The Poem (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
One April, a group of pilgrims gathers at the Tabard Inn in Southwark, near London, to embark on a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Thomas à Becket at Canterbury. After dinner, Harry Bailly, the host, proposes a storytelling competition on the journey. The host will judge, and the winner will receive a dinner at the Tabard Inn. The following morning, as the pilgrims depart, they draw lots to begin. The Knight draws the shortest lot and tells his tale.
In “The Knight’s Tale,” Duke Theseus returns to Athens victorious over the Amazons with their queen, Hippolyta, as his wife and with her sister Emily. They encounter women mourning because the Theban king, Creon, refuses burial for their husbands, who were killed besieging Thebes. Duke Theseus then conquers Thebes. He captures two knights, Palamon and Arcite, and imprisons them.
One May morning, both Palamon and Arcite fall in love with Emily when they see her walking in the garden. Duke Perotheus, a friend of Duke Theseus, negotiates Arcite’s release on the condition that he never return to Athens. Arcite longs for Emily, however, so he disguises himself as a squire, calls himself Philostratus, and serves at the court of Duke Theseus. Meanwhile, Palamon escapes by sedating his jailer.
By chance, Palamon and Arcite meet in the woods outside Athens. Duke Theseus finds them as they battle over Emily. He decrees that Palamon and Arcite should return in a year to wage a tournament...
(The entire section is 1647 words.)
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Tabard Inn. English tavern that is the starting point of the poem’s pilgrimage, located in Southwark, a borough across the River Thames from and just south of London, at the beginning of the main road to Canterbury—the pilgrims’ destination. The owner of the inn, Harry Bailly, proposes and serves as judge for the storytelling contest that makes up The Canterbury Tales. The tavern location is an appropriate entryway into Chaucer’s world for a number of reasons. It is a place of hospitality and conviviality, in which men and women of a variety of social classes and backgrounds might realistically mingle informally and in temporary equality (as done on the pilgrimage itself). The historical Southwark was a neighborhood that was not entirely respectable, known for its brothels as well as its taverns, and many of the tales represent immoral characters and bawdy incidents. Indeed, in Chaucer’s time, many people viewed pilgrimages with some suspicion, as opportunities for rowdy vacations rather than as pious religious journeys. Finally, the first four tales have often been seen as unified by the theme of “herbergage,” of the use and misuse of dwelling-places and hospitality.
*Canterbury. Destination of the pilgrims in England’s southeastern Kent region. The pilgrims undertake the journey to visit the shrine of St. Thomas, located in the Trinity Chapel in Canterbury’s great...
(The entire section is 777 words.)
The Black Plague
During Chaucer’s lifetime, the Black Plague swept across Europe, causing hundreds of thousands of people to die in a gruesome way and changing the way that common citizens looked at mortality. The plague originated in the north of India during the 1330s and spread quickly, affecting much of Asia by the mid-1340s. Its spread to Europe was no accident. Mongol-Tartar armies, in an attempt to discourage Italian trade caravans from crossing their territory on their way to and from China catapulted bodies of infected victims over the walls of their fortresses at the Italians, who subsequently brought the disease back to their country. While carrying on their trade, they infected other travelers, who carried the disease to the most crowded cities on the continent. The plague struck Spain and France in 1348 and reached England the following year. By the time that The Canterbury Tales was published in 1400, a third of the people of Europe had died of the Black Plague. During the last half of the fourteenth century, though, scientific inquiry about the plague led to the discovery that it was spread by fleas that had picked up the virus from rats. Chaucer’s pilgrims may seem lax in their hygienic practices: for instance, the specific point of the Nun being noteworthy for not getting grease into the wine cup when she drank from it and passed it on, or the characters who share beds...
(The entire section is 1064 words.)
1: General Prologue Questions and Answers
1. How many pilgrims are making the journey to Canterbury?
2. Why are all these people going to Canterbury?
3. List the members of the middle class in the group.
4. List the members of the clergy.
5. Which members of the clergy appear to be corrupt or sinful?
6. What plan for the group does the Host propose?
7. How does Chaucer himself fit into the group?
8. By what devices does Chaucer reveal his characters?
9. How many of the tales did Chaucer actually complete?
10. What weaknesses within the Church do the pilgrim clergy represent?
1. There are 30 characters including Chaucer and the Host.
2. They are going to the Shrine of St. Thomas à Becket at Canterbury. They hope to receive special blessings.
3. The middle class group consists of the following: the Merchant; the Man of Law; the Franklin; the Haberdasher; the Carpenter; the Weaver; the Dyer; the Tapestry-Maker; the Shipman; the Physician; the Wife of Bath; the Miller; the Manciple; the Reeve; and the Host.
4. The clergy members are as follow: the Prioress; the Monk; the Friar; the Nun; the Priest; the Cleric; the Parson; the Summoner; and the Pardoner.
5. The Monk; the Pardoner; the Friar; and the Summoner appear corrupt.
6. Each traveler will tell four stories:...
(The entire section is 263 words.)
2: The Knight's Tale Questions and Answers
1. Why is it appropriate that the Knight should tell the first story?
2. Which features of the romance are evident in this tale?
3. How do Arcite and Palamon come to be imprisoned?
4. How is each man released from prison?
5. Why is Arcrite not recognized when he is employed in Emily's household?
6. How is it decided who will marry Emily?
7. What happens to prevent the man who won Emily's hand from marrying her?
8. What characteristics of chivalry are evident in the story?
9. What is the theme of The Knight's Tale?
10. From what sources did Chaucer borrow material for this tale?
1. He is the highest ranking member of the group.
2. The romantic features of this tale are: noble characters;
ideal love; romantic past as setting; and trial by combat.
3. They are discovered, half-dead, on the battlefield at Thebes.
4. Arcite is freed by the intercession of a powerful friend. Palamon drugs the guard and escapes.
5. He has grown so thin and pale that he no longer looks like his former self.
6. The decision is made based on which knight's team wins the tournament staged by Theseus.
7. Arcite is thrown from his horse and mortally injured. He dies soon after.
8. The characteristics of chivalry in this...
(The entire section is 239 words.)
3: The Miller's Tale Questions and Answers
1. What are the main sources of humor in this story?
2. What does Chaucer seem to be saying about marriage?
3. What details make the tale seem realistic?
4. What basic human need motivates each of the characters?
5. Why is it appropriate for the Miller to tell this particular story?
6. Describe how The Miller's Tale qualifies as a fabliau.
7. What is the theme of the story?
8. What rivalry is set up before this tale is told?
9. How is the medieval fascination with astrology introduced into the story?
10. What traditional plot is present in The Miller's Tale?
1. The main sources of humor in this story consists of: tricking the carpenter into believing that the flood is coming; his elaborate preparations; the business with the bare bottoms; and the trickery turned upon Nicholas.
2. Older men should know better than to marry young girls.
3. Some details that make the tale seem realistic are: setting in Oxford and Oseney; business success of the carpenter; and the poor scholar.
4. Sexual appetite is the motivational human need in this tale.
5. The story is raucous and bawdy and coarse, like the Miller himself.
6. It is funny; it relies on trickery and deception; it deals with the basic sexual appetite; and its characters are...
(The entire section is 279 words.)
4: The Reeve's Tale Questions and Answers
1. How does the miller, Simkin, parallel the Miller on the pilgrimage?
2. How is Simkin paid back by the clerics for his cheating?
3. What features of human nature are exaggerated in this tale?
4. What elements of the fabliau are present in The Reeve's Tale?
5. How does the Reeve pay the Miller back with this story?
6. What was the reaction of the other pilgrims to the tale told by the Miller?
7. Why was The Miller's Tale so offensive to the Reeve?
8. What qualities does the Reeve say characterize old men?
9. How does the infant in the cradle function in this story?
10. What "advantages" does Simkin's daughter have that make her a desirable bride?
1. The pilgrim Miller is loud and boastful; he is also dishonest. Simkin has the same characteristics.
2. One of them has sex with his wife while the other sleeps with his virgin daughter.
3. Sexual appetite, greed, and cunning are exaggerated in this tale.
4. The fabliau is represented by the following elements: sexual scenario; trickery; common people; and humor.
5. He makes the miller in the story out to be a fool who is completely tricked by two young men.
6. They all find it very funny.
7. The main character in the Miller's story was an aging carpenter who is...
(The entire section is 307 words.)
6: The Man of Law's Tale Questions and Answers
l. What concession does the Sultan of Syria make in order
to obtain the hand of Constance in marriage?
2. How does Constance end up a widow landing on the coast of Britain?
3. How does Constance come to wed King Aella?
4. What type of wife is Constance intended to represent?
5. How does this contrast with the wives in the preceding stories?
6. List the types of narratives that Chaucer drew on to create this tale.
7. What device is employed extensively in the structure of the tale?
8. Describe the underlying theological theme of The Man of Law's Tale.
9. Describe the events that lead Constance from joy to despair to joy and so on.
10. State the moral of this tale.
1. He agrees to become a Christian.
2. The Sultan is murdered by his mother who also casts Constance off in a rudderless ship.
3. She is introduced to him when she is accused of a murder. The witnesses in her favor and divine intervention convince King Aella of her innocence and virtue. He soon comes to love her and they are wed.
4. The virtuous wife who endures all tribulations and trials.
5. Those women were sexually very lax while Constance is chaste and virtuous.
6. Saints' lives; folktale; romance; myth; tragedy; and biblical text are the types of...
(The entire section is 347 words.)
7: The Shipman's Tale Questions and Answers
1. How does the wife in the story obtain the money she needs for her new dress?
2. How is Don John's loan actually repaid and by whom?
3. Does the merchant learn of the arrangement between his wife and Don John?
4. What elements of the fabliau are obvious in this tale?
5. What does the author seem to be saying about marriage?
6. What rationale does the wife use to convince the husband that she really must be well-dressed?
7. Does the husband, who is a merchant, appear to be miserly or just careful?
8. What makes the monk Don John unattractive as a person?
9. How does the merchant in this story seem to parallel the pilgrim Merchant?
10. Why is this tale suited to the Shipman? (refer to General Prologue)
1. She borrows it from the monk, Don John.
2. The wife spends the night making love to Don John. That is the repayment.
3. The merchant never learns nor suspects the arrangement.
4. Infidelity; the trickery of the husband; and the sexual nature of the tale are the obvious fabliau elements here.
5. Wives cannot be trusted where other men and finery are involved.
6. She tells him that her attractiveness reflects well on him.
7. He is careful.
8. He is a very conniving and disloyal friend to the...
(The entire section is 309 words.)
8: The Prioress's Tale Questions and Answers
1. Who is the central character in the story?
2. What is his special mark of devotion to the Virgin Mary?
3. Why do the Jews in the story hate the boy so much?
4. Describe the grim nature of the boy's murder.
5. What miraculous circumstance attends the finding of the murdered boy?
6. How is the abbot able to release the boy's soul?
7. How do the Catholics interpret the child's amazing singing?
8. How does the modern reader account for the treatment of the Jews in this tale?
9. Why is it appropriate that this tale should be told by the Prioress?
10. What happens to the Jews in the tale?
1. The protagonist is a very young schoolboy.
2. He sings a hymn to the Blessed Virgin.
3. He sings his song each day passing through the Jewish ghetto of the town. They are insulted by the nature of his song.
4. His throat is slit and his body is thrown on a dung heap.
5. When his body is found, the boy is still singing and able to communicate.
6. The Virgin Mary has placed a kernel on the boy's tongue. When
the abbot removes it, the boy's soul is released.
7. The singing represents a miracle.
8. Medieval Catholics despised and mistreated Jews.
9. The Prioress is of an overly sensitive and...
(The entire section is 225 words.)
9: The Tale of Sir Thopas Questions and Answers
l. What elements of the romance are found in the story of Sir Thopas?
2. What leads the reader to understand that the story is a parody?
3. On what ancient form of literature is the Tale of Melibeus based?
4. What causes Harry Bailley to disapprove of The Tale of Sir Thopas?
5. Why does he approve of the Tale of Melibeus?
6. What kind of a wife is Prudence in the story of Melibeus?
7. Explain how The Tale of Sir Thopas is a joke on the Host.
8. In what way does the story of Melibeus complete the joke?
9. What does the Narrator call the divisions in The Tale of Sir Thopas?
10. What is rhyme-doggerel?
l. Romance is represented in this tale by a gallant knight off on a quest and combat for love.
2. Everything is exaggerated, such as the knightly qualities of Sir Thopas. Also, the story is divided into "fits" instead of sections or parts. The encounter with the giant is ridiculous.
3. The Tale of Melibeus is based upon ancient Greek and
4. It is in rhyme-doggerel, the base jargon of the streets, and low verse. This is not suited for a courtly tale, in the Host's opinion.
5. It is sober, serious, and long.
6. Prudence is wise and patient.
7. The main character, the situation and the form are...
(The entire section is 268 words.)
10: The Monk's Tale Questions and Answers
1. What kind of a wife does the Host have?
2. How does the description of Harry Bailley's married state fit in with the theme of many of the tales?
3. What is the Host's opinion of the clergy?
4. How does the Monk respond to the teasing of the Host?
5. What is the theme of The Monk's Tale?
6. From what sources are the examples drawn?
7. The Monk's Tale is not actually a story. What is it?
8. List three of the 17 notable figures described in this section.
9. Against what is the Monk warning the listeners?
10. Why must the listeners not trust in these things?
1. She is ill-tempered; she is big and strong.
2. Harry's wife is in control; he is very anxious to please her. This situation is repeated often in the tales, particularly in The Wife of Bath's Tale.
3. The Host sees them as lecherous and dishonest. He also feels that many of the best potential fathers are joining the Church.
4. The Monk responds patiently; he does not seem upset.
5. The theme of the tale centers on tragedies that have befallen great figures.
6. The Monk uses sources from history, the Bible, and myths as the basis for what he says.
7. It is a long recitation giving examples of the tragedies mentioned.
8. All 17 notable figures...
(The entire section is 240 words.)
11: The Nun's Priest's Tale Questions and Answers
1. In what genre is The Nun's Priest's Tale written?
2. How do the rooster and the hens and the fox reflect the typical format of this genre?
3. How has Chaucer altered the traditional plot of this old tale?
4. What is the obvious moral theme?
5. What is the more subtle theme of the story?
6. What is Chanticleer's great fault?
7. What is the redeeming quality that prevents his destruction?
8. What commentary about the nature of women is inserted in this tale?
9. What brings an end to the long list of tragedies the Monk was recounting?
10. How has the Monk revenged himself on Harry Bailley?
1. It is written as a beast fable.
2. They are animals who have been given human characteristics, situations, and problems.
3. In the models, Chanticleer is totally vain and without wisdom; in Chaucer's version, the rooster is a victim of love and learns from his mistake.
4. Do not listen to or act upon flattery.
5. Beware the advice of women.
6. He is vain.
7. He learns from his mistake and is not victimized a second time.
8. Women are the source of sin and are not to be trusted as
9. The Knight interrupts and says the audience has had enough and is growing depressed.
(The entire section is 212 words.)
12: The Wife of Bath's Tale Questions and Answers
1. At what age was the Wife of Bath first married?
2. Name two arguments that the Wife uses in her defense of the married state.
3. What is the Wife's "philosophy" of marriage?
4. How has the Wife changed as she has aged?
5. In what way were her fourth and fifth husbands different from the first three?
6. What ongoing argument begins in this prologue?
7. What type of tale does the Wife tell?
8. For what crime is the young knight being punished?
9. Why is it fitting that this tale should be told by the Wife of Bath?
10. How does the ending of the story reconcile with the Wife's philosophy?
1. The Wife of Bath was 12 when she first married.
2. Her arguments for marriage include: God would not have given humans sexual organs if He did not intend for them to be used, and many people have too much sexual energy for the celibate state.
3. The wife must control the marriage in all areas.
4. She is less attractive and less energetic.
5. The first three were old and easy to control; the last two were young and tried to control her.
6. The feud between the Friar and the Summoner.
7. A cross between a folktale and a romance.
8. He has ravished (raped) a young maiden.
9. It concerns a young man...
(The entire section is 240 words.)
13: The Friar's Tale Questions and Answers
1. What insulting remark about summoners is made by the Friar in his prologue?
2. How does the pilgrim Summoner respond to the insult?
3. In what way might a sinner in the tale have the charges of the summoner dismissed?
4. Who does the stranger he meets say he is?
5. What causes the summoner in the tale to declare eternal brotherhood for the stranger?
6. What is the real identity of the stranger?
7. Why don't the farmer's curses send his animal to hell?
8. Why do the curses of the old woman have the result of sending the summoner to hell?
9. What is the theme of this story?
10. What genres are combined in the tale?
1. He says everyone knows that no good can be said of any summoner.
2. He says he will pay the Friar back when he tells his own tale.
3. He could give the summoner money.
4. He says he is a bailiff.
5. The similarities in their work and philosophies cause the summoner and the bailiff to declare eternal brotherhood: they are both greedy and victimize anyone with even the smallest amount of money.
6. He is a demon from hell.
7. The farmer's curses are not sincere; they just reflect his
8. The old woman's curses are totally sincere.
9. The relationship...
(The entire section is 238 words.)
14: The Summoner's Tale Questions and Answers
1. What is the reaction of the Summoner to The Friar's Tale?
2. What happens in the Summoner's joke about the friars?
3. What happened to the prayers that were supposed to be
offered for all who donated to the friars?
4. Why is Thomas so angry with the friar?
5. How does the friar try to calm his benefactor's anger?
6. What new donation does Thomas make by way of response to the friar's sermon?
7. To whom does the friar take his case against Thomas?
8. What distracts the lord of the shire from dealing with the
9. Who finally solves the problem of dividing the "gift"?
10. What does the lord's failure to punish such an insult against the clergy say about his own attitude toward friars?
1. He is infuriated.
2. A friar visiting hell finds thousands of his fellow monks tucked in the devil's rectum, as close as they can possibly get to him.
3. All the names of those who donate are erased so the prayers never get offered.
4. Thomas doesn't understand why he has not gotten well with all the prayers he has purchased.
5. The friar preaches a sermon about what happened to men who became angry and vindictive.
6. He gives the friar a fart.
7. The friar goes to the overlord of the district.
(The entire section is 246 words.)
15: The Cleric's Tale Questions and Answers
1. What promise does Griselda make to Walter before accepting his offer of marriage?
2. Name each of the tests Walter applies to test Griselda's loyalty.
3. Does Walter ever relent in his testing of his wife?
4. On which two Italian classics is The Cleric's Tale based?
5. Which two genres are represented in this story?
6. Why does Walter not allow the people to select his wife for him?
7. How does Walter use public opinion to persuade the Pope to grant nullification of his marriage?
8. When she comes to her father's house, who do the people think Walter's daughter is?
9. How is the hearer intended to respond to this tale?
10. What does "Chaucer's Envoy" add?
1. She will be an absolutely obedient wife and never question his decisions or complain about them.
2. First, he takes away their firstborn daughter. Then, he takes away their son. Finally, he casts her off as his wife, forcing her to prepare the house for his new bride.
3. At the end of the story, when he has taken everything from her, he relents and they live happily after.
4. This tale is based on the writings of Petrarch, and Boccaccio's Decameron.
5. It combines the elements of the romance and the exemplum.
6. He thinks his peasants are not wise enough...
(The entire section is 276 words.)
16: The Merchant's Tale Questions and Answers
1. Describe the trickery and deception used to dupe January.
2. What is the literary genre of The Merchant's Tale?
3. What elements of the romance are incorporated?
4. What is the theme of this tale?
5. What is this story saying about marriage?
6. What does the Merchant reveal about his own marriage in his prologue?
7. Who sympathizes with him?
8. What is the significance of the names of the husband and wife in this tale?
9. What is the function of the advisors to the old knight?
10. Why is it appropriate that this tale be told by the Merchant?
1. Instances of trickery include Damian and May secretly passing notes; May making a key to the secret garden; May claiming she is following the orders of the gods; and May convincing January that he did not really see what he thought he saw when she and her lover are caught.
2. It is a fabliau.
3. The knight, the rituals, the gardens, and the palace are all elements of the romance.
4. Men are easily manipulated and made fools of by their wives.
5. Old men should not marry extremely young women.
6. He is very unhappily married.
7. The Host sympathizes with him.
8. January represents winter, the last of the cycles of life while May symbolizes spring when...
(The entire section is 262 words.)
17: The Squire's Tale Questions and Answers
1. What element is inserted in The Squire's Tale that is not present in any of the others?
2. What is the probable theme of this tale?
3. What elements of the romance are present in this fragment?
4. What type of tale is the falcon's story intended to imitate?
5. What gifts does the mysterious knight bring Cambiuskan?
6. Describe the magical properties of each of the gifts.
7. Who has sent the strange knight?
8. What event is being celebrated when the bearer of gifts enters?
9. Why does the Host invite the Squire to tell a love story?
10. What is the Franklin's opinion of the Squire?
1. This tale has Oriental or exotic qualities.
2. Ideal love prevails.
3. Noble characters, ideal womanhood, and elements of magic and the supernatural are romantic elements of this fragment.
4. The falcon's story imitates a beast fable.
5. The mysterious knight brings Cambiuskan a brass horse,
a sword, a ring, and a mirror.
6. The horse can take the King anywhere and it can fly. The ring enables its wearer to understand the language of birds. The sword can cut through armor and wounds inflicted with this sword can be healed only with the touch of this sword. The mirror enables Canace to know the heart of any man who courts her....
(The entire section is 259 words.)
18: The Franklin's Tale Questions and Answers
1. What quality of the nobility does the Franklin admire most and try to imitate in his tale?
2. What is the rash promise made by Dorigen which is the source of all the trouble in The Franklin's Tale?
3. In what literary genre is this story written?
4. What is the theme of this tale?
5. From what sources did Chaucer borrow in creating The Franklin's Tale?
6. What is the effect on Aurelius when Dorigen rebuffs him?
7. Who stands by Aurelius during all of his trials?
8. How is the impossible feat of removing the rocks finally accomplished?
9. When he cannot pay his debt, what does Aurelius promise to do?
10. What does the magician do in response?
1. Education is what the Franklin admires and imitates.
2. She promises to love Aurelius if he can remove the frightening stones.
3. Romance is this tale's genre.
4. The nature of marriage and the faithfulness of the good wife are two of its themes.
5. The story is based on a Breton lais; but Chaucer has also borrowed from the writings of St. Jerome; Boccaccio's Decameron; and Le Roman de la Rose.
6. He falls desperately ill for two years.
7. His brother takes care of Aurelius.
8. The brothers hire a magician who performs the illusion....
(The entire section is 225 words.)
19: The Physician's Tale Questions and Answers
l. What characteristic of an exemplum is found in The Physician's Tale?
2. How are The Franklin's Tale, The Physician's Tale, and The Second Nun's Tale alike?
3. In what way are they different?
4. What is the theme of The Physician's Tale?
5. In what way does Virginius represent true justice and how does Appius represent justice corrupted?
6. How does Virginia, though pagan, fit into the medieval
Christian concept of virtuous womanhood?
7. How did Chaucer change his tale from the original?
8. On what source is The Physician's Tale based?
9. What trumped up charges put Virginia under the control
of the evil judge?
10. How is Virginius saved from Appius' outrage when Virginius defies the wicked order to turn his daughter over to the court?
1. It contains a model of virtue in Virginia; she is perfectly pure and perfectly obedient.
2. All of them contain examples of virtuous women.
3. Virginia receives no reward for her purity; Dorigen receives an earthly reward; and St. Cecelia is granted an eternal
reward for her chastity.
4. A virtuous woman will prefer death to dishonor.
5. Virginius has motives which are completely pure and honorable, while Appius is motivated by his lustful desire.
6. She accepts death...
(The entire section is 260 words.)
20: The Pardoner's Tale Questions and Answers
1. What is an allegory?
2. What abstract qualities are portrayed by the evil young men in the story?
3. What is the theme of this tale?
4. What is the moral lesson of this tale?
5. What characteristics does the Pardoner reveal in his prologue?
6. How does this story fit the character of the Pardoner?
7. Why would medieval audiences have been familiar with The Pardoner's Tale?
8. How does the youngest reveler plan to kill the other two?
9. Does he kill them?
10. How does the youngest die?
1. An allegory is a tale in which the characters personify abstract qualities, usually to teach a moral lesson.
2. They represent Avarice, Gluttony, and Sloth.
3. The theme of the tale is the inevitable outcome of wickedness.
4. The moral lesson is that avarice, gluttony, and sloth lead to spiritual death.
5. He himself is totally motivated by greed and seems to have no virtue at all.
6. The young men represent all the Pardoner's own faults.
7. It was famous in both Eastern and Western literature and was often acted out as a morality play.
8. He poisons the wine that he buys for them to drink.
9. Yes; they drink the wine and die.
10. The other two young men kill the youngest as soon as he...
(The entire section is 208 words.)
21: The Second Nun's Tale Questions and Answers
1. The Second Nun's Story is the only example of what type
2. How does Cecelia maintain her virginity in marriage?
3. Why is it appropriate that this story be told by the Nun?
4. Where did the Nun learn the story of St. Cecelia?
5. Why is this slightly ironic?
6. When do angels appear in this story?
7. What may account for the absence of conversational links before and after The Second Nun's Tale?
8. For what specific refusal is Cecelia condemned to death?
9. Why doesn't the raging fire burn the young wife?
10. From what cause does St. Cecelia finally die?
1. It is an example of a saint's legend.
2. She converts her husband and obtains his promise that they will both remain virgins and never consummate the marriage.
3. She is a woman who has taken a vow of perpetual virginity; it is
suitable that she should honor St. Cecelia.
4. The Legend of Good Women (by Geoffrey Chaucer) is her source.
5. It is ironic because Chaucer, unknown to anyone, is among the pilgrims.
6. Angels appear in this tale after Valerian has converted (angels present crowns of flowers to him and to Cecelia) and when the souls of Valerian and Tiburtius are being borne to...
(The entire section is 262 words.)
22: The Canon's Yeoman's Tale Questions and Answers
1. In what way is the prologue to this tale different from others in The Canterbury Tales?
2. What is alchemy?
3. By whom was alchemy practiced and why was its practice confined to this group?
4. Why is The Canon's Yeoman's Tale different from the other tales?
5. About what does the Canon's Yeoman seem to be in conflict?
6. What angers the pilgrim Canon? What does he do because of his anger?
7. Describe the two tricks the alchemist employs to dupe the priest in the tale.
8. What is always the outcome of alchemy?
9. According to the Canon's Yeoman, what keeps people
involved in the practice of alchemy?
10. What physical disfigurement have the experiments caused the Canon's Yeoman?
1. It contains action; the Canon and his Yeoman ride up to join the travelers.
2. The attempt to transmute (transform) base metals into gold.
3. Usually by the clergy; they were the only ones educated, thus the only ones who could read the ancient writings on the subject.
4. It has no known literary genre; it seems to be autobiographical/biographical.
5. He is fascinated by alchemy at the same time he recognizes its probable futility.
6. When his Yeoman begins to divulge the secret nature of their business, the...
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23: The Manciple's Tale Questions and Answers
1. Another rivalry among the characters is revealed in the prologue to The Manciple's Tale. Between whom is this new rivalry and what is its basis?
2. Into what genre does The Manciple's Tale fall?
3. What is the theme of this tale?
4. Why is it appropriate for the Manciple to tell this particular tale?
5. How is the Cook calmed and persuaded not to argue further with the Manciple?
6. What did Phoebus' crow look like before he was cursed?
7. How was his appearance changed after he was cursed?
8. What specifically did the bird do which so angered Phoebus?
9. How does the behavior of Phoebus' wife relate her to other women in the Tales?
10. What is the Manciple's private commentary about human nature midway through the tale?
1. The newly introduced rivalry is between the Cook and the Manciple.
2. It is based in myth.
3. The foolishness of revealing all and the wisdom of keeping silent.
4. The Manciple's own wife has made him very unhappy.
5. He is given more wine.
6. He was a beautiful white bird who could talk and sing.
7. He is black. He can no longer talk or sing; he can only "caw."
8. He told Phoebus of the affair Phoebus' wife was having
with another man.
9. There are...
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24: The Parson's Tale Questions and Answers
1. How is the long sermon of the Parson appropriate to his character?
2. What is the theme of The Parson's Tale?
3. What are the sources Chaucer used in constructing this tale?
4. What kind of story were the Host and the pilgrims expecting from the Parson?
5. What comparison does the Parson make in his prologue?
6. Why does the Parson refuse to tell a fable?
7. In what genre is this tale written?
8. What requirement necessitated the clergy to instruct the laity about penitence?
9. What kind of handbook might The Parson's Tale comprise?
10. At what stage of the journey is The Parson's Tale presented?
1. He is a very sincere man who cares only about saving souls.
2. The nature of penitence is the theme of this tale.
3. Chaucer used clerical writings on this subject and scriptural quotations as sources.
4. They were expecting a merry tale.
5. Life is like a journey (or, in this case, a pilgrimage).
6. He says he will not hide his message in a lowly fable.
7. It is a sermon.
8. The Church began to require confession, the oral telling of sins to a priest.
9. A handbook for the sinner who wishes to obtain forgiveness.
10. They have almost completed the journey.
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The poetic meter, or rhythm, used throughout The Canterbury Tales is iambic pentameter. This means that each line is based on pairs of syllables, proceeding from one that would be unstressed in normal speech to one that is stressed. This pattern is called the iamb, and a poetic structure based on it is called iambic. When the English language is spoken, this pattern occurs naturally, so the rhythm of an iambic poem is hardly noticeable when read aloud. Because the lines generally have five iambs each, for a total of ten syllables per line, the rhythm is described as iambic pentameter—“penta” is the Greek word for “five.”
Throughout The Canterbury Tales, lines are paired off into rhyming couplets, which means that each pair of lines has similar-sounding words that rhyme at the end. A poem that is written in iambic pentameter and has rhyming couplets is said to be written using heroic couplets. This structure drives the poem along, page after page, giving it a sense of order that it would lack if it were written without any structure but using a natural rhythm that readers do not have to focus on. Because the language of Chaucer’s time is not familiar to modern ears, students, stopping frequently to look up pronunciations and spellings, often have trouble recognizing the ease of the rhythm unless the poem is read aloud by a reader experienced with Middle English.
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Compare and Contrast
- Fourteenth Century: The Bible is published in English for the first time in 1382 by John Wycliffe, in a protest against the power of the Catholic Church.
Today: English is the language recognized in most countries and is the unofficial language of international trade.
- Fourteenth-Century: The world's most powerful nations are ruled by monarchs who inherit their political power as part of their birthright. The king of France takes the throne in 1388, at age nineteen, while the King of England is twenty-two when he takes the throne in 1389.
Today: Many countries have democratically elected governments. The most populous country in the world China is a socialist dictatorship.
- Fourteenth Century: London, England's largest city, has a population of 50,000. No other city in England has even half that many citizens.
Today: London is still England's largest city, with a population of nearly seven million.
- Fourteenth Century: The revolution in art and science known as the Renaissance is just beginning. New theories develop about the nature of humanity and artistic means to...
(The entire section is 286 words.)
Topics for Further Study
- Have your own storytelling contest. Make sure that each participant tells two stories, since Chaucer originally intended each traveler to tell one story on the way to Canterbury and one on the way back home.
- Assign people from your class to play the parts of storytellers from The Canterbury Tales and have them describe to one another an experience they have had in the twenty-first century. Vote on the stories that were the best and talk about why.
- Find out what kind of food these pilgrims would have eaten when they stopped at inns on their trip, and try making some of it.
- Using words found throughout the text of The Canterbury Tales, try to translate a favorite song into Middle English.
- Write an essay explaining how these tales are or are not like the urban folk legends that are constantly circulated on the Internet.
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- The 2001 movie A Knight’s Tale, starring Heath Ledger and Mark Addy, is only loosely based on the Knight in The Canterbury Tales: it concerns a young squire who meets Chaucer and enlists his help in becoming a full-fledged knight. It was written and directed by Brian Helgeland and is distributed by Columbia Tristar.
- A compact disc of Trevor Eaton reading selections from The Canterbury Tales was released in 2000, marking the six hundredth anniversary of Chaucer’s death. It is available from Pearl, of Sussex, England.
- The Penguin Library edition of the Canterbury Tales, translated into modern English by Nevill Coghill, is available on six audiocassettes from Penguin. It was released in 1995 and again in 1999.
- The Canterbury Tales were adapted to an opera, sung in English, available on two compact discs from Chandos Records of Colchester, England. The performers, recorded in 1996, include Yvonne Kenny, Robert Tear, Stephen Roberts, and the London Symphony Orchestra.
- A 1995 audiocassette of The Canterbury Tales is available from Durkin Hayes of Niagara Falls, New York, with Fenella Fielding and Martin Starkie reading.
- Recorded Books has a thirteen-hour recording on nine audiocassettes, edited and hosted by Michael Murphy of Brooklyn College.
- A compact disc of songs that Chaucer mentioned or that were popular in his day was...
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What Do I Read Next?
- One of the most famous writers living during Chaucer’s lifetime was Giovanni Boccaccio. Boccaccio’s most famous work, The Decameron (1350), was a collection of one hundred short tales that may have influenced the structure that Chaucer used. In addition, some of the stories Chaucer used in his work were taken from The Decameron.
- The “Chaucer Metapage” is a project initiated in 1998 by the Thirty Third International Congress of Medieval Studies, aimed at coordinating all Chaucer sources on the internet. It can be located at http://www.unc.edu/depts/chaucer/index.html (August 6, 2001).
- The Canterbury Tales has been translated into Modern English by Nevill Coghill, whose translation was, in turn, adapted to a Broadway musical in 1968. This translation, from Penguin Classics, is considered to be the best of modern translations. Penguin USA published a recent edition in 2000.
- Nevill Coghill also translated Troilus and Criseyde (1483), Chaucer’s other famous work. It is also available from Penguin Classics.
- Some of Chaucer’s minor works have been compiled in a book from Penguin Classics called Love Visions. Included in the book are “The Book of the Duchess,” “The House of Fame,” “The Parliament of Birds,” and “The Legend of Good Women.” It was translated...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Bloom Harold, ed. Geoffrey Chaucer, Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1985.
Brewer, Derek. Chaucer and His World. London: Eyre Methuen, 1978.
———. Chaucer in His Time. Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd., 1963.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales, translated by Neville Coghill. Baltimore, MD: Penguin, 1952.
Chesterton, G. K. “The Greatness of Chaucer.” In Geoffrey Chaucer, edited by Harold Bloom. Chelsea House Publishers, 1985.
Cohen, Barbara. Geoffrey Chaucer: Canterbury Tales. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Sephard Books, 1988.
Condren, Edward L. Chaucer and the Energy of Creation: The Design and the Organization of The Canterbury Tales. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1999.
Cooper, Helen M. Oxford Guides to Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales. London: Oxford University Press, 1989.
Donaldson, E. Talbot. Speaking of Chaucer. London: Athlone Press, 1970.
Dyas, Dee. Pilgrimage in Medieval English Literature, 700-1500. Rochester, NY: D. S. Brewer, 2001.
Hallissy, Margaret. A Companion to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995.
Hirsh, John C. Chaucer and The Canterbury Tales: A Short Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003....
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Sources for Further Study
Besserman, Laurence. Chaucer’s Biblical Poetics. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1998. Interprets the many instances of biblical diction, imagery, and themes in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.
Brown, Peter. Chaucer at Work: The Making of “The Canterbury Tales.” New York: Longman, 1994. Designed as an introduction to The Canterbury Tales, it includes questions for discussion to guide the reader about the workings of Chaucer’s literary method. A good place to start a study of The Canterbury Tales.
Brown, Peter. A Companion to Chaucer. Oxford, England: Blackwell, 2000. Designed to appeal to inexperienced Chaucerian students, this work contains a section on Christian idealogies.
Cooper, Helen. The Canterbury Tales. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1989. A complete reference for all basic points about the literary character of The Canterbury Tales.
Correale, Robert M., ed. Sources and Analogues of the Canterbury Tales. Rochester, N.Y.: Boydell & Brewer, 2003. Includes information on and selections from many Christian sources used by Chaucer.
Howard, Donald R. The Idea of the Canterbury Tales. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976....
(The entire section is 300 words.)