Which of the pilgrims from Geoffrey Chaucer's General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales would you like to meet?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Obviously no one can decide for you which of Geoffrey Chaucer's array of characters you would like to meet; however, a quick review of some of the characters from the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales might help you make your decision. 

Some characters are noble and honorable and do what they are supposed to do, and this trip is truly a holy pilgrimage for them. These characters include the Knight, the Squire, and the country parson. Another group is going but perhaps have other motivations and problems; this group includes the yeoman, the merchant, the Oxford cleric, the sergeant-at arms, the franklin, a cook, a sailor, a doctor, the wife of Bath, a plowman, a reeve, a miller, a manciple, and a

haberdasher and a carpenter, 
An arras-maker, dyer, and weaver.

The religious characters who are not devout are an interesting bunch. While the Prioress is "so charitable and piteous / That she would weep if she but saw a mouse / Caught in a trap," she saves all her compassion for her animals. Nuns should feel this same compassion for humans, it seems to me. Monks are supposed to be dedicated to prayer, but this monk is dedicated to hunting, fine clothes, and gourmet foods (not much mention of any of that God stuff). 

The friar, also a supposed man of God, is more interested in making money by offering easy forgiveness:

He was an easy man to give penance 
When knowing he should gain a good pittance.

He is courteous when there is a chance for him to make some money, and

In towns he knew the taverns, every one, 
And every good host and each barmaid too- 
Better than begging lepers, these he knew.  

The Summonor is a despicable character, according to this description by Chaucer, who says the Summoner 

had a fiery-red, cherubic face, 
For eczema he had; his eyes were narrow 
As hot he was, and lecherous, as a sparrow; 
With black and scabby brows and scanty beard; 
He had a face that little children feared. 
There was no mercury, sulphur, or litharge, 
No borax, ceruse, tartar, could discharge, 
Nor ointment that could cleanse enough, or bite, 
To free him of his boils and pimples white, 
Nor of the bosses resting on his cheeks. 
Well loved he garlic, onions, aye and leeks, 
And drinking of strong wine as red as blood. 
Then would he talk and shout as madman would. 

Just as despicable is the Pardoner; though he is a bit more pleasant to look at and listen to, he is concerned only with making money and uses his position with the church to do it:

His wallet lay before him in his lap, 
Stuffed full of pardons brought from Rome all hot. 
A voice he had that bleated like a goat. 
No beard had he, nor ever should he have, 
For smooth his face as he'd just had a shave; 
I think he was a gelding or a mare. [ouch]

When I look at these characters, the more interesting and colorful characters are those who are supposed to care about others but only care about themselves, and of course Chaucer is making his point about the church and religion by his vivid and detailed characterizations in this work. 

If I were able to meet one of them, I might choose the Pardoner so I could see his hypocrisy first-hand; however, I would probably rather choose the country parson, for he is a kind and gentle man who lives on the streets what he preaches from the pulpit. 

But rich he was in holy thought and work. 
He was a learned man also, a clerk, 
Who Christ's own gospel truly sought to preach; 
Devoutly his parishioners would he teach. 

Read the study guide:
The Canterbury Tales

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