The Canterbury Tales
It is April. Thirty pilgrims have gathered at the Tabard Inn just south of London prior to departure for the shrine of St. Thomas a Becket, martyred in his cathedral at Canterbury two centuries earlier.
Socially they range from the Franklin, a wealthy landowner, to the Plowman; morally from the Parson, who has taught Christ’s word (“but first he followed it himself”) to the Pardoner, a rascally confidence man. The proprietor of the Tabard offers to accompany them as Host and suggests that they entertain themselves on the way by telling stories in turn; the teller of the most entertaining and morally instructive tales will later receive a free meal.
The tales also vary, illustrating popular medieval genres: romance, fable, saint’s life, fabliau (a coarse, comic tale), exemplum (a story designed to illustrate the theme of a sermon). Chaucer the pilgrim burlesques a type of popular romance, but his satirical purpose goes unrecognized and the Host will not allow him to finish. The Wife of Bath, on the lookout for a sixth husband, tells a tale cunningly contrived to prove that the main ingredient of domestic happiness is rule by the wife.
The Miller, somehow drunk early on the first day, tells of a carpenter deceived and made the laughing stock of his neighborhood by his wife and her lover. The hot-tempered Reeve, a carpenter by profession, responds in kind. The Wife of Bath baits the Monk, who has interrupted her. The Knight...
(The entire section is 503 words.)
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