illustration of a clergyman with Canterbury cathedral behind him

The Canterbury Tales

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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The Tale of Sir Thopas Summary

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The Prologue to Sir Thopas

The company is sobered by the Prioress’s miraculous story. The Host then turns to Chaucer and asks who he is, for he has been silent and withdrawn up until now. The Host requests a “tale of myrthe,” but Chaucer says that he will provide a rhyming story. The Host expects a “deyntee thyng” to match Chaucer’s appearance.

The Tale of Sir Thopas

Sir Thopas is a gentle knight of Flanders, beautiful to behold and well dressed in fine clothing. He is a hunter, and he has always remained chaste even though he might have had many maidens. One day, Sir Thopas goes out to ride, spurring his horse through the forest almost violently. He has heard a thrush sing and has been carried away by a “love-longynge,” and now he seeks his love. He must find the elf-queen who has enchanted him, for he will love only her.

Along the way, Sir Thopas encounters a giant named Sir Olifaunt who threatens to kill him. The elf-queen dwells in Sir Olifaunt’s land, but he will not let Sir Thopas approach. Sir Thopas challenges the giant to a duel the next day and then escapes. That night, Sir Thopas gathers with his men in town and calls for wine, delicate foods, and stories of love. He clothes and arms himself well in preparation for the fight and sharpens his spear.

Chaucer sings next of chivalry and romances. There are many brave knights, but Sir Thopas tops them all. He is the perfect knight, in fact.

At this point, the Host interrupts Chaucer, calling for an end to this horrible rhyme. Chaucer asks why he cannot finish. It is the best he can do. The Host tells him to switch to another story, something in prose perhaps. Chaucer agrees to relate a moral tale, a little treatise that illustrates some proverbs.

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