9: The Tale of Sir Thopas Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 642

After the sobering miracle story, the Host calls on the Narrator to give a lively, amusing story. (The Host fancies himself something of a literary critic; apparently, the pilgrim Narrator's genial nature has led Harry Bailley to believe that the Narrator will know some excellent tales.) Apologetically, with tongue in cheek, the Narrator says he knows only one old story in rhyme-doggerel. (Rhyme-doggerel was a sing-song form of poetry associated with low-class humor.)

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The First Fit: Sir Thopas, in all his youthful perfection and vanity, is closely described. One day, Sir Thopas rides out to hunt and falls into a fit of "love-longing." He finds no woman worthy to be the object of his love. Feeling it to be the obvious decision, Sir Thopas decides to seek an elf queen to love.

Sir Thopas rides hard in his search and ends up in the kingdom of the Queen of Fairies. He is arrested by an enormous giant who tells Sir Thopas to leave immediately or he will kill Sir Thopas' horse. Sir Thopas makes an appointment with the giant for 9:00 the next morning at which time he intends to fight and slay the giant.

The giant begins to pelt Sir Thopas with stones from his enormous sling-shot, but the young knight, of course, manages to escape. He orders his servants to prepare a feast and entertainment for him to strengthen him this night before his battle. He tells them that he must fight a giant with three heads for the love of someone whom he has never seen. The next morning, Sir Thopas dons enough armor to weight a man into the ground and rides off to slay the giant.

The Second Fit: As the Narrator begins reciting the second part of his story, the Host interrupts, proclaiming the tale very base, common and unamusing, and a waste of time. Chaucer defends himself, saying that although his version of the story may not be to the Host's liking, it is still a good story. The Host insists that he leave off the terrible rhyme. The Narrator says he will do so and will tell a moral tale in prose. He tells the Host not to interrupt him again.

The Narrator now tells a long, long tale about Melibeus, a nobleman who wants to take revenge against enemies who have hurt his wife and daughter. His wife, Prudence, however, persuades Melibeus to consult his friends before exacting revenge. However, the friends give conflicting advice and Melibeus remains determined to go to war.

Prudence then persuades Melibeus to allow her to meet in secret conference with his enemies. These men are convinced by Prudence to admit their wrong and to submit to judgment by her relatives. The relatives rule for peace. Melibeus decides to accept their verdict and forgive his enemies.

Discussion and Analysis
Chaucer's two stories are actually a joke on the Host with his impossible pretentions to being a literary critic. The Tale of Sir Thopas, which Harry Bailley totally rejects, is actually a brilliant parody of the popular courtly romances. Sir Thopas, vain and empty-headed, is going off to slay a dragon in response to his lovelonging and not in defense of any ladylove. He is behaving in exaggerated knightly fashion, but the absence of any ideals makes him completely ludicrous.

The literal-minded Host cannot see this; he is merely disgusted by the use of such a low form of versification for what is supposed to be a courtly story. Harry is not disappointed, however, by the narrator's long, ponderous telling of a rather boring and highly moralistic story. Harry fully approves when the Narrator deliberately loads the narrative with proverbs, maxims, clich‚s, and literary allusions, tripling its length in the process. To the Host, this makes the story of Melibeus properly serious. The Narrator's joke escapes him completely.

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