Chaucer gives a detailed picture of the characters he has used in ‘The Canterbury Tales’ in his ‘General Prologue.’ His characters, the Thirty Pilgrims including the Host belong to diverse ranks and professions, represent a wide range of society. They represent chivalry, Learned and Liberal professions, Commercial Community, Agriculture, and Smaller London traders and manufacturers. Ecclesiastical characters represent the religious orders of the time. These portraits of Chaucer depict the world as he has seen at that time.
Characters in The Canterbury Tales
- 1 The Narrator
- 2 The Host (Harry Bailey)
- 3 The Knight
- 4 The Squire
- 5 The Yeoman
- 6 The Prioress (Madame Eglantine)
- 7 Second Nun
- 8 The Three Priests
- 9 The Monk
- 10 Hubert, the Friar
- 11 The Merchant
- 12 The Clerk
- 13 The Man of Law (or Sergeant of Law)
- 14 The Franklin
- 15 The Guildsmen
- 16 Roger, the Cook
- 17 The Shipman
- 18 The Physician
- 19 The Wife of Bath (Alisoun)
- 20 The Parson
- 21 The Plowman
- 22 The Reeve
- 23 The Miller
- 24 The Summoner
- 25 The Pardoner
- 26 The Manciple
The narrator is none other than the poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, himself. Still, he has kept himself away from including his personal biased opinions. His expertise in carving the characters is projected in presenting the characters as they were. In ‘Canterbury Tales’, he too is a pilgrim who is on his way to Canterbury.
The Host (Harry Bailey)
Harry Bailey, the host is the owner of the Tabard Inn. He volunteers to travel with the pilgrims and brings forth the idea of storytelling to ward off boredom. Further, he promises to be their guide and fair judge of the tales, the characters to say during their journey.
The Knight is the most prominent person on the pilgrimage with his high social order. He is the first pilgrim to be described and the one who is the teller of the first tale. In the words of Chaucer: “Verray parfitgentil Knight.” All throughout the journey, he epitomizes chivalry, truth, and honor.
The Squire is the Knight’s son. He is young and vain but has the ability to sing, write poetry, and ride a horse very well. With his dressing and personality, he fits his age well in contrast to the personality of the Knight.
In addition to the Squire, the knight has brought only this yeoman. He, with his dressing, expresses his free will. Looking at his adornments, the dagger, Bow, Arrows, and Dress, Chaucer makes a guess that he could a forester than the regular owner of the estate.
The Prioress (Madame Eglantine)
The Prioress represents the corrupted church. She tries to present herself as a genteel lady of high standard and manners than with austerity which is generally expected of a nun. She acted shy and coy. Moreover, she wears a coral rosary with a gold brooch with “Love conquers all” inscribed in Latin.
The second nun accompanies the prioress. She is her chaplain. She too seems to be worldly than being stern as she should be.
The Three Priests
The priests accompany the nuns to Canterbury and Chaucer doesn’t speak anything about them in the ‘general prologue.’
The Monk, too represents the degradation of the church. For, he has a modern outlook and doesn’t confine himself to the old strict regulations. He prefers to indulge in hunting and other sports than being within the cloister. In his dress and appearance, he represents the world more than the church.
Hubert, the Friar
The friar bears witness to the growing corruption and worldliness among the clergy. He is a squanderer, given to gossip and slander, yet esteemed as a worthy representative of his order. A friar ought to be living in poverty but he loves money. Also, he knows the taverns and innkeepers better than the poor houses and needy.
The merchant represents the rising middle class of Chaucer’s time. He is shrewd and intelligent to strike a good bargain.
The Clerk is a learned man from Oxford University. He loves learning and leads a poor life for the sake of his thirst for knowledge. He prefers to spend all his money buying books than leading an extravagant life. He is respected and loved by all the pilgrims including the narrator.
The Man of Law (or Sergeant of Law)
The Man of Law is one of the high justices of the court. He is cautious and wise, for he has learned everything that he would require to be a skillful man in his profession. He is one of the refined men among the pilgrims.
The Franklin is a wealthy and independent landowner. He enjoys high living and good companionship for the table in his house is always made to invite guests. As Chaucer comments: He is “Epicurus owene sone” living in comfort.
The company of Guildsmen included a haberdasher, a carpenter, a weaver, a dyer, and a tapestry-maker. They were enjoying the growing richness as a result of England becoming a commercially important place.
Roger, the Cook
The Guildsmen brought along with them the “Cook” Roger. He is known for his expertise in cooking. Unfortunately, he suffers with a chancre sore that runs with pus.
The Mariners and Shipmen of Chaucer’s period had good trade and enjoyed a sophisticated life. The Shipmen too is skilled in steering a ship and very calculative.
The Doctor is not only aware of medicines, drugs, and humours but also knows astrology. He involves in the profession more with his passion for money than for service. It seems like he is fond of gold and made a lot of money during the plague.
The Wife of Bath (Alisoun)
The Wife of Bath is a snob who wears bright scarlet red stockings. SHe is called after “Bath” an English town on the Avon River, a place from where she came, not with her husband’s name. For, she had had five husbands which is not a commonly accepted practice of the age, yet flaunts it openly. She is deaf in one ear and has a gap between her front teeth. Above she had been to Jerusalem and other holy places as a pilgrim.
The Parson is presented as a holy and virtuous man in contrast to other corrupted clergymen. He extends his hand to his poor parishioners in need. Also, he believes more in action than words. Thus, he tries his might to live the perfect life and set an ideal for his parishioners and others.
The plowman represents the class of true laborers who lead a good, religious, and charitable life. He is a brother to the parson.
A very old and irritable man who was once a carpenter. He resents Miller’s tale about a stupid old carpenter.
The Miller is a bulky fellow who takes part in wrestling matches and wins almost all. He is a drunkard and an overbearing man.
The Summoner is a direct contrast to the parson. He frightens children with his pimple face, red complexion, and narrow eyes. Misfortune of the people enables him to lead a happy life. He makes a living by threatening to report for real or imaginary offenses.
Chaucer gives a complex picture of the Pardoner. He speaks about his ability to make a profit using his intelligence, which is not a call of a clergy ma. At the same time, he claims that he can read, sing songs, and preach a good sermon. Pardoner excels in fraudulence, for he carries around a bag full of fake relics, planning to make money his way out of my using poor and ignorant parishioners as a scapegoat.
The Manciple is the last to be depicted by Chaucer of the twenty-nine pilgrims. Although he is just a steward in the law school, he knew better ways to put away some money for himself by making good bargains.