The Canterbury Tales 1: General Prologue Summary and Analysis
by Geoffrey Chaucer

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1: General Prologue Summary and Analysis

New Characters
The Narrator: Geoffrey Chaucer the author, although he is never named

The Knight: father of the Squire; lord of the Yeoman

The Squire: young man of 20, son of the Knight

The Yeoman: a forester; servant of the Knight

The Prioress: superior of a monastery of nuns; attended by the Nun, the Monk, the Friar, and the Priest

The Monk: manages the estates of the Prioress and the monastery

The Friar: a religious who has taken a vow of poverty and is licensed to beg

The Nun: chaplain to the Prioress

The Priest: with the Prioress; not described

The Merchant: wealthy and pompous

The Cleric: a religious who is a scholar at Oxford

The Man of Law: shrewd and wealthy

The Franklin: landowner; wealthy

The Haberdasher: hat and clothing maker; guildsman

The Carpenter: guildsman

The Weaver: makes fabric; guildsman

The Dyer: dyes fabric and leather; guildsman

The Tapestry-Maker: makes large, intricate woven pictures which are decorative and expensive; guildsman

The Cook: works for the five guildsmen

The Shipman: commander of a merchant ship

The Physician: well-educated; a lover of gold

The Wife of Bath: has survived five husbands; prosperous,
gregarious, experienced

The Parson: poor because he is good; a true pastor

The Plowman: brother of the Parish Priest; an honest, decent farmer

The Miller: owns a mill; grinds grain into meal and flour

The Manciple: a buyer for 30 lawyers who are administrators of
London courts

The Reeve: manager of a nobleman's estate; prosperous

The Summoner: an agent of the Church courts who summons
sinners to answer charges before the court

The Pardoner: traded on the gullibility of the populace; sold relics and indulgences (which are pardons from the punishment due to sin)

The Host: owner of the Tabard Inn where all the pilgrims meet;
self-appointed leader; tour guide for the pilgrims

Chaucer begins the Prologue with a beautiful announcement of spring. This introduction is the voice of the Poet, polished, elegant, and finished. He tells us that just as Nature has a predictable course through the seasons, so does human nature follow a seasonal pattern which causes people to want to break out of winter's confinement and go traveling in the spring.

Thus the stage is set for Chaucer, who is the Narrator of this poem. Twenty-nine travelers meet at the Tabard Inn in London before undertaking a journey to the Shrine of St. Thomas à Becket in Canterbury. The group is assembling as Chaucer arrives and, as he observes the group and interacts with some of them, he decides that he will join their party. From his vantage point as anonymous Narrator, Chaucer describes the scene and the pilgrims as they arrive.

The Knight is introduced first, which is appropriate as he is the highest ranking character socially. This old soldier has spent a lifetime fighting battles for Christianity all over the world and has consistently distinguished himself. He is dedicated to the knightly ideal of chivalry, courtesy, truth, honor, and generosity.

Accompanying the Knight is his 20-year-old son, the Squire, who is very much in contrast to his father. While he has been in a few skirmishes, "to impress his lady," the Squire is obviously still young and inexperienced. He is dressed in the height of fashion with carefully arranged curls. Devoted to the rituals of courting, the Squire appears to be in love with love.

The Yeoman is a servant to the Knight. He is a forester, in charge of the Knight's woodlands and appears to be the ideal simple, loyal peasant; yet he is so well-equipped with elaborate weapons and perfect arrows that his simplicity is suspect. When the Narrator adds that the forester understood all the tricks of woodcraft, he seems to be suggesting that the Yeoman is profiting in some way as he manages forests which are not his.

The next group of pilgrims arrives with the Prioress, Madame Eglantine. While obviously intelligent and able, the Prioress is described as being very concerned that others view her as ladylike and refined. She is apparently tenderhearted to...

(The entire section is 2,424 words.)