The Canterbury Tales Suggested Essay Topics
by Geoffrey Chaucer

The Canterbury Tales book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download The Canterbury Tales Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Suggested Essay Topics

General Prologue
1. Using Chaucer's Prologue to The Canterbury Tales, describe the rising middle class of fourteenth-century England. In the essay, include the variety of occupations, the degree of wealth, the level of education, and the beginnings of political power represented among the pilgrims.

2. Contrast a corrupt clergyman from the Prologue with the Parson.

3. Select three characters from the Prologue whom Chaucer seems to be satirizing (i.e., the Wife of Bath, the Summoner, the Prioress). Using some direct quotations, explain the satire.

The Knight's Tale
1. Explain the features of this tale which characterize it as a romance.

2. An "anachronism" is a literary "slip" in which the author inserts something into a work which could not have happened or which could not have existed at the time the work is set. Explain the anachronism in The Knight's Tale.

The Miller's Tale
1. Contrast The Knight's Tale with The Miller's Tale.

2. Fully describe the character Absalom.

The Reeve's Tale
1. Explain how The Miller's Tale and The Reeve's Tale might be said to reveal a situation that medieval men really deplored and dreaded.

2. What might surprise the modern reader about the language surrounding sexual activity in The Miller's and The Reeve's Tales?

The Man of Law's Tale
1. Describe what commentary about marriage seems to be made through this tale.

2. Name one element of the story that is drawn from each of the narrative types that Chaucer utilized for this tale.

The Shipman's Tale
1. Of the six tales told thus far, including the Cook's fragment, four have been fabliaux. What is the significance of the large number of fabliaux?

2. Discuss the two contrasting views of women that are represented in the tales so far.

The Prioress's Tale
1. Explain aspects of the story which may be offensive to modern readers.

2. What aspects of the story may reveal a hidden quality in the Prioress?

The Tale of Sir Thopas
1. Describe the Host as he has revealed himself so far in the dialogues.

2. Explain the humor, point by point, in the Tale of Sir Thopas.

The Monk's Tale
1. What does the Monk's decision to give a long moral recitation rather than tell a tale reveal about his character—especially in view of his outwardly patient response to the Host?

2. Taking one of the historical figures the Monk mentions in his recitation, discuss how that person specifically ties in to the Monk's theme (you cannot trust fame and fortune).

The Nun's Priest's Tale
1. By relating the theme of women to the Nun's Priest, explain why it is appropriate that he tell this tale.

2. Explain how The Nun's Priest's Tale fits the requirements for a beast fable.

The Wife of Bath's Tale
1. What clerical attitudes about women are attacked by the Wife of Bath?

2. What is ironic about her anger against these attitudes?

The Friar's Tale
1. In what ways can this tale be considered an example of a fabliau? What feature of the exemplum does it contain?

2. Why is it ironic that the Friar accuse the Summoner of avarice?

The Summoner's Tale
1. Explain which genre this tale fits and why.

2. What has happened to the friendly feud between the Summoner and the Friar?

The Cleric's Tale
1. Although she is exaggerated, Griselda is a...

(The entire section is 799 words.)