The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

The Canterbury Tales book cover
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At a Glance

  • The narrator, who tells the story.
  • The Host, who proposes the storytelling game.
  • The Knight, the first character to tell a story.
  • The Squire, the Knight's son.
  • The Miller, a jolly drunk.
  • The Wife of Bath, a five times widow.

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Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

The Knight

The Knight, a courtly medieval fighting man who has served king and religion all over the known world. Modest in dress and speech, though the highest in rank of the pilgrims to Canterbury, he rides with only his son and a yeoman in attendance. He tells a metrical romance, the first of the stories in the series related by the various pilgrims. His is a tale of courtly love, the story of the love two young Theban noblemen, Palamon and Arcite, have for Emily, the beautiful sister-in-law of Duke Theseus of Athens. The young men compete in a tourney for the girl’s hand. Palamon wins but is killed in an accident, so that Arcite eventually has his love rewarded.

The Squire

The Squire, the Knight’s son. A young man of twenty years, he has fought in several battles. Like his father, he is full of knightly courtesy, but he also enjoys a good time. He tells a story of adventure and enchantment in a distant land. The story he leaves unfinished tells of three gifts sent to Canacee, daughter of King Cambuscan. Each of the gifts has magic powers: a ring that enables the bearer to talk to birds, a brass horse that will take its rider anywhere, and a mirror that shows the truth and the future. The ring enables Canacee to learn the story of a lovelorn hawk for the mate who has deserted her.

The Yeoman

The Yeoman, the Knight’s attendant, a forester who takes excellent care of his gear. He wears a St. Christopher medal on his breast. He does not tell a story.

The Prioress

The Prioress (Madame Eglentyn), who travels with another nun and three priests as her attendants to the shrine of St. Thomas Becket at Canterbury. A woman of conscience and sympathy, she wears a curious brooch on which appears the ambiguous statement, in Latin, “Love conquers all.” Her story is that of a schoolboy murdered for his religion by Jews. The child’s death is discovered by a miracle of Our Lady. Like most of the stories told in the collection of tales, this one fits the personality of its narrator.

The Second Nun

The Second Nun, who accompanies the Prioress. She also tells a Christian legend, that of the martyrdom of St. Cecilia. The story is typical of medieval hagiography.

The Nun’s Priest

The Nun’s Priest, whose name is John. He tells the beast epic relating the adventures of the cock, Chauntecleer, and the fox. It is a didactic yet humorous story suitable for the Prioress’ father confessor.

The Monk

The Monk, a fat hedonist who prefers to be out of his cloister. No lover of books and learning, he prefers to hunt and eat. He cites tragedy as being the story of a man fallen from high degree and then offers many examples, including anecdotes of Lucifer, Adam, Samson, Hercules, Balthasar, Ugolino of Pisa, Julius Caesar, and Croesus. His lugubrious...

(The entire section is 1,453 words.)