The General Prologue
Time: April/ spring day
Place: Southwark, at the Tabard Inn on their way to Canterbury
The narrator Chaucer portrays the 29 Canterbury pilgrims.
perfect and genteel man who loved truth, freedom, chivalry and honor. The most socially prominent person on the journey; the battles he fought were all religious wars of some nature.
a candidate for knighthood; a lover who can sing lusty songs, compose melodies, poetry
dressed in green; an expert woodsman, an excellent shot with the bow/ arrow.
Madame Eglantine; a gentle lady; well-educated though her French wasn't accepted Parisian French. Coy and delicate; table manner; More a woman than a nun! Without vocation but with the dogs and jewelry that satirical literature always condemns nuns for. Associates of the Prioress: 3 priests and another nun
a lover of hunting, fine foods; bald headed, ugly, fat; dressed in fine clothes. Favorite food was a roasted swan. No other monk is more worldly than he is. Here Chaucer demonstrated his use of irony: Chaucer selects and arranges his material so that the reader can come to a conclusion about the character. When the monk says that he doesn't approve of the solitary prayerful existence in a monastery, Chaucer pretends to be convinced that the Monk's argument is right. Everything that the monk does is a violation of his monastic orders. His love of the worldly goods, food, and pleasure, and his dislike of the quiet monastery contradict his religious vows.
Hubert --a wanton and merry man who had helped many girls get married after he got them in trouble. Chief butts of medieval satirists; knowing the taverns and inns better than the leper houses and almshouses. Chaucer says there was no better man than the Friar when it comes to the practice of his profession. Always able to get money from people (thru every vicious and immoral method). The best of his type--scoundrel.
rich and powerful rising middle class; shrewd; knew how to bargain; well-dressed. No one would tell he was deeply in debt.
student at Oxford; extremely thin on a thin horse;
threadbare clothes; quiet; a real scholar
able attorney; makes people think that he is busier and wiser than he really is.
a large landowner with wealth, but not of noble birth. Red face and white beard; enjoys good living; generally liked by the other pilgrims. The Haberdasher, the Dyer, the Carpenter, the Weaver, and the Carpet maker: belong to a guild
a master of his trade; good at cooking, but he has a running sore on his shin, because his best dish was a creamed chicken pie whose white sauce might be the same color as the pus from the sore.
a huge man, uncouth; a master of vessel and knew all the ports; not ride well; like a fish out of water as sat on his horse.
|Doctor of Physic:
know astronomy (astrology) and something of nature; but nothing of the Bible. Made a lot of money during the plague; love gold
|Wife of Bath:
a bit deaf, excellent seamstress and weaver; married 5 times; with aggressive feminism; in fancy/colorful clothes: scarlet red stockings; gap-toothed; amorous; laugh and joke
poor, but rich in holy thoughts and works; live the perfect life first and then teach it. True Christian priest; Amid the worldly clerics and the false and superficial religious adherents, the poor parson stands out as the ideal portrait of what a parish priest should be.
steward for a law school (a dorm for lawyers) in London; cunning, though unlettered; cheating the well-educated lawyers by putting aside a tidy little sum for himself.
a big brawny man to outwrestle any man/ even a ram. Short shouldered, broad and thick set; red beard, a wart on his nose from which bristly red hairs protruded made him look fearful. Play the bagpipes as the pilgrims left the town. (He tells a dirty story about a carpenter John.)
ugly: fire-red complexion, pimples and boils, a scaly infection around the eyebrows, and a moth-eaten beard; loves garlic, onions, leeks, and strong wine; speaking Latin to show off. His physical appearance fits his profession well since he is paid to summon sinners for a trial before a church court. He is so ugly and gruesome looking that a summon from him is in itself a horrible experience. Chaucer ironically implies that he is a good fellow because sinners could easily bribe him. The reader should be aware of these subtle ironic statements which are often made in paradoxical situations.
a church official who had authority from Rome to sell pardon and indulgence to those charged with sins. Hypocrite, phony, ugly but in fashionable clothes--loud, high-pitched voice, greed, big eyes, yellow hair, beardless (a "gelding or a mare"); sing and preach so as to frighten everyone into buying his pardons at a great price. One of the most corrupt of the churchmen. In the prologue to his tale, he confesses to his hypocrisy. Chaucer implies that he is not really a man, that he is either sexually impotent or perverted.
manager of a large estate. Shrewd, businesslike, capable; cheating his lords by lending him what was his own; A skinny man/ bad temper; ride last (in the back)--suspicious, trusting nobody. Once a carpenter, he feels the need for revenge by telling a dirty story about a miller later.
a small tenant farmer, but the ideal Christian man; honest with neighbors; paid his tithes
Harry Bailey; a merry man suggests that, to tell stories to shorten the long journey--two tales on the way to Canterbury and two more tales on the way back; the man who told his story best was to be given a sumptuous dinner by the other members of the party--a good strategy to make money 3 people who draw lots first: the prioress, the clerk, knight--they're good and able to start story-telling
Image Source: The Pilgrims in the Ellesmere Manuscript of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. San Marino: The Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery
The Prologue gives an admirable description of the uncomplicated life of England in the Middle Ages. Here are portraits of all levels of English life. In this group Chaucer brings together all of the foibles and virtues of man and the manners and morals of his time with remarkable clarity. Through The Prologue Chaucer alternately praises or chides the travelers with deftly drawn word portraits which provide insights into the life of his time. Influenced by Boccacio's Decameron, Chaucer uses the device of the religious pilgrimage to bring together such a diverse group. The shrine of St. Thomas a Becket to which the pilgrims are going was reputed to have great healing qualities. Some of pilgrims are going for health rather than religious reasons. W of Bath was a little deaf; Pardoner was beardless; the cook, a sore; summoner, boils and other skin trouble; Miller, an awful wart on his nose; the reeve was choleric, etc.
Study Questions on Chaucer I
on "The General Prologue":
1. Describe the narrative voice of "The General Prologue."
2. How does Chaucer use physical description to show his attitude towards the characters? Give examples.
3. According to what you have read, what qualities is Chaucer intolerant of? Use specific examples.
4. What qualities does Chaucer most admire? How does he show his admiration?
5. What does Chaucer reveal about his society through his description of his pilgrims and their journey?