What is a tale in The Canterbury Tales that establishes the tale telling game, adding a vocabulary of governance to The Canterbury Tales?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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812      This thing was granted, and our oaths we swore,
813      With right glad hearts, and prayed of him, also,
814      That he would take the office, nor forgo
815      The place of governor of all of us,
816      Judging our tales; and by his wisdom thus
817      Arrange that supper at a certain price,
818      We to be ruled, each one, by his advice
819      In things both great and small; by one assent,
820      We stood committed to his government.
821      And thereupon, the wine was fetched anon;
822      We drank, and then to rest went every one,
823      And that without a longer tarrying.
824      Next morning, when the day began to spring,
825      Up rose our host, and acting as our cock,
826      He gathered us together in a flock,

It is in Chaucer's "General Prologue" that the innkeeper suggests the "sport" (777) of tale telling along the way of the Canterbury pilgrimage that the pilgrims might give themselves "some comfort" (778). Being very reasonable and democratic in thought, the innkeeper first suggests the outline of his scheme and lets the pilgrims vote, and they readily agree to his proposal:

779      And if you like it, all, by one assent,
780      And will be ruled by me, of my judgment, 
[...]
786      Our full assenting was not far to seek;
787      We thought there was no reason to think twice,
788      And granted him his way without advice,

His rules he presents next--the rules that add the "vocabulary of governance," as you put it, to the Canterbury tales--which are few and simple. He allows them once again to vote on agreeing or ending the proposed sport before it begins. The pilgrims once more vote agreement with the innkeeper's rules:

810      Tell me at once, or if not, tell me no,
811      And I will act accordingly. No more.
812      This thing was granted, and our oaths we swore,

What were his rules and the vocabulary of governance? They were simply--for "beguiling the long day"--that:

  • each shall tell two stories on the way to Canterbury, and two on the way back from Canterbury.
  • each shall tell tales of "sense" (as in this definition: sense: as in tales that have a point and value of virtue; that are sound and reasonable).
  • each shall tell tales that are amusing (as in this definition: amuse: to occupy in an agreeable and pleasing fashion; to divert)

The reward for the teller who best follows the simple (though perhaps difficult to perform!) rules of the game is to be rewarded with a supper in his honor when the group returns to "Tabard Inn, hard by the Bell" after having successfully gone to and returned from Canterbury.

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