his wastrel ways, the master regards him as the rotten apple in the barrel and fires him. 

Summary of the Tale

.......An apprentice to the victuals trade in London's Cheap side prefers to make merry rather than keep to the shop where he works. He loves to danceindeed, he is so good at it that people call him Perking Revelerand he enjoys the company of young ladies. He frequents taverns and on the streets he rolls the dice. When he lacks money to pay for his wayward ways, he goes to the shop and takes it from his employer’s money box. 
.......One day, when Perkin nears the end of his apprenticeship, he seeks a contract with his master. But the master, now mindful of the apprentice's devious ways, decides to apply the wisdom of a proverb he recalls: "Better is rotten apple out of hoard, / Than that it should rot all the remenant." So he fires Perkin and tells him to go "with sorrow and mischance." Perkin then lodges with a fellow of his kind, who also gambles with dice and has a wife who keeps a shop for the sake of appearances but sells herself instead.

(Chaucer did not finish this tale.)
 
8. The Man of Law's Prologue

Purpose: The prologue informs the reader of the time of day, introduces the lawyer, and comments on the stories Chaucer tells. 
Summary: The host, noting that it is already 10 o’clock, comments briefly on the importance of not wasting time, then calls upon the lawyer to tell his tale. The lawyer says he will cooperate but points out that the selection of his tale poses a problem because it is difficult to find one that the writer Chaucer has not already told in one book or another (although, the lawyer says, Chaucer's meter and rhymes are not always on the mark). Then he says he will proceed anyway, noting he does not care "a bean" about serving up story that may not appeal to some. Unlike Chaucer, he says, he will tell his story in prose even though he tells it in verse. 
 
10. The Man of Law's Tale

Type of Work: "The Lawyer's Tale" is an exemplum stressing the importance of fidelity to Christian ideals. Character development is minimal. 
Source: Chaucer based "The Man of Law's Tale" on "The Life of Constance," a story in Nicholas Trivet's Anglo-Norman Chronicle (1328-1335).
Setting: The time is the Christian era after the development of Islam. The places are Syria, Rome, the English county of Northumberland, and ships at sea.
Theme: Virtuous Living Ultimately Yields Rewards: The main character, Constance, undergoes many hardships and trials. But her virtuous living, which sets a good example for others, ultimately brings her happiness.

Summary of the Tale

.......Wealthy Syrian merchants who trade in spices, satins, and other commodities visit Rome and hear stories about the emperor’s daughter, Constance. Every report says she possesses unequalled beauty. Yet she is humble, not proud. Moreover, she is courteous, generous, and mature beyond her years.
.......After they see her, they sail back to Syria full of wonder at her many charms. 
.......The sultan always entertains the merchants after they return from a trip so that they may acquaint him with the latest news of the lands they have visited. When they tell him about the extraordinary qualities of Lady Constance, he yearns to bring her to Syria and love her evermore. 
.......But because his faith is Islam and hers Christianity, marriage seems out of the question. The sultan then converts to the older religion and decrees that all the nobles of his realm should do the same. In addition, he offers Rome gold for the hand of Constance. One can go on about the reactions in Rome, but suffice it to say that in the end the emperor decides to send his daughter to the sultan. Constance bids a tearful good-bye and prays that Christ fortifies her to accept her fate. Women, she says, must accept the decrees of men.
.......Meanwhile, the sultan’s mother convenes a council to thwart her son’s plans. Telling its members she would rather die than flout the laws of the Koran, the sultaness persuades them to approve a scheme to slaughter all Christians  attending a feast that she will hold after the arrival of Constance and her entourage. 
.......After the sultan and his mother welcome the Romans amid great pomp and ceremony, everyone sits down to the feast. The sultaness then unleashes her murderous plot, resulting in the deaths of all the Christiansincluding her own sonexcept Constance. (God in his goodness somehow caused her to be spared.) The sultaness and her henchmen then place Constance on a ship with food and other provisionsbut no crew!and tell her to find her way back to Rome. ears pass as the ship drifts around the Mediterranean while Christ sustains her in the same way He sustained the five thousand with fives loaves and two fishes.
.......Finally, the ship runs aground in sand on the coast of the English county of Northumberland. When a constable and his wife find her, she pretends that her memory failed when she was at sea and now does not even know her name. Sympathizing with her, they take her in. Like everyone else in that region, the constable and his wife, Hermengyld, are pagans. Almost all Christians had been driven out. But Constance sets such a good example serving them and saying her prayers that Hermengyld becomes a Christian.