The Canterbury Tales Quotes in Context
by Geoffrey Chaucer

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"After The Scole Of Stratford Atte Bowe"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: The Canterbury pilgrims, a diverse group, having lodged by chance at the Tabard Inn in Southwark, decide to travel together to the shrine of Thomas à Becket at Canterbury and to tell tales to alleviate the tedium of the journey. In the Prologue, which establishes the framework for the pilgrimage and introduces the taletellers, Chaucer describes the physical appearance and gives the background of each of the pilgrims. Among them is a prioress whom the poet, although he respects her greatly, may be satirizing very gently. The school at Stratford at Bow, for example, could hardly compare its French with that of Paris.

Ther was also a Nonne, a PRIORESSE,That of hir smylying was ful symple and coy;Hire gretteste ooth was but by Seinte Loy;And she was cleped madame Eglentyne.Ful weel she song the service dyvyne,Entuned in hir nose ful semely,And Frenssh she spak ful faire and fetisly,After the scole of Stratford atte Bowe,For Frenssh of Parys was to hire unknowe.

"As Fresh As Is The Month Of May"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Little is known with certainty about the life of Geoffrey Chaucer. He was probably born in London, but when? In 1386, while a witness concerning a coat of arms, he testified that he was "forty years of age and more," which would make his birthyear nearer 1343 than the traditional date of 1340. He also said he had "born arms for twenty-seven years." Part of this service included his year in France with the English army, in 1359–1360, during the Hundred Years War. It was not a very important campaign, but in one of the skirmishes, at Réthal, near Rheims, he was captured. The amount of his ransom, £16, amounting to about $2,400 today, indicates Chaucer's importance, when common soldiers were freed for a pound or two. After a gap of six years, Chaucer's history can be picked up again, as a yeoman in the household of King Edward III. In 1368, he was an esquire; and in 1369, in the army of John of Gaunt, he took part in a raid on Picardy, along with 600 men at arms and 150 other members of the king's household. This part of his life may well have been in his mind when he included a squire among those on the Pilgrimage from London to Canterbury. The Squire, too, had been on a military expedition in Flanders, Artois, and Picardy. There are thirty in the group, twenty-eight Pilgrims, the host of the Tabard Inn at Southward, across the Thames River from London, and the author. To entertain themselves on the journey to the tomb of Thomas à Becket, each agrees to tell two stories, and two more on the return trip. Actually only twenty-two of the proposed 120 appear in Chaucer's volume, set down in iambic pentameter. The Prologue, introducing the members of the company, declares that in April when the showers wake up nature, birds sing, the crops begin growing, and people like to go on pilgrimages. By his selection of pilgrims, Chaucer gave a complete panorama of the English social classes of his day, from the clergy and knights to the humble plowman. The Knight, though the highest in rank of all the pilgrims, is modest and prudent. Chivalry was on the decline in the fourteenth century, but Chaucer makes his Knight an ideal character, untouched by satire . Though veteran of wars for king and religion all over the known world, he is dressed in sober garb and accompanied by only two retainers, a yeoman clad in green, and his son of about twenty, who had also fought in several campaigns. His duty as Squire is to attend his father and carry his lance. His dress is the height of fashion, and he has the courtly accomplishments. He can sing and play the flute. Though he loves the ladies so passionately that at night he sleeps no more than a nightingale does, he is as fresh as May, that month of beauty and flowers used by many poets in their similes. Tennyson in his Idylls of the King, commands: "Blow, Trumpet, for the world is white with May." Many poets have written of the "Merry month of May," and only an occasional cynic like Lowell declares: "May is a pious fraud of the...

(The entire section is 3,869 words.)