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Characters: The Canterbury Tales, General Prologue


Martha Erskine

on 19 December 2017

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Transcript of Characters: The Canterbury Tales, General Prologue

The Canterbury Tales
So, let's meet the characters as described in the General Prologue
The Squire
The Yeoman
yeo·man (noun): A man holding and cultivating a small landed estate; a freeholder.
Servant to knight and squire
Dresses in green
An expert woodsman and excellent shot with bow and arrow
The Prioress
her smile is modest and sweet ("hir smyling was ful simple and coy")
called "Madame Eglantine"
mild-spoken "by Saint Loy"
entunes the divine service in a "most seemly way"
admirable table manners and aware of etiquette
"takes pains" to behave in a well-bred fashion, to be stately in manner, and to appear worthy of reverence
knows French (though not the French of the court)
dresses well, with coral rosary and golden brooch
attractive appearance (fine, wide forehead), and she was "not undersized",
charitable and compassionate, notably toward small animals (mouse, dogs)
The Monk:
a "splendid sort" ... who loved venery ... a manly man ...
owns several horses with expensive equipment
lets the "old and somewhat strict" rules of the monastery and "old fashioned things" pass away
wears a fur-trimmed cloak and has a gold pin
a "fine, fat lord" -- an epicure
bald and jolly
The Friar: "Hubert"
a "wanton and merry" licensed beggar
hears confessions and gives "pleasant" absolution: "he was an easy man in giving penance where he knew he would gain a good pittance"
knows and cares for rich men and young women
marries off many women at his own expense!
knows the inns and taverns better than the sick houses ("there's no profit in dealing with paupers")
courteous, humbly serviceable, the "best beggar in the house"
well dressed, "like a master or a pope" more than a cloistered monk, and affects a lisp
The Prioress
The Monk
The Friar
has a forked beard and wears a Flemish beaver fur hat
Solemn speaker who makes good use of his wits ... "no one knew he was in debt"
a "worthy man" who is part of the powerful trading class
The Merchant
The Clerk
devoted to study of logic
rides a horse "as lean as a rake" and he is "not exactly fat" and wears a threadbare cloak
spends all of his money on books
does not talk much, but when he does it is "reverent" and "full of lofty thought" and "moral qualities"
The Sargeant of the Law:
attorney who can recall every judgement (in its grammatical correctness)
discreet, and greatly to be respected, or so he seemed, his words were so wise
knowledgeable, and very busy, yet he seemed busier than he was
wealthy, and dressed appropriately
The Franklin:
a franklin is a wealthy landowner (below gentry class)
sanguine temperment (cheerful, optimistic)
enjoys good food and company, and epicurean
his house is always open, with food on the table
had served as a sheriff and county auditor
in sum, a "worthy landholder"
Five Guildsmen:
• Haberdasher (tailor)
• Carpenter
• Weaver
• Dyer
• Tapestry Maker
• knew how to roast, boil, fry, make stews, and pies
• had an ulcer on his shin
The Cook
The Wife of Bath
somewhat deaf
cloth maker
impressive head kerchiefs
fine, scarlet red stockings
bold, handsome, ruddy face
a worthy woman
five husbands + other company
regular pilgrim; well-travelled
sits astride (not side saddle) on her horse, wearing spurs
enjoys company, laughing, gossip
The Doctor of Medicine
she was gap-toothed...
The Parson
The Plowman
The Miller
The Manciple
(an officer or steward of a monastery, college, etc., authorized to purchase provisions)
The Reeve
(an overseer or superintendent of workers, tenants, or an estate)
The Summoner
Summoners bring people before the ecclesiastical court
The Pardoner
a medieval preacher delegated to raise money for religious works by soliciting offerings and granting indulgences.
The Host
and they're off, on their way to Canterbury
Where: Southwark (south bank of Thames, London)
pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral, shrine of St. Thomas of Becket
"sondry folk" of "nine and twenty" + the narrator, "Chaucer"
Prioress travels with a Nun and Three Priests (however, in the existing Tales, there is mention of only one Priest, the Nun's Priest tells the "Chanticleer" story
• could easily recognize a draft of London ale
tanned from sun
enjoys wine
excellent map reader and navigator
hardy and prudent
his ship: the Magdalen
grounded in astronomy
knew the cause of every malady
a "perfect practioner"
works with apothecaries to profit
temperate in diet
rarely studies the Bible
dressed well, but not a big spender, ... "since gold in medicine is a stimulant, therefore he loved gold especially
"she knew much about wandering by the way" ... "she knew the remedies of love ... she knew that art's old dance."
a man of good religion
poor, but rich in holy thoughts and works
gives noble example to his sheep: he practiced first and preached afterwards
not scornful of sinful men
discreet and benign in his teaching, drawing folk to heaven by his good example
brother of the Parson
good, faithful laborer
lives in peace and perfect charity
pays his tithes (church taxes) fairly and well
loves God with all his heart
a stout fellow, huge, brawny, large boned, short shouldered, thick set knave
red beard
hairy wart on nose
wide, black nostrils
wide mouth
chatterer and teller of tavern tales mostly about sin and ribaldry
steals and cheats in business
plays bagpipe

careful in his buying, so always prosperous
slender, choleric man
skinny legs
watchful over granary
keeps careful watch on all of lord's property
wise to the tricks and plots of others
was a carpenter when he was younger
does well by the lord
dresses well, rides a farm horse
always rides last in the procession of pilgrims
red and pimply face frightens children
as hot and lecherous as a sparrow
scabby black brows and scanty beard
loves garlic, onions, leeks and drinks strong wine
knows a few Latin words
gentle, kindly rascal
lies and controls women in his diocese
Summoner's friend and comrade
yellow, waxy, flat, thin, stringy hair
thinks he is fashionable
carries bag of "pardons"
thin voice
no beard ("I expect he was a gelding or a mare")
uses false flattery and tricks, but he was, in church, a noble ecclesiastic
sings merrily and loudly
the narrator
large man, prominent eyes
bold in his speech
prudent and well-taught
manly and merry
comes up with tale-telling plan: each pilgrim will tell 2 tales on way to Canterbury and 2 on way home (total 120 tales planned).
will be judge of tale-telling contest and travel with the pilgrims
The Knight

rides at the front of the procession
a "worthy man"
follows chivalaric code ("loves chivalry, truth, honor, and courtesy"
has been in many battles and jousts, always victorious
fights in the Crusades,
(by Chaucer’s time, the spirit for conducting these wars was dying out, and they were no longer undertaken as frequently. The Knight has battled the Muslims in Egypt, Spain, and Turkey, and the Russian Orthodox in Lithuania and Russia. His chainmail is rusty because he has just returned from battle.
although valiant, he is prudent, and and always well mannered
he is the "true, perfect, and gentle knight
he has fine horses but doesn't dress too flashy
a joust
(tournament competition)
the Knight's son and apprentice
about 20 years old
curly-haired, and youthfully handsome
has been on cavalry expeditions "in the hope of winning his lady's favor"
embroidered clothing "full of fresh flowers"
sings and flutes all day long
loves dancing and courting, and a hot lover!
but "courteous, humble, and serviceable"
and rides with distinction!
The Shipman
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