For: ONLY periods 1, 2 & 3

Set-up: Each of you have read all of the “Prologue” of Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”.  As you’ve come to discover, the 20+ page segment serves to a) introduce each character (30, including the narrator) and b) introduce the ‘framework’ for a collection of stories told by each character.


  • Select one of the 29 characters described by the narrator that most intrigues you.
  • Explain why this character grabbed your attention.
  • Use key descriptions (yes, line #’s are expected, too) to make your point.
  • Finally, help the rest of us figure out what Chaucer is trying to say by his description.  This should come in a final thesis (of sorts).

Length: 7+ sentences


20 responses to “W10, #4: ONE OF CHAUCER’S TRAVELERS

  1. The character that stands out most to me is the Oxford Cleric. I believe he stands out to me, because even the first time through as I read it I could picture him and how he would act. Lines such as “But had a hollow look, a sober stare; / the thread upon his overcoat was bare.” (Lines 299-300) The description of his physical appearance stayed in my mind as I read the rest of the prologue. It also stood out how “His only care was study, and indeed / He never spoke a word more than was need.” (Lines 313-314) If he only speaks when it is needed and the rest of the story is the characters telling stories, it makes me curious to know what his story would be like. It could be long and elaborate because he is a scholar, but it could be short and simple, because he doesn’t speak more than he needs to. I believe Chaucer is trying to show a difference between learning of the church and secular learning. He is also making the Cleric seem to enjoy his knowledge and his ability to hold that knowledge over others.


    Mr. Long:
    Chaucer definitely invested in character study that you could truly see; I agree. Great comments about what his own story would be like, too!

  2. The characters that intrigue me the most, surprisingly, are those with the *least* detail. The Cook has a measly nine lines of description (389 – 397), but of all the thirty pilgrims I am most curious about him. We don’t know anything about his personality; all Chaucer tells us about are his skills in cooking.

    Even so…I don’t think I’d eat his blancmange no matter how good it is. These are the Middle Ages. People didn’t wash their hands all the time and sterilize everything like they do now, and the man has an ulcer on his knee (396). I’ve had a boil before, and I know how tempting it is to fuss with and pick at things like that. I wouldn’t want someone with puss-filled ulcer fingers to be preparing my food.
    I suppose Chaucer is simply rounding out the array of characters with his addition of the cook. the cook is an average guy with an unfortunate (and unhygenic) physical condition, like many people surely had in the Middle Ages. We’re also getting an idea of the kinds of foods they ate back then: thick soups, pies (394), and blancmange (397).


    Mr. Long: A nice twist, my friend: an absence of description warrants curiosity. Intriguing approach. And I really like how you’re really exploring the Middle Ages in terms of how people lived (in a health-sense).

  3. The Monk

    The Monk is a very interesting character. Chaucer explains that he is not a believer of the old ways but he likes the freedom of the modern world.

    “The Rule of good St. Benet and St. Maur
    As old and strict he tended to ignore;
    He let go by the things of yesterday
    And took the modern world’s mor spacious way.

    This was written during the middle ages when monks were busy preserving European history and literature in a dark cold monastery. The steriotypical monk description comes from this time. Pale, from being inside all day. Frail, from little food rations. Silent, due to constant prayer. Chaucer explains that this particular monk is not the usual. Throughout lines 195-210 the opposite views of what monks are thought to be described as are portrayed. “He was a fat and personable priest.” My favorite line.


    Mr. Long: Great reflection on why the lines are written as they are. Funny ‘favorite’ line, BTW.

  4. The Nun was the most intriguing character described in the Prologue to me. She seems to be a straightforward character. She is what is expected of a Nun. She “spoke daintily” (128), was “pleasant and friendly” (142), and was “all sentiment and tender heart” (154). However, as I read deeper into the story, several small details struck me as quite odd for a nun. She strove to speak French, a language of romance and secrecy, but she can’t speak in the Paris style of French. She strove to learn French and sound worldly and wise, but she spoke an inferior French. Also, she strained to imitate a “courtly kind of grace” (143). A courtly grace is usually associated with the nobility and their dealings, but yet, a nun, wants to be like her superiors and be better than she truly is. The Nun tries to “seem dignified in all her dealings” (145), which seems to be perfectly acceptable. However, ‘seeming’ to be dignified and being dignified are two completely different things. Once again, the Nun shows herself to be trying to be better than is reality and acting more seemly than a person of her station would need to. The last thing that really caught my eye, but I am a bit unsure of, is the description of the Nun’s charms, gaudies, and trinkets. Some of these are for religious purposes like beads for rosary, but the connotation of the words gaudies, charms, and trinkets has a distinct pagan feel to them. If so, why would a supposedly devout Christian nun, wear articles that are usually associated with pagans and not of Christianity. Through his description of the Nun, Chaucer hints at aspects of her personality that are quite opposite to what is to be expected form a Nun. Chaucer makes the Nun into a character that is the opposite of what is stereotypical of a Nun and a character that appears to strive to be better and equal her superiors.


    Mr. Long: Appreciate this: “Once again, the Nun shows herself to be trying to be better than is reality and acting more seemly than a person of her station would need to.” And definitely like your curiosity here: “The last thing that really caught my eye, but I am a bit unsure of, is the description of the Nun’s charms, gaudies, and trinkets. Some of these are for religious purposes like beads for rosary, but the connotation of the words gaudies, charms, and trinkets has a distinct pagan feel to them. If so, why would a supposedly devout Christian nun, wear articles that are usually associated with pagans and not of Christianity.” Agree with your final comment about “opposite”, too.

  5. All of Chaucers characters in Canterbury Tales appear to have some sort of fault. For example, the friar, who was supposed to be responsible for saving souls, was a heavy drinker and to be such and “eminent man as he/It was not fitting with the dignity/Of his position”(247). The one exeption is the parson. As a minister he is expected to live a life of God. He obvious fufills this qualification because “there was no better priest”.(534) The parson understands that those who don’t live a life as part of the church shouldn’t be expected to live a life free of sin if a minister cannot(“if a priest be foul in whom we trust/No wonder that a common man should rust”). The parson also is “never contemptuous of sinful men”.(526) He is never to proud to help someone who need and understood that just because he is a priest, he is no better than any other man.

  6. The Skipper is the person that intrigues me. He is kind of like a pirate. He destroys any enemy craft. He made every single one of his prisoners walk the plank. If he does all this, why he is considered a nice fellow? As in the book, “he was an excellent fellow”.(405) He doesn’t seem like a person to go on a pilgrimage(and some other people).

  7. The character that caught my eye was the Friar. This is because he is described as “wanton” (line 212). Also because he does not seem to care about any other people besides the rich. He’s a holy man and he should help all people. What amazes me even further is that he is “highly beloved and intimate” (line 217). Even though he is greedy and biased, he is still a good person to an extent. The Friar is yet another character that represents the Church and serves as an effigy for Chaucer to criticize, when in reality he’s criticizing the Church.

  8. I am quite infatuated with the character of the Plowman. He is ‘the salt from the earth’ as my mother would say, and he has accepted his station in life. He does not complain or whine about the hand that Fate dealt him, but simply shoulders his responsibilities silently. The Miller embodies the lyrics of the classic Lynyrd Skynyrd song Simple Man, even thought it was written some 800 years later, “And be a simple kind of man.

    Be something you love and understand… Forget your lust for the rich mans gold, all that you need is in your soul…” He is an honorable man who will help those who are even less fortunate than he. He has a good heart, and even though he does not wear frilly coats with bouffanted hair, he is the best kind of man. My favorite part, however, is in lines 535-536: He loved God most, and that with his whole heart at all times, whether it was easy or hard…” The Miller shows his respect to God by doing his work well and helping others, not by going to Church everyday or joining the Church. If one truly loves God, then one should not have to show it sitting for an agonizing amount of time, but doing what they love. Through his descriptions of the Plowman, Chaucer seems to say that we as humans should not judge a book by its ‘smelly’ cover but should read what is inside. In my humble opinion, the Plowman is the original Simple Man.

  9. The description of the nun was very interesting and full of odd hints towards Chaucer’s opinion. It was said that “And she spoke daintily in French,extremely,After the school of the Stratford-atte-Bower; French in Paris style she did not know”(128-130). This indicates that she acted more intelligent than she actually was because in the side notes it claims that this French was “inferior French”. Chaucer obviously did not think highly of the intelligence of the church women at this period in time. Also there is a mocking tone present in the line, “She certainly was very entertaining” (141), when the description of this character has embodied boring. It seems as though it is trying to be stated that the nun was either so boring that it is funny to claim that she was entertaining, or that because the nun was so proper it was entertaining to watch her try not to mess up. Either way this portion of the description was not sincere. In the explanation of her impeccable manners and her “[weeping] if she but saw a mouse caught in a trap, if it were dead or bleeding” (148-149) it seems that appearing to be a good nun was her concern rather than actually being a good nun. Chaucer seems to be hinting that the convents and monasteries were more concerned with appearances and public view rather than the actual ability of their nuns and monks or their intentions. Then the description goes on to continuously mention this nun’s obsession with love when she is supposed to be a single woman. True this mention of love could just be in reference to love for God or the church but that is not the implication. The phrase “Amor vincit omnia” (166) is said to be inscribed on her golden brooch and this translates “love conquers all”. This is traditionally viewed as a phrase relating to lovers rather than religion. Then it is mentioned that “three priests” (168) were riding next to this nun and this has clear implications that neither the priest s nor the nun were abiding by their vow to celibacy. Also with the mention of gold, her prayer beads, and the “coral trinket on her arm” (162) it is suggested that the nuns of the time had too many possessions and were somewhat secular. This is further supported by the fact that she was “by no means under grown” (160), implying that she had more than enough food in the convent. These nudges towards a corrupt nun and therefore corrupt convents are ones which I believe were intentional by Chaucer.

  10. I apologize in advance for the lack of any quotes. I forgot my book and left it at home. On Monday, I’ll update it. Once again, sorry.

    The character that most interested me was the doctor. He doesn’t have any pretenses for wanting to go to Cantenbury. He wants to go there simply to “Rock and Roll all Nite and Party every day”. It even says in his description in the prologue that he “didn’t read the Bible much.”(don’t know what lines). I just kinda appreciate him for this because he isn’t lying to every one about his true character, like one’s such as the pardoner. He’s also very intelligent and creative, but he isn’t exactly the social butterfly. This makes him a much more likable guy, for me at least. He’s just a normal guy, knows that a big deal is going down in Cantunbury, and want’s in on it. In my opinon, a pretty cool guy.

  11. Student #8 (revision)

    Oh boy, we’re getting sloppy with these. Wherever I put the Miller’s name, I meant the Plowman.

  12. The character that most stood out to me was the knight. Besides the Franklin who “set ready set all the day long” (354) for anyone who needed a place to stay, the knight seems to be the only truly good and moral one. He “loved chivalry, truth and honor, generosity and courtousy.” (45-46) The knight fought against heathens un heathen lands not worrying if he would get killed, just wanting to take care of his country. His dress was “of coarse cloth” (75) and was “all rust spotted by his coat of mail” (76). This shows that he was humble and not gaudy. Also, “his manner was as meek as a maiden. He had never uttered any vileness in all his life, to any kind of person” (69-71). I think his story, when it is his turn, is going to be about truth and honor and most likely involve battles and war because that is his personallity and his story would reflect that.

  13. In Chaucer’s story I believe the most interesting character to be the Miller. Right off Chaucer says “The miller was a chap of sixteen stone.” (Line 561) Before we know any other details we know he is a very large man, 224 pounds. Chaucer makes sure to state “His mighty mouth was like a furnace door.” (Line 575) So we began to understand he is somebody everyone listens to. But what comes out of his mouth stirs up a lot controversy. He seems like along the journey he will cause a lot of problems, “A thumb of fold, by God, to gauge an oat!” (Line 581) already describes foul play. He cheated on a measurement of grain. I believe he is the most interesting because of what he will do with the description Chaucer has given him.

  14. Student #12 (follow-up)

    I am sorry it should be ” a thumb of gold, by God, to gauge an oat!” (Line 581)

  15. I particularly liked the merchant. Very few things stood out about him, as he was called pompous like many other male characters of the time. The best part of him was that he is relatable to anyone. How many people do you see in a day that have lives and are important but “sooth to say, his name I can’t recall”. (286) He was dressed nicely, presenting himself as he wanted to be seen. He always spoke of “the times when he had won, not lost.” (277) I think he was meant to be a person whom everyone sees but no one ever really stops to think about, forgetting their name as soon as they leave your sight.

  16. The character that caught my eye was the Summoner. He first caught my attention by how the narrator describes him as “lecherous as a sparrow” (644) and that he had “carbuncles” (643) which are puss filled inflammations. He is obviously described in a very unpleasant way which seems to correspond with his job of summoning people to court where they were to be punished. I also found it interesting that he is obviously an alcoholic in that “he’d allow-just for a quart of wine- any good lad to keep a concubine” (667-668). Usually tax collectors and summoners are looked down upon in literature not because they are corrupt but because there job entitles something that most people do not want to do. (Pay taxes/go to court) In Chaucer’s tale people like this Summoner because of the fact that he is corrupt for it allows regular people to get away with something. I believe that Chaucer is trying to say that everything, morality, beauty and wealth are relative to each individual in his description of the Summoner.

  17. The Wife Of Bath highly intrigues me. I like the way that Chaucer chose to describe her. Although she seems very controversial in the beginning I am excited to learn more and more about her as we read on further. He describes her as not being very attractive but all these men seek knowledge from her, which seems ironic. Her experience with many many men and many marriages allows her to be able to give the young men advice on how to keep their wife happy. Although some of the things she says sound a little sexual they pertain to other things also. I think she of all people would have the best advice on relationships and would be of great assistance to the clueless male species =).

  18. The most interesting person was the friar. I don’t have the book with me so I can’t give line numbers, but he was kind of odd. I think it is kind of fitting that the friar only deals with the rich and not the sick. It’s fitting because the church actually didn’t like dealing with the sick because they couldn’t give enough money. He would also take food from the tavern keepers which is kind of contradictory to everything he stands for. Also I found it funny that the friar was supposed to live in poverty and yet he was well dressed and quite rich. So even though he was supposed to be a holy man he was taking advantage of all the people that he could.

  19. I agree with student #2 in that the characters with the longest descriptions weren’t neccessarily the most intriguing. I thought the merchant was quite an interesting character. In class I believe we discussed how in this time period, one’s social standing could be revealed by their clothes. A person who had very coloful clothing was usually upper class. In the beginning of his paragraph, the merchant is described as having “motley dress” (281) and have “upon his head a Flemish beaver hat and on his feet daintily buckled boots.” (282-83) He was very outspoken and he “harped on his increase of capital.” (285) However, the irony is when Chacer reveals that no one knew this proud merchant was in debt. He hid this so well becuase “he was so stately in administration, in loans and bargains and negotiation.” (291-92) Yet, after this praise he Chaucer was quick to admit that he didn’t know the merchants name. Hm….I don’t know exactly what yet, but I’m pretty sure there is more than meets the eye with this character.

  20. The character that intrigues me the most is probably the monk. One would think that monks love all creations and are honorable, celebrate poverty, and follow the church. But this monk hunts and is somewhat against church teachings. He is “one of the finest sort who rode the country; hunting was his sport.” (169-170) The monk is pretty rich as well, having a “wrought-gold, cunningly fashioned pin.” To me, it just seems like everything is wrong about this monk. The traits of usual monks are absent in this one, and vice versa. His horse is fat and well-fed like himself. This monk is very intriguing and arouses the question, ‘Why did he become a monk in the first place?’

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