Canterbury Tales Study Guide
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Key: Written in blue = online source Written in black = text book/my head/classmates’ head /classmates’ heads Bolded = Important people Canterbury Tales Study Guide Four Tales: Miller’s Miller’s Tale: Tale: -The Miller begins his story: there was once an Oxford student named Nicholas, who studied astrology and was well acquainted with the art of love. Nicholas boarded with a wealthy but ignorant old carpenter named John, who was jealous and highly possessive of his sexy eighteen-yearold wife, Alisoun. One day, the carpenter leaves, and Nicholas and Alisoun begin flirting. Nicholas grabs Alisoun, and she threatens to cry for help. He then begins to cry, and after a few sweet words, she agrees to sleep with him when it is safe to do so. She is worried that John will find out, but Nicholas is confident he can outwit the carpenter. Nicholas is not alone in desiring Alisoun. A merry, vain parish clerk named Absolon also fancies Alisoun. He serenades her every night, buys her gifts, and gives her money, but to no avail— avail—Alisoun loves Nicholas. Nicholas devises a plan that will allow him and Alisoun to spend an entire night together. He has Alisoun tell John that Ni cholas is ill. John sends a servant to check on his boarder, who arrives to find Nicholas immobile, staring at the ceiling. When the servant reports back to John, John is not surprised, saying that madness is what one gets for inquiring into “Goddes pryvetee,” which is what he believes Nicholas’s astronomy studies amount to. Nevertheless, he feels sorry for the student and goes to check on him. Nicholas tells John he has had a vision from God and offers to tell John about it. He explains that he has foreseen a terrible event. The next Monday, waters twice as great as Noah’s flood will cover the land, exterminating all life. The carpenter believes him and fears for his wife, just what Nicholas had hoped would occur. Nicholas instructs John to fasten three tubs, each loaded with provisions and an ax, to the roof of the barn. On Monday night, they will sleep in the tubs, so that when the flood comes, they can release the tubs, hack through the roof, and float until the water subsides. Nicholas also warns John that it is God’s commandment that they may do nothing but pray once they are in the —no one is to speak a word. tubs— tubs Monday night arrives, and Nicholas, John, and Alisoun ascend by ladder into the hanging tubs. As soon as the carpenter begins to snore, Nicholas and Alisoun climb down, run back to the house, and sleep together in the carpenter’s bed. In the early dawn, Absolon passes by. Ho ping to stop in for a kiss, or perhaps more, from Alisoun, Absalon sidles up to the window and calls to her. She harshly replies that she loves another. Absolon persists, and Alisoun offers him one quick kiss in the dark. Absolon leaps forward eagerly, offering a lingering kiss. But it is not her lips he finds at the window, but her “naked ers [arse]” (3734). She and Nicholas collapse with laughter, while Absolon blindly tries to wipe his mouth. Determined to avenge Alisoun’s prank, Absolon hurries back int o int o town to the blacksmith and obtains a red-hot iron poker. He returns with it to the window and knocks again, asking for a kiss and promising Alisoun a golden ring. This time, Nicholas, having gotten up to relieve himself anyway, sticks his rear out the window window and farts thunderously in Absolon’s face. Absolon brands Nicholas’s buttocks with the poker. Nicholas leaps up and cries out, “Help! Water! Water!” (3815). John, still hanging from the roof, wakes up and assumes Nicholas’s cries mean that the flood has come. He grabs the ax, cuts free the tub, and comes crashing to the ground, breaking his arm. The noise and commotion attract many of the townspeople. The carpenter tells the story of the predicted flood, but Nicholas and Alisoun pretend ignorance, telling everyone that the carpenter is mad. The townspeople laugh that all have received their dues, and the Miller merrily asks that God save the company.
Reeve’s Tale: -A miller named Symkyn lives on some property by a bridge not far from the town of Cambridge. (A miller is a person who grinds corn and grain into flour.) He likes to fight, carries multiple weapons, and enjoys wrestling. Most people in the town avoid conflict with him, even though he regularly cheats his customers by stealing corn from them or "padding" their sacks of flour with less-expensive substances. Symkyn has married the illegitimate daughter of a local cleric, a woman who's proud because of her expensive upbringing in a nunnery. When the manciple of a school in Canterbury that regularly grinds its corn and wheat with Symkyn gets sick, the miller takes the opportunity to cheat the school even m ore than usual. Two students there, Aleyn and John, ask their headmaster to allow them to go have the corn ground the next time it needs grinding, convinced they can prevent the miller from cheating them. The headmaster agrees, and the two set out on their journey by horseback. When they arrive at the mill, Aleyn and John tell Symkyn that they will watch the corn being ground. Symkyn realizes they want to watch to keep from being cheated and takes their vigilance as a challenge. He unties Aleyn and John's horse. When they find it missing, they have to spend all day chasing it in a nearby field, giving Symkyn time to steal flour from them, which he has his wife bake into a cake and hide. Having wasted the whole day horse-catching, Aleyn and John decide to stay the night at Symkyn's house. That evening everyone beds down in the same room. Aleyn decides to use the close proximity of Symkyn's daughter, Malyne, to have sex with her. The clerk figures he's owed this because Symkyn cheated him out of the corn. John does the same with Symkyn's wife, moving the cradle at the foot of her bed to his so she will climb in with him by mistake. At dawn, when Aleyn tries to return to his bed, the misplacement of the cradle causes him to crawl into bed with Symkyn by accident. Thinking he's John, Aleyn boasts to Sy mkyn that he had sex with the mi ller's daughter all night. Enraged, Symkyn rises out of bed and punches Aleyn in the nose, then tumbles onto the bed where John and his wife are sleeping. When his wife wakes up, she tries to help her husband by hitting the clerks with a staff , but mistakes her husband's bald skull f or the white caps the clerks wear, and knocks him over the head instead. Aleyn and John beat Symkyn up, then hightail it off of his property, picking up the cake made of their stolen flour, the location of which Malyne has revealed to Aleyn, on the way.
Wife of Bath’s Tale: -In the days of King Arthur, the Wife of Bath begins, the isle of Britain was full of fairies and elves. Now, those creatures are gone because their spots have been taken by the friars and other mendicants that seem to fill every nook and cranny of the isle. And though the friars rape women, just as the incubi did in the days of the fairies, the friars only cause women dishonor—the incubi always got them pregnant. In Arthur’s court, however, a young, lusty knight comes across a beautiful young maiden one day. Overcome by lust and his sense of his own power, he rapes her. The court is scandalized by the crime and decrees that the knight should be put to death by decapitation. However, Arthur’s queen and other ladies of the court intercede on his behalf and ask the king to give him one chance to save his own life. Arthur, wisely obedient to wifely counsel, grants their request. The queen presents the knight with the following challenge: if, within one year, he can discover what women want most in the world and report his findings back to the court, he will keep his life. If he cannot find the answer to the queen’s question, or if his answer is wrong, he will lose his head. The knight sets forth in sorrow. He roams throughout the country, posing the question to every woman he meets. To the knight’s dismay, nearly every one of them answers differently. Some claim that women love money best, some honor, some jolliness, some looks, some sex, some remarriage, some flattery, and some say that women most want to be free to do as they wish. Finally, says the Wife, some say that women most want to be considered discreet and secretive, although she argues that such an answer is clearly untrue, since no woman can keep a secret. As proof, she retells Ovid’s story of Midas. Midas had two ass’s ears growing under his hair, which he concealed from everybody except his wife, whom he begged not to disclose his secret. She swore she would not, but the secret burned so much inside her that she ran down to a marsh and whispered her husband’s secr et to the
water. The Wife then says that i f her listeners would like to hear how the tale ends, th ey should read Ovid. She returns to her story of the knight. When his day of judgment draws near, the knight sorrowfully heads for home. As he rides near a forest, he sees a large group of women dancing and decides to approach them to ask his question. But as he approaches, the group vanishes, and all he can see is an ugly old woman. The woman asks if she can be of help, and the knight explains his predicament and promises to reward her if she can help him. The woman tells the knight that he must pledge himself to her in return for her help, and the knight, having no options left, gladly consents. She then guarantees that his life will be saved. The knight and the old woman travel together to the court, where, in front of a large audience, the knight tells the queen the answer with which the old woman supplied him: what women most desire is to be in charge of their husbands and lovers. The women agree resoundingly that this is the answer, and the queen spares the knight’s life. The old hag comes forth and publicly asks the knight to marry her. The knight cries out in horror. He begs her to take his material possessions rather than his body, but she refuses to yield, and in the end he is forced to consent. The two are married in a small, private wedding and go to bed together the same night. Throughout the entire ordeal, the knight remains miserable. While in bed, the loathsome hag asks the knight why he is so sad. He replies that he could hardly bear the shame of having such an ugly, lowborn wife. She does not take offense at the insult, but calmly asks him whether real “gentillesse,” or noble character, can be hereditary (1109). There have been sons of noble fathers, she argues, who were shameful and villainous, though they shared the same blood. Her family may be poor, but real poverty lies in covetousness, and real riches lie in having little and wanting nothing. She offers the knight a choice: either he can have her be ugly but loyal and good, or he can have her young and fair but also coquettish and unfaithful. The knight ponders in silence. Finally, he replies that he would rather trust her judgment, and he asks her to choose whatever she thinks best. Because the knight’s answer gave the woman what she most desired, the authority to choose for herself, she becomes both beautiful and good. The two have a long, happy marriage, and the woman becomes completely obedient to her husband. The Wife of Bath concludes with a plea that Jesus Christ send all women husbands who are young, meek, and fresh in bed, and the grace to outlive their husbands.
Pardoner’s Tale: -The Pardoner describes a group of young Flemish people who spend their time drinking and reveling, indulging in all forms of excess. After commenting on their lifestyle of debauchery, the Pardoner enters into a tirade against the vices that they practice. First and foremost is gluttony, which he identifies as the sin that first caused the fall of mankind in Eden. Next, he attacks drunkenness, which makes a man seem mad and witless. Next is gambling, the temptation that ruins men of power and wealth. Finally, he denounces swearing. He argues that it so offends God that he forbade swearing in the Second Commandment —placing it higher up on the list than homicide. After almost two hundred lines of sermonizing, the Pardoner finally returns to his story of the lecherous Flemish youngsters. As three of these rioters sit drinking, they hear a funeral knell. One of the revelers’ servants tells the group that an old friend of theirs was slain that very night by a mysterious figure named Death. The rioters are outraged and, in their drunkenness, decide to find and kill Death to avenge their friend. Traveling down the road, they meet an old man who appears sorrowful. He says his sorrow stems from old age—he has been waiting for Death to come and take him for some time, and he has wandered all over the world. The youths, hearing the name of Death, demand to know where they can find him. The old man directs them into a grove, where he says he just left Death under an oak tree. The rioters rush to the tree, underneath which they find not Death but eight bushels of gold coins with no owner in sight. At first, they are speechless, but, then, the slyest of the three reminds them that if they carry the gold
into town in daylight, they will be taken for thieves. They must transport the gold under cover of night, and so someone must run into town to fetch bread and wine in the meantime. They draw lots, and the youngest of the three loses and runs off toward town. As soon as he is gone, the sly plotter turns to his friend and divulges his plan: when their friend returns from town, they will kill him and therefore receive greater shares of the wealth. The second rioter agrees, and they prepare their trap. Back in town, the youngest vagrant is having similar thoughts. He could easily be the richest man in town, he realizes, if he could have all the gold to himself. He goes to the apothecary and buys the strongest poison available, then puts the poison into two bottles of wine, leaving a third bottle pure for himself. He returns to the tree, but the other two rioters leap out and kill him. They sit down to drink their friend’s wine and celebrate, but each happens to pick up a poisoned bottle. Within minutes, they lie dead next to their friend. Thus, concludes the Pardoner, all must beware the sin of avarice, which can only bring treachery and death. He realizes that he has forgotten something: he has relics and pardons in his bag. According to his custom, he tells the pilgrims the value of his relics and asks for contributions—even though he has just told them the relics are fake. He offers the Host the first chance to come forth and kiss the relics, since the Host is clearly the most enveloped in sin (942). The Host is outraged and proposes to make a relic out of the Pardoner’s genitals, but the Knight calms everybody down. The Host and Pardoner kiss and make up, and all have a good laugh as they continue on their way.
Canterbury Tales: -Collection of character sketches, conversations, and stories set within the narrative of a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Thomas Becket in Canterbury (29 pilgrims) -the pilgrims range in rank from a knight to a poor plowman -only the very highest and lowest ranks are missing (nobility and serfs respectively) -more so than anything else, these pilgrims talks – revealing more about themselves than they know -pilgrims are introduced in the prologue and more is revealed about them in the specific stories they tell – fabliaux: brief stories, usually humorous, often off color -Chaucer planned to include 120 stories, but he managed only 24 – some incomplete Prologue: -starts in April -the west wind (Zephyrus) is blowing in the air -nature is starting to awake – animals waking up from hibernation -people longing to go on a pilgrimage -pilgrims wore the image of crossed palm leaves as their emblem (palmers) -headed towards Canterbury because of St. Thomas Becket – murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170 – tomb was a favorite destination for medieval English pilgrims -The Tabard = famous inn at the beginning of the road from London to Canterbury -Chaucer states that he will “say what their (speaking of the pilgrims ) condition was, the full array of each of them, as it appeared to me, according to profession and degree, and what apparel they were riding in…” (97) Pilgrims (in order as they appear in the Prologue): -Knight (look at her notes as well): - a most distinguished man -follows chivalry, truth, honor, generousness, and courtesy -honored for his noble graces
-fought against major non-Christian enemies of Chaucer’s Era (Alexandria, Prussia, Lithuania, Russia, etc…) -“always killed his man” -worked for the Bey of Balat: a bey was a governor of a province or district in the Ottoman Empire -“sovereign value in all eyes, and though much distinguished, he was wise” -equipment he had : -fine horses, not gaily dressed – “wore a fustian tunic stained and dark wit h smudges where his armor left mark” (98) -having just returned home from service, he is on the pilgrimage to “render thanks”(98) -Squire (check packet for more in depth analysis *): -The Knight’s son and apprentice -curly-haired, youthfully handsome, and loves dancing and courting -Yeomen (*): -The servant who accompanies the Knight and the Squire -his dress and weapons suggest he may be a forester -Nun (*): -Described as modest and quiet, this Prioress (a nun who is head of her convent) aspires to have exquisite taste -Her table manners are dainty, she knows French (though not the French of the court), she dresses well, and she is charitable and compassionate -Monk (*): -Most monks of the Middle Ages lived in monasteries according to the Rule of Saint Benedict, which demanded that they devote their lives to “work and prayer” This Monk cares little for the Rule; his devotion is to hunting and eating -He is large, loud, and well clad in hunting boots and furs -Friar (*): -Roaming priests with no ties to a monastery, friars were a great object of criticism in Chaucer’s time -Always ready to befriend young women or rich men who might need his services, the friar actively administers the sacraments in his town, especially those of marriage and confession -Chaucer’s worldly Friar has taken to accepting bribes -Merchant (*): -trades in furs and other cloths, mostly from Flanders -He is part of a powerful and wealthy class in Chaucer’s society (side note: Chaucer’s father was a prosperous wine merchant in Flanders in 1338) -Oxford Cleric (*): -a poor student of philosophy -Having spent his money on books and learning rather than on fine clothes, he is threadbare and wan -He speaks little, but when he does, his words are wise and full of moral virtue -Sergeant at the Law (not in the original packet or our notes): -one of the king’s legal servants -only 20 men in Chaucer’s day -chosen from lawyers with over 16 years of experience and who sat as judges both in London and in the traveling courts
-“paid his calls…for clients at St. Paul’s” –lawyers would meet clients on church porches to discuss business in the afternoons -discreet – a man of reverence – “so he seemed” -“there was no such conveyancer as he” –conveyancer: an expert on realestate law -very intelligent and talented –“he could dictate defenses or draft deeds; no one could pitch a comma from his screeds (writing), and he knew every statute off by rote” (102) -Franklin (not in our notes, but in the original packet): -the term “Franklin” literally means “free man” – a wealthy landowner -beard is very white -lived for pleasure and had always done -son of Epicurus: Greek philosopher whose ideas seemed to urge pursuit of pleasure -made his household free to all the county -good wine and food – house never short of bakemeat pies, of fish and flesh -“snowed with meat and drink” (103) -changed his meals according to the seasons -places always set around his table -“As Justice of the Sessions none stood higher; he often had been a member of the Shire” –when the Justices of Peace sat in session, he presided –also a member of Parliament for his county -acted as Sheriff: royal administrator who collected taxes and delivered them to the king’s exchequer -model among landed gentry -In Chaucer’s society, a Franklin was neither a vassal serving a lord nor a member of the nobility -Haberdasher, Dyer, Carpenter, Weaver, and Carpet-maker (*): -the five Guildsmen appear as a unit -English guilds were a combination of labor unions and social fraternities: craftsmen of similar occupations joined together to increase their bargaining power and live communally -All five Guildsmen are clad in the livery of their brotherhood -The Haberdasher, Carpenter, Weaver, Dyer, and Tapestry-Weaver are not individualized, and they don’t tell their own tales -The approval of their pride in material displays of wealth is clearly satirical -Cook (not in our notes, but in the original packet): -stands alone – but is working for the guildsmen -boils chicken with a marrowbone – “sharp flavoring-powder and a spice for savor” -could distinguish London ale by flavor -makes blancmange (a kind of chicken stew) using the shit from the ul cer on his knee (DISGUSTING!) -Skipper (Charlotte’s notes from facebook) -All quotations taken from page 104 of the text -"He came from Dartmouth"
~Through his pilgrimage he rides a "farmer's horse" and carries "a dagger on a lanyard" ~Tanned brown by "the summer heat" ~He's into wine, "many a draught (pronounced "draft" to all who question it) of vintage, red and yellow", although it seems that he stole the bottles ~A bit of a harsh character (he's a pirate. yo, ho!) ~has traveled everywhere ("from Hull to Carthage") ~Owns a ship called "the Maudelayne" -It's pretty apparent that the Skipper is a pirate- he even says that "his prisoners" would walk "the plank". He's a cruel dude who ignores "the nicer rules of conscience". So all around, the skipper is a theif and a bad man -Chaucer uses a lot of switching expectations, like saying he sends his prisoners home, but that they walk the plank -He's a great navigator, so it seems like he might come in handy in a pilgrimage. You rely on the liar and the thief. -He's being half-satirical. Let's say mock satire. -Doctor (*): -one of the best in his profession, for he knows the cause of every malady and can cure most of them -Though the Physician keeps himself in perfect physical health, the narrator calls into question the Physician’s spiritual health: he rarely consults the Bible and has an unhealthy love of financial gain -Wife of Bath (*): -Bath is an English town on the Avon River, not the name of this woman’s husband -Though she is a seamstress by occupation, she seems to be a professional wife -has been married five times and had many other affairs in her youth, making her well practiced in the art of love -presents herself as someone who loves marriage and sex, but, from what we see of her, she also takes pleasure in rich attire, talking, and arguing -deaf in one ear and has a gap between her front teeth, which was considered attractive in Chaucer’s time -traveled on pilgrimages to Jerusalem three times and elsewhere in Europe as well -Parson (*): -The only devout churchman in the company, the Parson lives in poverty, but is rich in holy thoughts and deeds -The pastor of a sizable town, he preaches the Gospel and makes sure to practice what he preaches -everything that the Monk, the Friar, and the Pardoner are not -Plowman (*): -The Plowman is the Parson’s brother and is equally good -hearted -A member of the peasant class, he pays his tithes to the Church and leads a good Christian life -Miller (*): -Stout and brawny, the Miller has a wart on his nose and a big mouth, both literally and figuratively -He threatens the Host’s notion of propriety when he
drunkenly insists on telling the second tale -Indeed, the Miller seems to enjoy overturning all conventions: he ruins the Host’s carefully planned storytelling order; he rips doors off hinges; and he tells a tale that is somewhat blasphemous, ridiculing religious clerks, scholarly clerks, carpenters, and women -Manciple (*): -A manciple was in charge of getting provisions for a college or court -Despite his lack of education, this Manciple is smarter than the thirty lawyers he feeds -Reeve (*): -A reeve was similar to a steward of a manor, and this reeve performs his job shrewdly—his lord never loses so much as a ram to the other employees, and the vassals under his command are kept in line -he steals from his master
-Summoner (Evan’s Notes from Facebook): -The Summoner- a paid messenger who summoned “sinners” to appear before court -p.108 -His face looks like its on fire due to the boils on it. His pimples can’t be cured with any remedy. -He’s as “hot and lecherous as a sparrow” -Children are afraid when he appears. -The Summoner gets drunk off of wine and rambles in Latin, only reciting two or three repeated phrases that he normally heard. -“Questio quid juris” (The question, what part of the law applies?) was a tag he repeated fequently. -Any lad could bribe him with a quart of wine to have a concubine for a year. -“He had finches of his own to feather.” (he has indulged in the same sins he has said to have excused in others) -“Purse is the good Archdeacon’s Hell.” The Summoner would accept bribes if he were to find a “rascal with a maid.” -The narrator knows that the Summoner lies because the curses should make a guilty man dreadful with the potential to face death, as confessing brings salvation. -“We should beware of excommunication.” -He has power over any young fellow in the diocese because he knows their secrets. This enables him to manipulate them to do as he says. -His physical appearance makes him look like a stake outside an ale house due to the garland set upon his head. -He wields a cake jokingly as if it were a shield. -The Summoners in Medieval times were powerful due to their ability to manipulate others with the secrets that they held. -His disgusting, pimply, intimidating outward appearance suggests that people feared him, including children. -Chaucer satirizes the Summoner by making him just as immoral as those
whom he summons to court. This questions the man’s power if he is no better than the sinners he summons. -Chaucer’s portrayal makes his audience question how seriously one can take the Summoner if he jokingly wields a cake as his shield, engages in lecherous acts, drinks, and accepts bribes. -Others in the diocese must be immoral as well if the Summoner is knowledgeable of their secrets. -“He had finches of his own to feather.” (108) -Ironically, the Summoner is no better than those whom he brings to court. -Chaucer IS being satirical. -Pardoner (*): -Pardoners granted papal indulgences—reprieves from penance in exchange for charitable donations to the Church -Many pardoners, including this one, collected profits for themselves -excels in fraud, carrying a bag full of fake relics— for example, he claims to have the veil of the Virgin Mary -has long, greasy, yellow hair and is beardless -These characteristics were associated with shiftiness and gender ambiguity in Chaucer’s time -has a gift for singing and preaching whenever he finds himself inside a church -Host (not in our notes, but in the original packet): -gave the pilgrims great welcome – everyone given a place and supper begins -strong wine, but everyone was happy to drink -striking man – fit to be a marshal in a hall -eyes were bright, slightly wide girth -“there is no finer burgess in Cheapside” –citizen of a district in London -bold in speech, yet wise – “no manly attribute he lacked” (110) -merry-hearted man – joking of sport and other topics after the meal -“I can’t think when - Upon my word I’m telling no lie - I’ve seen a gathering here that looked so spry” -offers to further entertain them with stories – proposes to invent some entertainment for them if they will unanimously agree to do as he says -asks them to vote and they all agree -they are all to tell two stories on the way to Canterbury (that’s the intention), and two on the return journey to the same hall -Whomever the Host decides has told the most meaningful and comforting stories will receive a meal paid for by the rest of the pilgrims upon their return. The Host also declares that he will ride with the pilgrims and serve as their guide at his own cost. If anyone disputes his judgment, he says, that person must pay for the expenses of the pilgrimage. -The company agrees and makes the Host its governor, judge, and record keeper. They settle on a price for the supper prize and return to drinking wine. The next morning, the Host wakes everyone up and gathers the pilgrims together. After they have set off, he reminds the group of the agreement they made. He also reminds them that whoever disagrees with him must pay for everything spent along the way. He tells the group members to draw straws to decide who tells the first tale. The Knight wins and prepares to begin his tale.