The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue

Geoffrey Chaucer


Geoffrey Chaucer

Geoffrey Chaucer is one of the most important writers of all time.

He is best known for The Canterbury Tales.

‘The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue is an interesting work of art by Geoffrey Chaucer, popularly known as the father of English poetry. It serves as a framework for the poem and depicts the life of Renaissance England. Chaucer modeled this after Boccaccio’s Decameron but added more insight to the work by his genuine humor and humanism.

The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue by Geoffrey Chaucer


Summary of The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue

In the ‘The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue’ Chaucer express his satirical view on the society of his time. Especially, on the church and its representatives, who are more worldly than being holy and simple.  

Chaucer opens the Prologue with a description of spring. He along with other pilgrimages gathered on a spring evening at the Tabard Inn in Southwark, the place of departure and arrival for the pilgrimages to the shrine of St. Thomas Becket at Canterbury. He forms a company of pilgrims representing the entire range of English Society of the fourteenth century. It consists of a total of thirty-two pilgrims including the poet. At supper, the host of the Tabard Inn proposes that each of them should tell two tales respectively during their journey to Canterbury and during their return. They happily agreed and set off early the next morning on their journey.  It is also decided that the person who tells the best story will be rewarded with a sumptuous dinner, and the Host too to join them on their journey and serve as the judge of the tales.


Characters in The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue

There are many characters in ‘The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue’, listed below. For more information on the characters, read our in-depth look into each character from ‘The Canterbury Tales’:

  • The Narrator
  • The Host (Harry Bailey)
  • The Knight
  • The Squire
  • The Yeoman
  • The Prioress (Madame Eglantine)
  • Second Nun
  • The Three Priests
  • The Monk
  • Hubert, the Friar
  • The Merchant
  • The Clerk
  • The Man of Law (or Sergent of Law)


Themes and Setting of The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue

Chaucer explores various social conditions of his period and the manners of people in ‘The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue. The poem explores the ugly truth of life in all aspects of society.  It is a satire on Social Status, Corruption in Church, Friendship and Companionship, for all the classes of medieval society except the highest aristocracy and the lowest order of life.  ‘The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue is set on a spring evening at the Tabard Inn in Southwark, a suburb at the southern end of London Bridge.


Form and Structure of The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue

‘The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue’ is written in Middle English, a form of English spoken from around the 12th to 15th centuries. It serves as an introductory note to the tale-tellers and their host. Also, it explains the context in which the tales are being told. Chaucer wrote his poem in rhyming couplets with every two lines rhyming with each other. Though they are divided into stanzas, it is structured with the lines of iambic pentameter, with five pairs of unstressed and stressed syllables. The narrator opens the General Prologue with a description of the return of spring. The travelers were a diverse group who, like the narrator, were on their way to Canterbury.


Tone of The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue

Chaucer uses a satirical tone in his Canterbury Tales, especially in his description of characters in ‘The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue’. Chaucer is poking fun at the representatives of medieval society through his handpicked characters. The main focus of Chaucer’s satire is on the medieval Church and its representatives, clearly presented through the ecclesiastical characters.


Use of Irony in The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue

Chaucer makes ample use of irony in the ‘The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue’, for his main purpose is a criticism of medieval society. The irony is also employed in the portrait of the Friar, especially when Chaucer addresses him as: “He was a noble pillar of his order” when he is mercenary focusing only on money. The Monk’s character too is portrayed satirically. For, he is fond of hunting and keeps a large number of fine horses in his stable. His worldliness is clearly exposed with his partiality for a roast swan.

The Prioress’s character too ironically represented in contrast to the general expectation of a prioress’s attitudes and nature.  She wore a brooch in her hand with the inscription “Love conquers all” in Latin. Further, in the character of the Wife of Bath we see the irony employed. Chaucer says she is a good woman who had “Housbondes at Chirche dore she hadde five.”


Symbolism in The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue

In ‘The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue’ Chaucer uses symbols to represent his view on the period and the social condition. Every character is a representation of the social class to which they belong. The first symbol is the springtime. The prologue opens in April the season that symbolizes rebirth and fresh beginnings. The Squire, too, with his liveliness represents the season, for Chaucer compares him to the freshness of the month of May.

Description of garments, too, symbolizes the personality beneath each clothes. The Physicians clothe with rich silk and unique fur reveals his passion and desire for wealth.  Also, the excessive floral design in the Squire’s clothe represents his vanity of youth.

Moreover, the physical appearance of each character described by the poet too symbolizes the characteristics and the social section they belong to. The Merchant’s forked beard could be taken as a symbol of his duplicity as Chaucer hints. And, Miller’s appearance “round and ruddy” stereotypically represents the peasant’s community most clearly suited for rough and simple work. The Pardoner’s glaring eyes and limp hair illustrate his fraudulence.


Analysis of The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue

“Here bygynneth the Book of the tales of Caunterbury,” thus begins ‘The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue of Chaucer. He intentionally makes his purpose clear with this simple line. Though the work of art is titled as “tales” one could see that it is written in verse, the popular form of his time. In this general prologue, Chaucer delineates his characters (tale-tellers), handpicked from 14th century England with his unbiased nature and artistic ability.


Stanza 1 (Lines 1-18)

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licóur
Of which vertú engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye,
So priketh hem Natúre in hir corages,
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
And specially, from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.

In the first stanza of ‘The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue, Chaucer gives a beautiful description of April, the spring that has inspired a universal feeling. The April Shower added with the fragrance is carried by the west wind, and the music produced by the little birds seems to intrigue the people to go on a pilgrimage. They go across countries looking for far off saints on strange shores. The people of England from all corners come down to Canterbury to seek the holy martyr, St. Thomas,  the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162  to 1170. He was murdered by followers of the king Henry II in Canterbury Cathedral, against his conflict over the rights and privileges of the Church. Soon after his death, he was canonized by Pope Alexander III. It was believed that he helps them out in their sickness, thus, the pilgrims across the country visit as a way of respect.


Stanzas 2-3 (Lines 19-42)

Bifil that in that seson on a day,
In Southwerk at the Tabard as I lay,
Redy to wenden on my pilgrymage
To Caunterbury with ful devout corage,
At nyght were come into that hostelrye
Wel nyne and twenty in a compaignye
Of sondry folk, by áventure y-falle
In felaweshipe, and pilgrimes were they alle,
That toward Caunterbury wolden ryde.
The chambres and the stables weren wyde,
And wel we weren esed atte beste.
And shortly, whan the sonne was to reste,
So hadde I spoken with hem everychon,
That I was of hir felaweshipe anon,
And made forward erly for to ryse,
To take oure wey, ther as I yow devyse.


But nathelees, whil I have tyme and space,
Er that I ferther in this tale pace,
Me thynketh it acordaunt to resoun
To telle yow al the condicioun
Of ech of hem, so as it semed me,
And whiche they weren and of what degree,
And eek in what array that they were inne;
And at a Knyght than wol I first bigynne.

In stanza two, Chaucer shares his visit to Canterbury. During his journey, he stayed at the Tabard Inn in Southwark. Another twenty-nine pilgrim too joined him and by chance, they were all going to Canterbury. Since the tavern had enough rooms and spacious stables they decided to stay at that place. By evening he made acquaintance with them all and they formed a fellowship for their purpose were the same.  The poet promises to begin his journey along with them the next morning. Nevertheless, since he had some more time to spare, the poet decides to describe the characters he met that day before he commences his journey.


Stanzas 4-6 (Lines 43-78)

A Knyght ther was, and that a worthy man,
That fro the tyme that he first bigan
To riden out, he loved chivalrie,
Trouthe and honóur, fredom and curteisie.
Ful worthy was he in his lordes werre,
And thereto hadde he riden, no man ferre,
As wel in cristendom as in hethenesse,
And evere honóured for his worthynesse.
At Alisaundre he was whan it was wonne;
Ful ofte tyme he hadde the bord bigonne
Aboven alle nacions in Pruce.
In Lettow hadde he reysed and in Ruce,—
No cristen man so ofte of his degree.
In Gernade at the seege eek hadde he be
Of Algezir, and riden in Belmarye.
At Lyeys was he, and at Satalye,
Whan they were wonne; and in the Grete See
At many a noble armee hadde he be.


At mortal batailles hadde he been fiftene,
And foughten for oure feith at Tramyssene
In lyste thries, and ay slayn his foo.
This ilke worthy knyght hadde been also
Somtyme with the lord of Palatye
Agayn another hethen in Turkye;
And evermoore he hadde a sovereyn prys.
And though that he were worthy, he was wys,
And of his port as meeke as is a mayde.
He nevere yet no vileynye ne sayde,
In al his lyf, unto no maner wight.
He was a verray, parfit, gentil knyght.


But for to tellen yow of his array,
His hors weren goode, but he was nat gay;
Of fustian he wered a gypon
Al bismótered with his habergeon;
For he was late y-come from his viage,
And wente for to doon his pilgrymage.

Chaucer begins his description of the characters with the Knight in stanzas four to six of ‘The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue. The Knight is represented as a distinguished man, for he has followed chivalry, truth, honor freedom, and courtesy. He had been a part of many wars and expeditions at places like Algezir, Belmarye (Benamarin), Lyeys (Ayas), and Satalye (Attalia). Also, he had been on many naval expeditions in the Mediterranean. He has taken part in about fifteen deadly battles. Also, he has fought thrice for his faith (Christianity) and slew his enemies always. This knight has once been with the lord of Palatia against Turkey. The knight is distinguished and wise but as Chaucer describes there is no trace of such pride in his behavior for he is amiable and modest with his companions.

In stanza six, Chaucer gives the detail of his dressing. He has come on a fine horse but wasn’t dress up in the manner knight’s will dress up in usual. He wore a doublet of fustian (coarse cloth), stained and dark with smudges where his armor had left marks. It looked as if he has come to do his pilgrimages immediately after he had returned home from his service.


Stanza 7 (Lines 79-100)

With hym ther was his sone, a yong Squiér,
A lovyere and a lusty bacheler,
With lokkes crulle as they were leyd in presse.
Of twenty yeer of age he was, I gesse.
Of his statúre he was of evene lengthe,
And wonderly delyvere and of greet strengthe.
And he hadde been somtyme in chyvachie
In Flaundres, in Artoys, and Pycardie,
And born hym weel, as of so litel space,
In hope to stonden in his lady grace.
Embrouded was he, as it were a meede
Al ful of fresshe floures whyte and reede.
Syngynge he was, or floytynge, al the day;
He was as fressh as is the month of May.
Short was his gowne, with sleves longe and wyde;
Wel koude he sitte on hors and faire ryde;
He koude songes make and wel endite,
Juste and eek daunce, and weel purtreye and write.
So hoote he lovede that by nyghtertale
He sleep namoore than dooth a nyghtyngale.
Curteis he was, lowely and servysáble,
And carf biforn his fader at the table.

Chaucer gives a description of the knight’s son, a young squire who accompanied him in the pilgrimage. He is a merry bachelor about the age of twenty with curly locks as if they had been laid in press. Like his father, he too bore a remarkable appearance with agility and strength through moderate in height. He had been out once with cavalry and conducted himself valiantly in Flaundres (Flanders), in Artoys (Artios), and Pycar dye (Picardy).

For his dressing, he wore a garment so embroidered as if it were a meadow full of fresh flowers, white and red. He bore a fresh appearance by singing or fluting all the time, like the fresh flowers of May. Also, he seemed to be a talented youth for he can make songs and recite, fight in a tournament and dance, and paint well and write. He is a lover who loved his lady fervently that he could sleep like a nightingale at night. Similar to his father (knight), he was courteous, humble, and serviceable, and carved to serve his father at the table.


Stanza 8 (Lines 101-117)

A Yeman hadde he and servántz namo
At that tyme, for hym liste ride soo;
And he was clad in cote and hood of grene.
A sheef of pecock arwes bright and kene,
Under his belt he bar ful thriftily—
Wel koude he dresse his takel yemanly;
His arwes drouped noght with fetheres lowe—
And in his hand he baar a myghty bowe.
A not-heed hadde he, with a broun viságe.
Of woodecraft wel koude he al the uságe.
Upon his arm he baar a gay bracér,
And by his syde a swerd and a bokeler,
And on that oother syde a gay daggere,
Harneised wel and sharp as point of spere;
A Cristophere on his brest of silver sheene.
An horn he bar, the bawdryk was of grene.
A forster was he, soothly as I gesse.

The knight brought along with him a yeoman, and in the stanza, eight Chaucer speaks of him. The yeoman wore a coat and a hood of green. He carried carefully under his belt a neatly sheathed sheaf of peacock arrows bright and keen. On the other, he carried a dagger, sharp as the point of the spear. As a yeoman, he dressed up and bore a mighty bow in his hand. Upon his arms, he bore a saucy brace to ward it from the bowstrings. On his breast, he wore a medal of St. Christopher (the patron saint of travelers), made of bright silver. He also carried a hunting horn and the belt he wore was green, by all these Chaucer states that he could be a forester.


Stanzas 9-10 (Lines 119-163)

Ther was also a Nonne, a Prioresse,
That of hir smylyng was ful symple and coy;
Hire gretteste ooth was but by seinte Loy,
And she was cleped madame Eglentyne.
Ful weel she soong the service dyvyne,
Entuned in hir nose ful semely;
And Frenssh she spak ful faire and fetisly,
After the scole of Stratford atte Bowe,
For Frenssh of Parys was to hire unknowe.
At mete wel y-taught was she with-alle:
She leet no morsel from hir lippes falle,
Ne wette hir fyngres in hir sauce depe.
Wel koude she carie a morsel and wel kepe
Thát no drope ne fille upon hire brist;
In curteisie was set ful muchel hir list.
Hire over-lippe wyped she so clene
That in hir coppe ther was no ferthyng sene
Of grece, whan she dronken hadde hir draughte.
Ful semely after hir mete she raughte.
And sikerly she was of greet desport,
And ful plesáunt and amyable of port,
And peyned hire to countrefete cheere
Of court, and been estatlich of manere,
And to ben holden digne of reverence.
But for to speken of hire conscience,
She was so charitable and so pitous
She wolde wepe if that she saugh a mous
Kaught in a trappe, if it were deed or bledde.
Of smale houndes hadde she, that she fedde
With rosted flessh, or milk and wastel breed;
But soore wepte she if oon of hem were deed,
Or if men smoot it with a yerde smerte;
And al was conscience and tendre herte.


Ful semyly hir wympul pynched was;
Hire nose tretys, her eyen greye as glas,
Hir mouth ful smal and ther-to softe and reed;
But sikerly she hadde a fair forheed;
It was almoost a spanne brood, I trowe;
For, hardily, she was nat undergrowe.
Ful fetys was hir cloke, as I was war;
Of smal coral aboute hire arm she bar
A peire of bedes, gauded al with grene,
And ther-on heng a brooch of gold ful sheene,
On which ther was first write a crowned A,
And after, Amor vincit omnia.
Another Nonne with hire hadde she,
That was hire chapeleyne, and Preestes thre.

Following his description of the knight and his companions in lines 119, Chaucer now turns his direction towards ecclesiastical characters. The prioress has come with a company of another nun, her chaplain, and three priests. She was very simple and shy, known as madam Eglantine. Also, spoke French taught at Stratford-atte-Bowe, not the one spoken in Paris. Moreover, she was very well trained in table manners, for she neither let a morsel fall from her lips nor dips her fingers too deep in the sauce. Though she is a nun, she seems to have a special zest for courtesy and tried to present herself of high stature. She appeared dignified in all her deals and expressed sympathy and tender feels.

In her appearance, she looked elegant with fine features: grey eyes, elegant nose, small but soft and red lips. She also wore an elegant cloak and her veils were gracefully pleated. On her arm, she wore a coral trinket, a set of beads, and upon it hung a golden brooch with a crowned ‘A’ engraved upon it along with a Latin phrase “Amor vincit omnia”.


Stanza 11 (Lines 164-206)

A Monk ther was, a fair for the maistrie,
An outridere, that lovede venerie;
A manly man, to been an abbot able.
Ful many a deyntee hors hadde he in stable;
And whan he rood, men myghte his brydel heere
Gýnglen in a whistlynge wynd als cleere,
And eek as loude, as dooth the chapel belle,
Ther as this lord was kepere of the celle.
The reule of seint Maure or of seint Beneit,
By-cause that it was old and som-del streit,—
This ilke Monk leet olde thynges pace,
And heeld after the newe world the space.
He yaf nat of that text a pulled hen
That seith that hunters ben nat hooly men,
Ne that a monk, whan he is recchelees,
Is likned til a fissh that is waterlees,—
This is to seyn, a monk out of his cloystre.
But thilke text heeld he nat worth an oystre;
And I seyde his opinioun was good.
What sholde he studie and make hymselven wood,
Upon a book in cloystre alwey to poure,
Or swynken with his handes and labóure,
As Austyn bit? How shal the world be served?
Lat Austyn have his swynk to him reserved.
Therfore he was a prikasour aright:
Grehoundes he hadde, as swift as fowel in flight;
Of prikyng and of huntyng for the hare
Was al his lust, for no cost wolde he spare.
I seigh his sleves y-púrfiled at the hond
With grys, and that the fyneste of a lond;
And for to festne his hood under his chyn
He hadde of gold y-wroght a curious pyn;
A love-knotte in the gretter ende ther was.
His heed was balled, that shoon as any glas,
And eek his face, as he hadde been enoynt.
He was a lord ful fat and in good poynt;
His eyen stepe, and rollynge in his heed,
That stemed as a forneys of a leed;
His bootes souple, his hors in greet estaat.
Now certeinly he was a fair prelaat.
He was nat pale, as a forpyned goost:
A fat swan loved he best of any roost.
His palfrey was as broun as is a berye.

The Monk was a leader in fashions. He was passionate about inspecting farming and hunting. Also, he had many horses in his stables. When he rode, his bridle jingled like a chapel bell. The monk preferred to ignore the old rules of St. Maur or St. Benet because he felt it to be old and strict. He followed the modern spacious way and never regarded the text that says hunters are not holy men or that a monk who spends his time outside the cloister is like a fish out of water. Ignoring all those words of the saints he preferred to be a hard rider, even though he is a monk.  Also, he had hounds as swift as birds. Even his sleeves were furnished with the finest fur in the land. He has fastened his hood under his chin with a fashionable gold pin.

He was a fat and impressive priest with a bald head and a glowing face.  His bright eyes rolled in his head and looked like a furnace of lead. His boots were supple and he rode on a fine horse as brown as berry. Thus, Chaucer comments that with his appearance he would definitely pass for a stately prelate. In no way he looked like a tormented soul which is expected of a monk.


Stanza 12 (Lines 207-270)

A Frere ther was, a wantowne and a merye,
A lymytour, a ful solémpne man.
In alle the ordres foure is noon that kan
So muchel of daliaunce and fair langage.
He hadde maad ful many a mariage
Of yonge wommen at his owene cost.
Unto his ordre he was a noble post.
Ful wel biloved and famulier was he
With frankeleyns over al in his contree,
And eek with worthy wommen of the toun;
For he hadde power of confessioun,
As seyde hym-self, moore than a curát,
For of his ordre he was licenciat.
Ful swetely herde he confessioun,
And plesaunt was his absolucioun.
He was an esy man to yeve penaunce
There as he wiste to have a good pitaunce;
For unto a povre ordre for to yive
Is signe that a man is wel y-shryve;
For, if he yaf, he dorste make avaunt
He wiste that a man was répentaunt;
For many a man so hard is of his herte
He may nat wepe al-thogh hym soore smerte.
Therfore in stede of wepynge and preyéres
Men moote yeve silver to the povre freres.
His typet was ay farsed full of knyves
And pynnes, for to yeven faire wyves.
And certeinly he hadde a murye note:
Wel koude he synge and pleyen on a rote;
Of yeddynges he baar outrely the pris.
His nekke whit was as the flour-de-lys;
Ther-to he strong was as a champioun.
He knew the tavernes wel in every toun,
And everich hostiler and tappestere
Bet than a lazar or a beggestere;
For unto swich a worthy man as he
Acorded nat, as by his facultee,
To have with sike lazars aqueyntaunce;
It is nat honest, it may nat avaunce
Fór to deelen with no swich poraille,
But al with riche and selleres of vitaille.
And over-al, ther as profit sholde arise,
Curteis he was and lowely of servyse.
Ther nas no man nowher so vertuous.
He was the beste beggere in his hous;
[And yaf a certeyn ferme for the graunt,
Noon of his brethren cam ther in his haunt;]
For thogh a wydwe hadde noght a sho,
So plesaunt was his In principio,
Yet wolde he have a ferthyng er he wente:
His purchas was wel bettre than his rente.
And rage he koude, as it were right a whelpe.
In love-dayes ther koude he muchel helpe,
For there he was nat lyk a cloysterer
With a thredbare cope, as is a povre scolér,
But he was lyk a maister, or a pope;
Of double worstede was his semycope,
That rounded as a belle, out of the presse.
Somwhat he lipsed for his wantownesse,
To make his Englissh sweete upon his tonge;
And in his harpyng, whan that he hadde songe,
His eyen twynkled in his heed aryght
As doon the sterres in the frosty nyght.
This worthy lymytour was cleped Hubérd.

In ‘The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue, the next character Chaucer introduces us is the “Friar.” The friar is a wanton and merry fellow. He is a limiter and a festive man. Of all the four orders (Dominican, Franciscan, Augustinian) there is no one who knows flattery as his. He seems to be popular among the franklins and also with esteemed women of the town. For, he was qualified to hear confessions and had a special license too from the Pope. Pleasantly he heard confessions and pronounced absolutions. He was an easy man in giving penance for he made a decent living with that. Also, he had a merry voice, and he could sing and play on a harp.

A worthy man as he was, he had acquaintance with every innkeeper and barmaid than with leper or a beggar woman.  In the place where it is profitable, he served amiably but with poor, he ensured that he gets a farthing even if he couldn’t get a coin. Thus, he earned his income much more than his regular wages. His name as Chaucer said is “Hubérd”


Stanza 13 (Lines 271-285)

A Marchant was ther with a forked berd,
In motteleye, and hye on horse he sat;
Upon his heed a Flaundryssh bevere hat;
His bootes clasped faire and fetisly.
His resons he spak ful solémpnely,
Sownynge alway thencrees of his wynnyng.
He wolde the see were kept for any thing
Bitwixe Middelburgh and Orewelle.
Wel koude he in eschaunge sheeldes selle.
This worthy man ful wel his wit bisette;
Ther wiste no wight that he was in dette,
So estatly was he of his gouvernaunce,
With his bargaynes and with his chevyssaunce.
For sothe he was a worthy man with-alle,
But, sooth to seyn, I noot how men hym calle.

Following the characters of the church, Chaucer introduces us to the merchant who stands to symbolize the people of business. The merchant with a forking beard and in motley dress sat high on a horse. On his head, he had a Flemish beaver hat. His boots were fairly and neatly buckled. He stated his arguments solemnly, talking always of his increasing profit. Further, he expressed his concern about the sea between Middleburg and Orwell being protected against any hostile actions. With his intelligence as an advantage, he managed his situations well. Certainly, Chaucer sees him as a worthy man, but he wonders what would be the reaction of other people.


Stanza 14 (Lines 286-310)

A Clerk ther was of Oxenford also,
That unto logyk hadde longe y-go.
As leene was his hors as is a rake,
And he nas nat right fat, I undertake,
But looked holwe, and ther-to sobrely.
Ful thredbare was his overeste courtepy;
For he hadde geten hym yet no benefice,
Ne was so worldly for to have office;
For hym was lévere háve at his beddes heed
Twénty bookes, clad in blak or reed,
Of Aristotle and his philosophie,
Than robes riche, or fíthele, or gay sautrie.
But al be that he was a philosophre,
Yet hadde he but litel gold in cofre;
But al that he myghte of his freendes hente
On bookes and on lernynge he it spente,
And bisily gan for the soules preye
Of hem that yaf hym wher-with to scoleye.
Of studie took he moost cure and moost heede.
Noght o word spak he moore than was neede;
And that was seyd in forme and reverence,
And short and quyk and ful of hy senténce.
Sownynge in moral vertu was his speche;
And gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche.

In this stanza of ‘The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue’, we are moving on to have a look at a learned man, a “clerk” from Oxford. He is a man who learned logic and he came on a horse that looked as lean as a rake. Even he wasn’t very fat but looked emaciated and self-disciplined. He also wore a simple dressing. On the whole, he looked like a man who preferred to lead a simple life with his books than leading a rich life filled with ornaments and gaudy garments. Even though he was a philosopher, he had but little gold in his strongbox. Still, he diligently prayed for the souls of those who provided him with resources to attend the schools. It was evident that he spent more on study than on anything.

Compared to his other companions he has spoken only a little. Even then he spoke with formality and respect. Further, whatever he spoke was short and lively and full of elevated content filled with virtue. Altogether he seemed a man who would gladly learn and gladly teach.


Stanza 15 (Lines 311-333)

A Sergeant of the Lawe, war and wys,
That often hadde been at the Parvys,
Ther was also, ful riche of excellence.
Discreet he was, and of greet reverence—
He semed swich, his wordes weren so wise.
Justice he was ful often in assise,
By patente, and by pleyn commissioun.
For his science and for his heigh renoun,
Of fees and robes hadde he many oon.
So greet a purchasour was nowher noon:
Al was fee symple to hym in effect;
His purchasyng myghte nat been infect.
Nowher so bisy a man as he ther nas,
And yet he semed bisier than he was.
In termes hadde he caas and doomes alle
That from the tyme of kyng William were falle.
Ther-to he koude endite and make a thyng,
Ther koude no wight pynche at his writyng;
And every statut koude he pleyn by rote.
He rood but hoomly in a medlee cote,
Girt with a ceint of silk, with barres smale;
Of his array telle I no lenger tale.

Now, Chaucer diverts his attention towards the man of law, prudent and high ranking attorney. The lawyer seemed to have visited St, Paul’s often where the lawyers generally gather. He was judicious and of great dignity, for he has spoken with such knowledge. It seems that he had been a judge in the court of assizes by royal appointment, for his knowledge and reputation. He had a great yearly income that he spent on buying lands. Moreover, he was a very busy man for in his yearbook, he had all the accounts of the case for which he had found solutions.

Further, he knew how to draw up legal documents that enabled him to be free from flaws in his writing. He also remembered every statute by heart; still, he wore a simple particolored coat, girded with a belt of silk with small stripes. Chaucer makes a unique contradiction with his rich knowledge and simple appearance.


Stanza 16 (Lines 334-364)

A Frankeleyn was in his compaignye.
Whit was his berd as is the dayesye;
Of his complexioun he was sangwyn.
Wel loved he by the morwe a sop in wyn;
To lyven in delit was evere his wone,
For he was Epicurus owene sone,
That heeld opinioun that pleyn delit
Was verraily felicitee parfit.
An housholdere, and that a greet, was he;
Seint Julian he was in his contree.
His breed, his ale, was alweys after oon;
A bettre envyned man was nowher noon.
Withoute bake mete was nevere his hous,
Of fissh and flessh, and that so plentevous,
It snewed in his hous of mete and drynke,
Of alle deyntees that men koude thynke,
After the sondry sesons of the yeer;
So chaunged he his mete and his soper.
Ful many a fat partrich hadde he in muwe,
And many a breem and many a luce in stuwe.
Wo was his cook but if his sauce were
Poynaunt and sharp, and redy al his geere.
His table dormant in his halle alway
Stood redy covered al the longe day.
At sessiouns ther was he lord and sire;
Ful ofte tyme he was knyght of the shire.
An anlaas, and a gipser al of silk,
Heeng at his girdel, whit as morne milk.
A shirreve hadde he been, and a countour;
Was nowher such a worthy vavasour.

On their company, Chaucer had a Frankeleyn (franklin) who had a beard as white as a lily and he is a humorous man. In the morning he loved to have his bread dipped in wine. He leads a life of delight, as Chaucer comments he was a son of Epicurus, an ancient Greek philosopher, and sage who founded Epicureanism. Considered as Saint Julian (patron of hospitality) in his country, for he was a great householder.

His hospitality is well known for his house is stocked with wine and never short of baked pies, or fish, or meat. He had the independence of choice that he changed his midday meal and supper depending on the season. And he had many partridges in pens and bream and pike in his fish pond. His dining table was made all through the day to serve anyone on call. Moreover, he presided as lord and sire at court sessions also had been the Member of Parliament many times. He had also been a sheriff and an auditor of taxes. He had a dagger and a purse all of the silk hung at his belt as white as morning milk. Chaucer concludes his description with the note that “Was nowher swich a worthy vavasour” no one could find such a worthy landowner as him anywhere.


Stanza 17 (Lines 365-383)

An Haberdasshere, and a Carpenter,
A Webbe, a Dyere, and a Tapycer,—
And they were clothed alle in o lyveree
Of a solémpne and a greet fraternitee.
Ful fressh and newe hir geere apiked was;
Hir knyves were chaped noght with bras,
But al with silver; wroght ful clene and weel
Hire girdles and hir pouches everydeel.
Wel semed ech of hem a fair burgeys
To sitten in a yeldehalle, on a deys.
Éverich, for the wisdom that he kan,
Was shaply for to been an alderman;
For catel hadde they ynogh and rente,
And eek hir wyves wolde it wel assente,
And elles certeyn were they to blame.
It is ful fair to been y-cleped Madame,
And goon to vigilies al bifore,
And have a mantel roialliche y-bore.

In their company, they had the people of the working class: a haberdasher and a carpenter, a weaver, a dyer, and a tapestry-maker. They all were clothed in livery of solemn and a great parish guild. They had the equipment adorned all freshly and their knives too were wrought in silver. Their belts and their purses showed that they could be esteemed as solid citizens and occupy the dais in a city hall. Each had enough possessions and income to be an alderman. They had wives who are equal to their worth and success otherwise, they would be blamed. It was a credit to be called “my lady” and to go to feasts on holiday eves heading the procession and have a gown royally carried.


Stanza 18 (Lines 384-393)

A Cook they hadde with hem for the nones,
To boille the chiknes with the marybones,
And poudre-marchant tart, and galyngale.
Wel koude he knowe a draughte of Londoun ale.
He koude rooste, and sethe, and broille, and frye,
Máken mortreux, and wel bake a pye.
But greet harm was it, as it thoughte me,
That on his shyne a mormal hadde he;
For blankmanger, that made he with the beste.

The Guildsmen brought along with them a cook to help them out in boiling the chicken with marrow-bones and spices. The cook seems to be an expert in cooking for he knew how to distinguish the London ale by flavor. He was skilled at the roast, seethe, boil and fry. Also, he could make thick soup and bake a tasty pie. Unfortunately, he had an open shore on his shin, although he could make minced capon with cream, sugar and flour, and other best ingredients.


Stanza 19 (Lines 394-411)

A Shipman was ther, wonynge fer by weste;
For aught I woot he was of Dertemouthe.
He rood upon a rouncy, as he kouthe,
In a gowne of faldyng to the knee.
A daggere hangynge on a laas hadde he
Aboute his nekke, under his arm adoun.
The hoote somer hadde maad his hewe al broun;
And certeinly he was a good felawe.
Ful many a draughte of wyn hadde he y-drawe
Fro Burdeux-ward, whil that the chapman sleep.
Of nyce conscience took he no keep.
If that he faught and hadde the hyer hond,
By water he sente hem hoom to every lond.
But of his craft to rekene wel his tydes,
His stremes, and his daungers hym bisides,
His herberwe and his moone, his lode-menage,
Ther nas noon swich from Hulle to Cartage.
Hardy he was and wys to undertake;
With many a tempest hadde his berd been shake.
He knew alle the havenes, as they were,
From Gootlond to the Cape of Fynystere,
And every cryke in Britaigne and in Spayne.
His barge y-cleped was the Maudelayne.

There was a shipman in the company of the pilgrims, who hailed far west, could be from Dartmouth. He rode upon a farmer’s horse up to the best of his ability to match up with his other companions. For his clothing, he wore coarse stuff going down to the knee. He had a dagger hanging on a string from his neck under his arm and down. It looked as if the hot summer had tanned his color brown.

Chaucer calls him a good fellow, though he had drawn wine from the merchant when he was asleep without bothering about conscience. But, in his ability to calculate the tides, currents, the approaching perils, the harbor, the position of the moon, and navigation, there was none to equal him from Hull to Cartagena (Spain). He was well versed with all the ports as they stood from Gottland to Cape of Finistere and every creek in Britain and Spain. Chaucer concludes the description of the shipman with the name of his vessel as The Maudelayne.


Stanza 20 (Lines 412-445)

With us ther was a Doctour of Phisik;
In all this world ne was ther noon hym lik,
To speke of phisik and of surgerye;
For he was grounded in astronomye.
He kepte his pacient a ful greet deel
In houres, by his magyk natureel.
Wel koude he fortunen the ascendent
Of his ymáges for his pacient.
He knew the cause of everich maladye,
Were it of hoot, or cold, or moyste, or drye,
And where they engendred and of what humour.
He was a verray, parfit praktisour;
The cause y-knowe, and of his harm the roote,
Anon he yaf the sike man his boote.
Ful redy hadde he his apothecaries
To sende him drogges and his letuaries;
For ech of hem made oother for to wynne,
Hir frendshipe nas nat newe to bigynne.
Wel knew he the olde Esculapius,
And De{“y}scorides, and eek Rufus,
Old Ypocras, Haly, and Galyen,
Serapion, Razis, and Avycen,
Averrois, Damascien, and Constantyn,
Bernard, and Gatesden, and Gilbertyn.
Of his diete mesurable was he,
For it was of no superfluitee,
But of greet norissyng and digestíble.
His studie was but litel on the Bible.
In sangwyn and in pers he clad was al,
Lyned with taffata and with sendal.
And yet he was but esy of dispence;
He kepte that he wan in pestilence.
For gold in phisik is a cordial;
Therfore he lovede gold in special.

Along with them rode a Doctour of Phisik (doctor of medicine), who had no match for him in medicine and surgery. It seems like he was well instructed in astronomy too. Being an accomplished practitioner, he knew the cause of every sickness. Once he gets a clue of the sickness he provides the remedy instantaneously. All his apothecaries were aware of the medicine that he would suggest that they are ready always with the medicine. Chaucer makes a comment that they both earn from the other’s guile. The poet says that he rarely consults the Bible and has an unhealthy love of financial gain. Particularly, he saves his profit in gold for he had a special love for it.


Stanza 21 (Lines 446-477)

A Good Wif was ther of biside Bathe,
But she was som-del deef, and that was scathe.
Of clooth-makyng she hadde swich an haunt
She passed hem of Ypres and of Gaunt.
In al the parisshe wif ne was ther noon
That to the offrynge bifore hire sholde goon;
And if ther dide, certeyn so wrooth was she
That she was out of alle charitee.
Hir coverchiefs ful fyne weren of ground;
I dorste swere they weyeden ten pound
That on a Sonday weren upon hir heed.
Hir hosen weren of fyn scarlet reed,
Ful streite y-teyd, and shoes ful moyste and newe.
Boold was hir face, and fair, and reed of hewe.
She was a worthy womman al hir lyve;
Housbondes at chirche dore she hadde fyve,
Withouten oother compaignye in youthe;
But ther-of nedeth nat to speke as nowthe.
And thries hadde she been at Jérusalem;
She hadde passed many a straunge strem;
At Rome she hadde been, and at Boloigne,
In Galice at Seint Jame, and at Coloigne.
She koude muchel of wandrynge by the weye.
Gat-tothed was she, soothly for to seye.
Upon an amblere esily she sat,
Y-wympled wel, and on hir heed an hat
As brood as is a bokeler or a targe;
A foot-mantel aboute hir hipes large,
And on hire feet a paire of spores sharpe.
In felaweshipe wel koude she laughe and carpe;
Of remedies of love she knew per chauncé,
For she koude of that art the olde daunce.

Following the doctor of medicine, Chaucer takes his readers into the journey of understanding the character “Wife of Bath.” It is often considered as Chaucer’s masterly creation. It seems that she is a respectable woman in society, unfortunately, has some difficulty in hearing. Her skills in cloth making had surpassed many cloth-makers of Ypres and Ghent. Also, she had the privilege of offering before any women in the parish could do. Further, she wore a hander kerchief as exaggerated by Chaucer could weigh up to ten pounds. Her stockings too were of fine scarlet red and she wore shore very supple and new.

She had been a worthy woman all her life. Her chief distinction is that she had married five times “Housbondes at chirche dore she hadde fyve,” not to mention the several affairs she had in youth. Besides, she was a wide traveler who visited important shrines in Rome, Bologne, Galicia, and Cologne. She had been to Jerusalem too, but the purpose of her visit cannot be claimed to be solely for the purpose of faith. In addition, she knew a trick or two of amatory art: “Of remedies of love she knew per chaunce, / For she koude of that art the olde daunce.”


Stanza 22 (Lines 478-529)

A good man was ther of religioun,
And was a povre Person of a Toun;
But riche he was of hooly thoght and werk.
He was also a lerned man, a clerk,
That Cristes Gospel trewely wolde preche;
His parisshens devoutly wolde he teche.
Benygne he was, and wonder diligent,
And in adversitee ful pacient;
And swich he was y-preved ofte sithes.
Ful looth were hym to cursen for his tithes,
But rather wolde he yeven, out of doute,
Unto his povre parisshens aboute,
Of his offrýng and eek of his substaunce;
He koude in litel thyng have suffisaunce.
Wyd was his parisshe, and houses fer asonder,
But he ne lafte nat, for reyn ne thonder,
In siknesse nor in meschief to visíte
The ferreste in his parisshe, muche and lite,
Upon his feet, and in his hand a staf.
This noble ensample to his sheep he yaf,
That first he wroghte and afterward he taughte.
Out of the gospel he tho wordes caughte;
And this figure he added eek therto,
That if gold ruste, what shal iren doo?
For if a preest be foul, on whom we truste,
No wonder is a lewed man to ruste;
And shame it is, if a prest take keep,
A shiten shepherde and a clene sheep.
Wel oghte a preest ensample for to yive
By his clennesse how that his sheep sholde lyve.
He sette nat his benefice to hyre
And leet his sheep encombred in the myre,
And ran to Londoun, unto Seinte Poules,
To seken hym a chaunterie for soules,
Or with a bretherhed to been withholde;
But dwelte at hoom and kepte wel his folde,
So that the wolf ne made it nat myscarie;
He was a shepherde, and noght a mercenarie.
And though he hooly were and vertuous,
He was to synful man nat despitous,
Ne of his speche daungerous ne digne,
But in his techyng díscreet and benygne.
To drawen folk to hevene by fairnesse,
By good ensample, this was his bisynesse.
But it were any persone obstinat,
What so he were, of heigh or lough estat,
Hym wolde he snybben sharply for the nonys.
A bettre preest I trowe that nowher noon ys.
He waited after no pompe and reverence,
Ne maked him a spiced conscience;
But Cristes loore and his apostles twelve
He taughte, but first he folwed it hymselve.

Following all these characters, Chaucer presents a good man of religion. He was a poor parson of a town, but with rich holy thoughts. Being a scholar himself he could preach the gospel truth. Also, it seemed that he earnestly preached to his parishioners. To speak of his character he was benign, diligent, and full patient in adversity. He set a noble example to his parishioners for he was a man to act first before speaking. From the Gospel he got a proverb that became the ideology for his life: “if gold gets rusty, what will then iron do?” Similarly, if a priest goes evil way, there is no wonder a commoner would go the same way. Unlike others, he preferred to stay put in his home to look after his sheep (parishioners).

He was wise and gracious in his teaching for he believed that his task is to show fair behavior and draw people to heaven. Unlike, many other priests he had expected any ceremonial show or reverence. He taught the doctrine of Christ and his disciples, at the same time followed what he preached.


Stanza 23 (Lines 530-542)

With hym ther was a Plowman, was his brother,
That hadde y-lad of dong ful many a fother;
A trewe swynkere and a good was he,
Lyvynge in pees and parfit charitee.
God loved he best, with al his hoole herte,
At alle tymes, thogh him gamed or smerte.
And thanne his neighebor right as hymselve.
He wolde thresshe, and therto dyke and delve,
For Cristes sake, for every povre wight,
Withouten hire, if it lay in his myght.
His tithes payede he ful faire and wel,
Bothe of his propre swynk and his catel.
In a tabard he rood upon a mere.

The Parson came along with his brother, a plowman. He was a true and good worker, living in peace and perfect charity. He loved God wholeheartedly in all situations even in adversity. Following the scripture, he loved his neighbors’ as he loved himself. He would thrash his corn and helped the poor if it was in his power. He paid his taxes in full and on time. Clad in a tabard smoke he rode on a mare.


Stanzas 24-25 (Lines 543-567)

Ther was also a Reve and a Millere,
A Somnour and a Pardoner also,
A Maunciple, and myself,—ther were namo.


The Millere was a stout carl for the nones;
Ful byg he was of brawn and eek of bones.
That proved wel, for over-al, ther he cam,
At wrastlynge he wolde have alwey the ram.
He was short-sholdred, brood, a thikke knarre;
Ther nas no dore that he nolde heve of harre,
Or breke it at a rennyng with his heed.
His berd as any sowe or fox was reed,
And therto brood, as though it were a spade.
Upon the cop right of his nose he hade
A werte, and thereon stood a toft of herys,
Reed as the brustles of a sowes erys;
His nosethirles blake were and wyde.
A swerd and a bokeler bar he by his syde.
His mouth as greet was as a greet forneys;
He was a janglere and a goliardeys,
And that was moost of synne and harlotries.
Wel koude he stelen corn and tollen thries;
And yet he hadde a thombe of gold, pardee.
A whit cote and a blew hood wered he.
A baggepipe wel koude he blowe and sowne,
And therwithal he broghte us out of towne.

The other travelers include a Reeve, a Miller, a Summoner, a Pardoner, and then a Manciple and the poet himself. The Miler was a bulky fellow, who sack the ram in all the wrestling matches. He was short shouldered and broad-chested. There was no door he couldn’t lift off its hinges or break with his head. He was a wrangler and buffoon and that was worst of sin and lewdness. For his dressing, he wore a white coat and a blue hood. He had a talent for playing the bagpipe. The poet humorously makes a comment that he brought them all out of town by blowing his bagpipe.


Stanza 26 (Lines 568-587)

A gentil Maunciple was ther of a temple,
Of which achátours myghte take exemple
For to be wise in byynge of vitaille;
For, wheither that he payde or took by taille,
Algate he wayted so in his achaat
That he was ay biforn and in good staat.
Now is nat that of God a ful fair grace,
That swich a lewed mannes wit shal pace
The wisdom of an heep of lerned men?
Of maistres hadde he mo than thries ten,
That weren of lawe expert and curious,
Of whiche ther weren a duszeyne in that hous
Worthy to been stywardes of rente and lond
Of any lord that is in Engelond,
To maken hym lyve by his propre good,
In honour dettelees, but if he were wood,
Or lyve as scarsly as hym list desire;
And able for to helpen al a shire
In any caas that myghte falle or happe;
And yet this Manciple sette hir aller cappe

There was this good-natured Maunciple (Manciple) of the Inner Temple (law school) who also rode with them. All buyers of provisions may learn from him to be wide in buying. For, whether he paid in cash or bought on credit, he was always careful and made a good bargain. He had more than thirsty masters who were well versed in law but he fooled them all. For, he made good bargains to get his own gains.


Stanza 27 (Lines 588-624)

The Reve was a sclendre colerik man.
His berd was shave as ny as ever he kan;
His heer was by his erys round y-shorn;
His top was dokked lyk a preest biforn.
Ful longe were his legges and ful lene,
Y-lyk a staf, ther was no calf y-sene.
Wel koude he kepe a gerner and a bynne;
Ther was noon auditour koude on him wynne.
Wel wiste he, by the droghte and by the reyn,
The yeldynge of his seed and of his greyn.
His lordes sheep, his neet, his dayerye,
His swyn, his hors, his stoor, and his pultrye,
Was hoolly in this reves governyng;
And by his covenant yaf the rekenyng
Syn that his lord was twenty yeer of age;
There koude no man brynge hym in arrerage.
There nas baillif, ne hierde, nor oother hyne,
That he ne knew his sleighte and his covyne;
They were adrad of hym as of the deeth.
His wonyng was ful fair upon an heeth;
With grene trees shadwed was his place.
He koude bettre than his lord purchace;
Ful riche he was a-stored pryvely.
His lord wel koude he plesen subtilly,
To yeve and lene hym of his owene good,
And have a thank, and yet a cote and hood.
In youthe he hadde lerned a good myster;
He was a wel good wrighte, a carpenter.
This Reve sat upon a ful good stot,
That was al pomely grey, and highte Scot.
A long surcote of pers upon he hade,
And by his syde he baar a rusty blade.
Of Northfolk was this Reve of which I telle,
Biside a toun men clepen Baldeswelle.
Tukked he was as is a frere, aboute.
And evere he rood the hyndreste of oure route.

The Reeve (farm-bailiff) was a slender, irritable man. His beard was shaven as closely as he could, and his hair stood above his ears. His legs were long and lean like a staff. He took good care of his garners and bins. No accountant could get the better of him. For, he knew whether there was rain or drought and how much would be his harvest. He was entrusted with all of his Lord’s belonging. There is no one in the neighborhood that does not know of his deceit or tricks yet they are afraid of him to speak a word of it. He impressed his lord with his handicraft. He came on a nag, dappled grey, and called Scot. For his dressing, he put on a long overcoat of dark blue, and by his side hung a rusty sword. He rode on the hindmost of the cavalcade.


Stanza 28 (Lines 625-670)

A Somonour was ther with us in that place,
That hadde a fyr-reed cherubynnes face,
For sawcefleem he was, with eyen narwe.
As hoot he was and lecherous as a sparwe,
With scaled browes blake and piled berd,—
Of his visage children were aferd.
Ther nas quyk-silver, lytarge, ne brymstoon,
Boras, ceruce, ne oille of tartre noon,
Ne oynement that wolde clense and byte,
That hym myghte helpen of his whelkes white,
Nor of the knobbes sittynge on his chekes.
Wel loved he garleek, oynons, and eek lekes,
And for to drynken strong wyn, reed as blood.
Thanne wolde he speke, and crie as he were wood.
And whan that he wel dronken hadde the wyn,
Than wolde he speke no word but Latyn.
A fewe termes hadde he, two or thre,
That he had lerned out of som decree,—
No wonder is, he herde it al the day;
And eek ye knowen wel how that a jay
Kan clepen “Watte” as wel as kan the pope.
But whoso koude in oother thyng hym grope,
Thanne hadde he spent al his philosophie;
Ay “Questio quid juris” wolde he crie.
He was a gentil harlot and a kynde;
A bettre felawe sholde men noght fynde.
He wolde suffre for a quart of wyn
A good felawe to have his concubyn
A twelf month, and excuse hym atte fulle;
And prively a fynch eek koude he pulle.
And if he foond owher a good felawe,
He wolde techen him to have noon awe,
In swich caas, of the erchedekenes curs,
But if a mannes soule were in his purs;
For in his purs he sholde y-punysshed be:
“Purs is the erchedekenes helle,” seyde he.
But wel I woot he lyed right in dede.
Of cursyng oghte ech gilty man him drede,
For curs wol slee, right as assoillyng savith;
And also war him of a Significavit.
In daunger hadde he at his owene gise
The yonge girles of the diocise,
And knew hir conseil, and was al hir reed.
A gerland hadde he set upon his heed,
As greet as it were for an ale-stake;
A bokeleer hadde he maad him of a cake.

The summoner who rode with them had a fiery-red cherub’s face for it covered with red pimples. He was as hot and wanton as a sparrow with black scabby brows and a thin beard. His appearance scared the children away. He loved garlic, onions, and leek. Also, he preferred his wines as red as blood. Chaucer ironically calls him a good fellow for he would any man to have his concubine a good quart of wine. Also, he knew many other tricks to have his way. Since he knew the secret of all the people and volunteered himself to be their advisor. He has dissuaded many people from being worried about excommunicated from society. He had a round cake set upon which he intended as a shield. The summoner has a belief that money is everything and he feels that one could have their way out with money.


Stanza 29 (Lines 671-716)

With hym ther rood a gentil Pardoner
Of Rouncivale, his freend and his compeer,
That streight was comen fro the court of Rome.
Ful loude he soong, “Com hider, love, to me!”
This Somonour bar to hym a stif burdoun;
Was nevere trompe of half so greet a soun.
This Pardoner hadde heer as yelow as wex,
But smothe it heeng as dooth a strike of flex;
By ounces henge his lokkes that he hadde,
And therwith he his shuldres overspradde.
But thynne it lay, by colpons, oon and oon;
But hood, for jolitee, wered he noon,
For it was trussed up in his walét.
Hym thoughte he rood al of the newe jet;
Dischevelee, save his cappe, he rood al bare.
Swiche glarynge eyen hadde he as an hare.
A vernycle hadde he sowed upon his cappe.
His walet lay biforn hym in his lappe,
Bret-ful of pardoun, comen from Rome al hoot.
A voys he hadde as smal as hath a goot.
No berd hadde he, ne nevere sholde have,
As smothe it was as it were late y-shave;
I trowe he were a geldyng or a mare.
But of his craft, fro Berwyk into Ware,
Ne was ther swich another pardoner;
For in his male he hadde a pilwe-beer,
Which that, he seyde, was Oure Lady veyl;
He seyde he hadde a gobet of the seyl
That Seinte Peter hadde, whan that he wente
Upon the see, til Jesu Crist hym hente.
He hadde a croys of latoun, ful of stones,
And in a glas he hadde pigges bones.
But with thise relikes, whan that he fond
A povre person dwellynge upon lond,
Upon a day he gat hym moore moneye
Than that the person gat in monthes tweye;
And thus with feyned flaterye and japes
He made the person and the peple his apes.
But trewely to tellen atte laste,
He was in chirche a noble ecclesiaste;
Wel koude he rede a lessoun or a storie,
But alderbest he song an offertorie;
For wel he wiste, whan that song was songe,
He moste preche, and wel affile his tonge
To wynne silver, as he ful wel koude;
Therefore he song the murierly and loude.

Along with the summoner came a pardoner from Rouncivale, his friend and comrade. He had come straight from the court of Rome and sand loudly, Come hither, love to me! He had hair as yellow as wax that hung as smoothly as a hank of flax. Because of his liveliness of sprit of vanity he had not worn a hood like others. He rode in a new style by looking disheveled and bareheaded except for his cap. Is wallet was full of pardons from Rome. He had a few relics with him and by exhibiting them to poor parsons he earned more money than he could receive in two months. After all, he could sing a song and tell a story or preach in church.


Stanza 30-32  (Lines 717-752)

Now have I toold you shortly, in a clause,
Thestaat, tharray, the nombre, and eek the cause
Why that assembled was this compaignye
In Southwerk, at this gentil hostelrye
That highte the Tabard, faste by the Belle.
But now is tyme to yow for to telle
How that we baren us that ilke nyght,
Whan we were in that hostelrie alyght;
And after wol I telle of our viage
And al the remenaunt of oure pilgrimage.


But first, I pray yow, of youre curteisye,
That ye narette it nat my vileynye,
Thogh that I pleynly speke in this mateere,
To telle yow hir wordes and hir cheere,
Ne thogh I speke hir wordes proprely.
For this ye knowen al-so wel as I,
Whoso shal telle a tale after a man,
He moot reherce, as ny as evere he kan,
Everich a word, if it be in his charge,
Al speke he never so rudeliche and large;
Or ellis he moot telle his tale untrewe,
Or feyne thyng, or fynde wordes newe.
He may nat spare, althogh he were his brother;
He moot as wel seye o word as another.
Crist spak hymself ful brode in hooly writ,
And wel ye woot no vileynye is it.
Eek Plato seith, whoso kan hym rede,
“The wordes moote be cosyn to the dede.”


Also I prey yow to foryeve it me,
Al have I nat set folk in hir degree
Heere in this tale, as that they sholde stonde;
My wit is short, ye may wel understonde.

In stanza thirty of ‘The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue, Chaucer has come to the conclusion of his portrayal of characters: of their rank, dress, the number, and also the purpose of their journey. They all have gathered in this Tabard Inn beside The Bell. Now he goes further to state the way they all conducted themselves on the first night at the Inn.

First of all, he expects the readers to accept his apology if he speaks plainly for he was about to use the words and phrases exactly as it was spoken by them. Christ spoke out plainly in the Holy Scriptures, and there is no way to reproach it. Similarly, as Plato said, “the words should be as cousin to deed.”

Further, he expects his readers to forgive him if he neglects the order and degree and what is due to a social position in this tale here. He also says that he is short of wit. And with that note, he started to speak of the host who cordially welcomed him and all the guests of the day.


Stanzas 33-37 (Lines 753-823)

Greet chiere made oure Hoost us everichon,
And to the soper sette he us anon,
And served us with vitaille at the beste:
Strong was the wyn and wel to drynke us leste.


A semely man Oure Hooste was with-alle
For to been a marchal in an halle.
A large man he was with eyen stepe,
A fairer burgeys was ther noon in Chepe;
Boold of his speche, and wys, and well y-taught,
And of manhod hym lakkede right naught.
Eek thereto he was right a myrie man,
And after soper pleyen he bigan,
And spak of myrthe amonges othere thynges,
Whan that we hadde maad our rekenynges;
And seyde thus: “Now, lordynges, trewely,
Ye been to me right welcome, hertely;
For by my trouthe, if that I shal nat lye,
I saugh nat this yeer so myrie a compaignye
At ones in this herberwe as is now.
Fayn wolde I doon yow myrthe, wiste I how;
And of a myrthe I am right now bythoght,
To doon yow ese, and it shal coste noght.


“Ye goon to Canterbury—God yow speede,
The blisful martir quite yow youre meede!
And wel I woot, as ye goon by the weye,
Ye shapen yow to talen and to pleye;
For trewely confort ne myrthe is noon
To ride by the weye doumb as a stoon;
And therfore wol I maken yow disport,
As I seyde erst, and doon yow som confort.
And if you liketh alle, by oon assent,
For to stonden at my juggement,
And for to werken as I shal yow seye,
To-morwe, whan ye riden by the weye,
Now, by my fader soule, that is deed,
But ye be myrie, I wol yeve yow myn heed!
Hoold up youre hond, withouten moore speche.”

Oure conseil was nat longe for to seche;
Us thoughte it was noght worth to make it wys,
And graunted hym withouten moore avys,
And bad him seye his verdit, as hym leste.


“Lordynges,” quod he, “now herkneth for the beste;
But taak it nought, I prey yow, in desdeyn;
This is the poynt, to speken short and pleyn,
That ech of yow, to shorte with oure weye
In this viage, shal telle tales tweye,
To Caunterbury-ward, I mene it so,
And homward he shal tellen othere two,
Of aventúres that whilom han bifalle.
And which of yow that bereth hym beste of alle,
That is to seyn, that telleth in this caas
Tales of best sentence and moost solaas,
Shal have a soper at oure aller cost,
Heere in this place, sittynge by this post,
Whan that we come agayn fro Caunterbury.
And, for to make yow the moore mury,
I wol myselven gladly with yow ryde,
Right at myn owene cost, and be youre gyde;
And whoso wole my juggement withseye
Shal paye al that we spenden by the weye.
And if ye vouche-sauf that it be so,
Tel me anon, withouten wordes mo,
And I wol erly shape me therfore.”

This thyng was graunted, and oure othes swore
With ful glad herte, and preyden hym also
That he wolde vouche-sauf for to do so,
And that he wolde been oure governour,
And of our tales juge and réportour,
And sette a soper at a certeyn pris;
And we wol reuled been at his devys
In heigh and lough; and thus, by oon assent,
We been acorded to his juggement.
And therupon the wyn was fet anon;
We dronken, and to reste wente echon,
Withouten any lenger taryynge.

The host seems to be a striking man fit to be a marshall in a hall. He had bright eyes and looked well suited to his atmosphere. He was a merry man thus entertained the guests after supper. At this point, he suggests to the pilgrims about his intention to join the company. He further suggests them to tell two tales during their journey towards Canterbury, as well as during their return. In this way, he suggested that they could be saved from boredom. Also, he volunteers to be their guide and a judge for their story if they ever happen to accept his idea of storytelling.


Stanza 38 (Lines 824-843)

Amorwe, whan that day gan for to sprynge,
Up roos oure Hoost and was oure aller cok,
And gadrede us togidre alle in a flok;
And forth we riden, a litel moore than paas,
Unto the wateryng of Seint Thomas;
And there oure Hoost bigan his hors areste,
And seyde, “Lordynges, herkneth, if yow leste:
Ye woot youre foreward and I it yow recorde.
If even-song and morwe-song accorde,
Lat se now who shal telle the firste tale.
As ever mote I drynke wyn or ale,
Whoso be rebel to my juggement
Shal paye for all that by the wey is spent.
Now draweth cut, er that we ferrer twynne;
He which that hath the shorteste shal bigynne.
Sire Knyght,” quod he, “my mayster and my lord
Now draweth cut, for that is myn accord.
Cometh neer,” quod he, “my lady Prioresse.
And ye, sire Clerk, lat be your shamefastnesse,
Ne studieth noght. Ley hond to, every man.”

In the morning, their host awakened them all and offered to take up the journey along with them, if they have any intention to follow his suggestion. Further, he offered to listen to the story and be a moderator and an unbiased judge for their stories. The members of the Canterbury party readily agreed to his suggestion and invited him to be their fair judge. They further agreed to go by his guidance and directions. Thus, everything was settled and they all receded without further delay.


Stanza 39 (Lines 844-860)

Anon to drawen every wight bigan,
And, shortly for to tellen as it was,
Were it by áventúre, or sort, or cas,
The sothe is this, the cut fil to the Knyght,
Of which ful blithe and glad was every wyght;
And telle he moste his tale, as was resoun,
By foreward and by composicioun,
As ye han herd; what nedeth wordes mo?
And whan this goode man saugh that it was so,
As he that wys was and obedient
To kepe his foreward by his free assent,
He seyde, “Syn I shal bigynne the game,
What, welcome be the cut, a Goddes name!
Now lat us ryde, and herkneth what I seye.”
And with that word we ryden forth oure weye;
And he bigan with right a myrie cheere
His tale anon, and seyde in this manére.

In this concluding part of the prologue, Chaucer further explains how the Inn Keeper joined them on the journey. So, the next morning they all set out towards, Canterbury. While they were a few paces away from the Inn, the host reminds them of their agreement. Further, he plans to pick a lot on the names of the passengers. Unanimously, they decide to go by the lot. that the one who is chosen for the first lot will have to lead. Soon everybody began to draw a lot and the first lot fell upon the Knight. It wasn’t clear whether it was by chance or destiny or accident. When he saw that it was his turn, the knight accepted it readily as if it was a command from heaven and commences his tale as they resume their journey towards Canterbury.


Historical Context

The Age of Chaucer roughly covers the whole of the 14th century. It was remarkable for many significant political, religious, social, and literary activities. There was a great expansion in trade and commerce. Also during the years 1340 – 1369 England was at war with Scotland and France. The victories in the Hundred Year’s War marked the beginning of the growth of the power of the middle classes and the downfall of Feudalism. Further, corruption in the church too assumed terrifying proportions. Moreover, Chaucer’s world was largely medieval, that he grew up under the influence of medieval literature and medieval ideas. Altogether, Chaucer got inspiration from all this and used them in his Canterbury Tales.


Similar Poetry

Satire and Irony are commonly used in literature across ages. When satire and irony are present, the effect is often humorous. Some of the poems from famous poets that represent irony are:

Miz Alb Poetry Expert
Miz Alb received her MA in English Literature. Her thirst for literature makes her explore through the nuances of it. She loves reading and writing poetry. She teaches English Language and Literature to the ESL students of tertiary level.

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