## The Canterbury Tales

### The Knight’s Tale - Plot Summary

• Theseus, the Duke of Athens, had won many countries. He marries the Queen Hippolyta, the queen of Scythia (Femininity), and also brings her younger sister, Emily

• Upon riding into the town, a company of ladies stops them on his homecoming to Athens. The women were the spouses of Theban royalty but Creon, the lord of Thebes, has killed their husbands and will not bury them

• He sends Hippolyta and Emily to Athens whilst the image of Mars shines down on his shield. He rides to Thebes. He slays the king and ensures proper burial of the dead

• From the battle, Theseus finds the bodies of Arcite and Palamon, who are not quite dead. It is obvious that they are cousins and are of Theban royal blood.

• Theseus sends them to be prisoners of war in a prison cell

• They see Emily sometime in May. Palamon cries out as if he has been smote. Arcite tells him to be patient with prison and that Saturn has affected their horoscopes

• Arcite sees her and loves her too. He tells Palamon that he loves her as a goddess, whereas Arcite’s love is mortal

• Theseus’ friend, Pirithous, loves Arcita as well, and persuades Theseus to have him released as long as he never comes back to Athens

          Palamon blames Venus for his sorrow

Chaucer asks the reader who they think has the worse deal; Palamon
or Arcite

Arcite sees that he is dying from unrequited love and decides to go
to Athens

On May 3rd- (Chaucer obsessed with this date!) Palamon flees prison
by dosing the guard

At the same time Arcite wanders into the forest and speaks of
his love for Emily

The next morning, they duel, as previously they had no weapons.
They dress each other. Theseus finds them whilst hunting

Arcite has disguised himself as Philostrates, and Theseus has made
him his chief squire. He says that they shall die but the ladies
start crying

He tells them that they will fight and whichever one survives shall
have Emily

Theseus builds an amphitheatre for the fight

Temple of Mars, with reinforced doors and images of villainy-
pictures of Madness, of suicide, of destroyed towns, a baby being
killed. Conquest sits over the scene, and the death of Caesar is
shown

The temple of Diana has pictures of chastity and hunting. Images of
Daphne turned into a tree

Knights join the two cousins to help them fight

Palamon is granted victory from Venus. Emily prays to Diana,
goddess of chastity, that she shall forever be chaste and that
peace shall come upon the two brothers so that she doesn’t have to
marry either of them. Her sacrificial fire goes out but she doesn’t
know what it means. Then a sign comes that she construes to mean
agreement. Arcite is granted victory from Mars.

Saturn tells Venus that she shall be able to fulfil her promise

The Duke changes his mind and says that he wants no blood spilt

They ride to his palace. Palamon comes in under Venus and
Arcite under Mars. They joust

Arcite is seriously wounded. He dies and is cremated on a pyre

Palamon and Emily marry and live happily ever after


### The Miller’s Tale and the Reeve’s Tale- narrative structure

        The narrator points out that he is not being cruel in not telling
the tale, but that if he didn’t include this tale he would be
falsifying his material. The Reeve tries to stop the Miller telling
his tale in the prologue as he says nothing should be said of

A carpenter lives in Oxford with his wife and clerk, Nicholas.

The carpenter marries an eighteen year old and Nicholas tries
to seduce her

The tale takes place with chronological reality. Realism is
juxtaposed with fantasy as it is difficult to delineate between
what is a moral lesson and what is lighthearted fun. However at the
end of the elaborate trick Chaucer focuses in on the old man lying
in pain on the floor, denounced as mad

John the carpenter is not the only thing to come crashing down
in the tale, as the narrative structure also comes crashing
down from the elevation of the Knight’s Tale

The noble knight -&gt; drunken miller

In the Knight’s Tale, the plotline depends on lengthy
sentences- here, the plot functions on bodily noises


Nicholas and Absolon are both in love with Alison but Alison is only in love with Nicholas. Nicholas tells Alison to tell John that he is ill, until John sends his slave to check on him. He is lying in his bed with his eyes rolled upwards. He attributes this to the reading of astrology and Nicholas tells John that he has foreseen a great flood. He says to John that they must all sit in suspended buckets until the water comes, then they can just float away. John gets into his bucket and the other two go off and sleep together.

        Absolon asks Alison for a kiss, and she presents her bottom out of
the window. Upset, Absolon goes and gets a hot brand, and brands
Nicholas on the bottom when he presents it out of the window to
fart in his face. Nicholas cries for ‘water’ and hearing this, John
sits up, cuts the cords of the bucket and ends up crashing through
all the floors of the house. Nicholas and Alison denounce him as
mad for being afraid of Noah’s flood.
<br/>
<br/>
<br/>

The company laugh at Nicholas and Absolon. The Reeve is a carpenter
and is offended, saying that he is still crafty and wise in his
age.

The protagonist is a miller called Symkyn, who cheats money out of
King’s Hall (Cambridge) and steals meal and corn

Two Cambridge students ask permission from the Master to see the
corn ground and promise not to be fooled by the miller. The miller
has a 20 year old daughter and a six-month-old baby

While they grind their corn, the miller sets their horse loose.
They go and look in the fen after the wife tells them that it ran
away with the wild horses. Whilst they are gone, Symkyn takes some
flour and makes a loaf of bread.

The students, Aleyn and John, arrive back, having spent until
night-time trying to catch the horse, who they eventually get from
a ditch. They come back and ask for help, and the miller tells them
that even though his house is small, he’s sure they can make it
bigger through academic reasoning. They stay the night

Aleyn is sure that the miller has stolen corn and goes to sleep
with his daughter in revenge. John is lonely and steals the cradle,
so that when the wife comes looking for it he ends up sleeping with
her all night as well

Aleyn comes back from the daughter’s bed and tries to find his bed.
Feeling the cradle, he thinks he has the wrong bed and ends up
getting in beside the miller, who of course has no cradle at the
end of his bed. He takes the miller by the neck and thinking that
he’s John, tells him that he’s been sleeping with the daughter all
night. The miller punches him and knocks him back into the miller’s
wife, who thinks that it’s the two clerks that are fighting. She
brings a stick down on the miller, thinking that his bald patch is
in fact Aleyn’s nightcap, and he falls down. The clerks give him a
beating, take their loaf of bread and both leave

Romance is replaced with gritty realism

Proverb- he who does evil should not expect good

The Knight’s tale is replayed in a different class setting in
the Miller’s tale, but here Reeve’s tale performs the same
treatment on the Miller’s. The tale is much harder and more
vengeful. Language has been elevated in the Knight’s tale, only
to be downgraded to bodily noises in the Miller’s tale, to be
downgraded again to pure sex in the Reeve’s tale.

The plot depends on moving objects around

The clerks speak in Northern dialect, showing Chaucer’s stance
of relaying tales exactly as they have been ‘heard’


### The Clerk’s Tale

        The Host remarks that the Clerk is sitting quietly and asks him to
tell a tale in plain language

The Clerk says he will tell a Petrarchan tale

Saluzzo is described. The Marquis is called Walter, who enjoys
worldly pleasures. His people persuade him to marry and offer to
choose someone, but he refuses and says he will marry as long as he
gets to choose whoever he likes

A man called Janicula has a daughter called Griselda. Walter sees
her and decides that she will be his wife

On the day that he has set, Walter has told no-one who he will
marry. He has already set out clothing in Griselda’s size. He goes
to her house and asks Janicula for his permission, and he
eventually assents

Griselda agrees. Soon she gives birth to a daughter, although she
would have preferred a son

Walter decides to test his wife, which the narrator disagrees to.
Walter tells Griselda that the rest of the nobility want her
daughter put to death. He sends the child away but tells G that she
is dead. She never mentions her name

Griselda has a boy. Walter repeats the same test, and she relents,
although pointing out that she were never to have the joys of
motherhood. Everyone thinks that Walter has murdered his children.
The third test is a counterfeit papal bull from Rome telling him to
divorce and remarry. Meanwhile, Walter writes to Bologna, ordering
the Earl to return the children, but without saying who they are.
The daughter is disguised as being Walter’s new wife.

father wearing clothes. The people follow her home in grief and the
narrator likens her suffering to that of Job

Walter asks G to plan the wedding. She agrees and asks him not to
treat his new wife as he treated her. He reveals the trickery and
she swoons, gathering her children to her. They live happily ever
after, the son succeeds his father and the son is kind in marriage

The Clerk says that it is impossible to find more Griseldes. The
‘gold’ has been so mixed in with the ‘brass’ that the coin will
snap

The Clerk does indeed get it from Petrarch but Petrarch got it from
Boccaccio’s Decameron. The clerk omits that Petrarch had trouble
interpreting it

### The Prioress’ Tale

Prologue- prayer to the Virgin Mary

Asian town with a Jewish ghetto, events hateful to Christ.
Christian minority opens a school at the other end of the street.
Widow’s son- 7 years old- devoted to his faith

He walks back from school singing Alma redemptoris. The Jews hire
someone to kill him

The widows ask where her missing child is and they refuse to say.
However Jesus tells her to sing where the body has been thrown, and
as she does, the child starts singing back the Alma. The Christians
are amazed and run for the provost

The provost curses the Jews, as the child’s body is taken with
great ceremony to the nearest abbey, singing all the while. They
ask the child how he is able to speak and he answers that is it
because the Holy Virgin has placed a grain on his tongue allowing
him to speak. The abbot removes it, allowing his soul to go to
heaven.

“miracle of the virgin”- relatively common Christian genre.

Virgin Mary- parallel to the mother of the boy

Danger of speaking, and of words and language


### The Physician’s Tale

        Knight called Virignius- had friends, wealth, a beautiful wife and
daughter. The narrator breaks off to tell governesses and parents
to bring up their children as virtuous

The judge of the town (Appius) sees her and decides he shall seduce
her.

The churl, Claudius, claims falsely that Virginius is holding one
of his servants against his will, pretending she is his daughter.
The judge orders her to be taken as a ward of the court

Virginius goes home and tells his daughter there are only two
avenues- death or shame. He decides to kill her. She asks for some
time to contemplate her death. Virginius takes her head to the
judge

A thousand people come in, knowing that the judge was false, and
although he tries to hang himself they throw him into prison.
Claudius is sentenced to hanging but Virginius pleads his case and
he ends up being exiled instead

Narrator tells us that sin has no reward

This has no air of a fable but demands we see the events as if
in the real world

###The Wife of Bath

Prologue- says that she is looking forward to the sixth husband.
She justifies it in scripture, saying that Christ never meant for
people to have one spouse- Solomon had more than one and Genesis
says to ‘go forth and multiply’

Says that she will mark her husband out on his flesh

Pardoner makes a remark about not wanting to marry now, and she
silences him

Three husbands were good but old, rich and impotent, and gave her
all their land as a result of her withholding sex from them

She also threatens them that she would sell sexual favours if
they did not give her money

The fourth husband was a match for her and had a mistress, but soon
died

The fifth was kind in bed but otherwise violent- called Jankin. He
would regularly read from his book of patristic authors-
anti-feminist. The Wife takes his book and he punches her. She gets
up and accuses him of attempted murder. He apologises and she burns
his entire book. They remain married

Tale takes place in Arthurian times. However, friars now take the
place of the elves- they are the new copulating and evil spirits

One of the knights finds a maiden and rapes her. Normally the
punishment is death but the queen intervenes and asks for his
pardon if he can answer the question ‘What do women most desire?’
and gives him one year to find the answer

He travels for a year and asks lots of people but cannot find the
answer. Coming to a clearing one day, he sees 24 ladies dancing,
who on closer inspection turn into one old hag. She says he will
give him the right answer if she is to marry him

He goes back to court the next day and gives the answer, which is
that women desire to be sovereign over their husbands.

He is miserable. She says either he has an old wife who is loyal,
or a young wife who cuckolds him. He asks her to make the decision.
She asks him to kiss her and raise her veil, whereupon she has
turned into a beautiful woman.

Wife concludes- let Christ grant all women submissive lovers who
will sexually satisfy their wives, and let Christ kill all men who
will not be governed by their wives

Critical problem: what is the point in a woman having mastery
if all she does is please her husband?

Difficult to tell where fiction stops and reality begins-
textere, meaning to weave- the Wife is both surrounded by text
and by cloth

The raped maiden is represented by the queen, who in turn is
represented by the lothly lady, in turn represented by the

Only confidant- a woman called Alison. She herself is called
Alison.

Prologue deals with written authority but it is this writing
that she burns in the fire

Can we dismiss her feminism as biased?

Cannot be a wife without having a husband, however…

### The Pardoner’s Tale

This follows the physician’s tale. The Host wishes death upon the
Judge and his associates.

He says that when he preaches in churches his voice is like a bell
and he always teaches that greed is the root of all evil. He claims
that he owns holy relics

He invites people to give money to the relics in return for pardon.
He wants no correction of sin

In Flanders, he tells of drunkards. They see someone carrying a
corpse outside a pub and ask who it is. The man carrying it says it
is someone that has been smote by Death. The three then vow to slay
Death.

They meet a poor old man, and one of them asks him why he is still
alive. The man replies that it is because he can find no-one to
exchange their youth and in actual fact, he wants to die.

He tells them where Death is. They run up the path and find eight
bushels of gold coins. The youngest goes to town and fetches bread
and wine so that they can take it back under cover of night

The other two decide to kill him on return. The one decides to kill
the other two in turn. The youngest poisons one of the wine
bottles. The other two kill him, drink the wine, and in doing so
kill themselves.

### The Cook’s Tale

The Cook is delighted with the Reeve’s tale and promises his own

An apprentice once lived in the city, selling food to make a
living. He is a short man with a dark complexion and an excellent
dancer

He often deserts his post to go to the pub. Whenever there was a
procession he would run out of the shop and forget about work

He often steals from his master. Once day, the master decides to
get rid of him

The apprentice leaves and finds board with a kindred soul. This
person has a wife who keeps a shop for appearances, but is actually
a prostitute

[Unfinished. Reason is not clear why] <br> <br>

### The Man of Law’s Tale

The Host tells the company that although lost cattle can be found,
lost time never returns to man. He asks the Man of Law to tell a
tale, and he says that because he does not break agreement, he will
tell one- however, he says he has no suitable tale to tell

He says that he will speak in prose, to contrast himself with
Chaucer

His prologue begins by lamenting poverty- it makes people beg and
steal, blame Christ, and makes them jealous of their neighbour

He also says that rich merchants are happy because they are
always rich, and that the Man of Law heard this tale from a
merchant many years ago

In Syria, a group of wealthy traders make their way to Rome. They
hear about the beauty of Constance, the emperor’s daughter; she is
renowned for her virtue, her goodness and beauty

immediately overtaken with lust and wonder

No Christian emperor would allow his daughter to marry a Muslim, so
the Sultan sets about having himself and his court christened

The Emperor agrees to this. Constance is filled with sorrow whilst
preparing to depart

Constance tells her father that she will go and fulfil Christ’s
work in the pagan land, and the narrator comments that it is no
wonder she is upset, given that she is leaving behind everything

The Sultan’s mother calls her counsellors and says she would rather
die than renounce Islam. The counsellors agree to live and die by
her. She tells them to follow her son’s will

The Christians arrive in Syria and go to feast at the Sultanesse’s
house

All the Christians are cut into pieces at the dinner table

The Sultanesse’s men take Constance and put her on a rudderless
ship, telling her that it is up to her to get back to Italy

Constance blesses herself and prays. The narrator says that God
is the answer to why neither Constance nor Daniel in the lion’s
den were killed.

The ship crashes off the shore of Northumberland. A couple living
in a castle find her and take her in, but she does not reveal her
identity. She converts the wife from paganism to Christianity in
secret.

They come across a blind Christian whilst walking on the beach, who
identifies her. This converts the husband to Christianity as well.

A young knight falls in love with Constance, influenced by Satan.
Because she does not return his affections, he vows revenge and
kills the wife, placing the knife by Constance. Alla, the King of
Northumberland, comes back with the warden to find the warden’s
wife murdered. Constance is blamed

The false knight swears this on a book, at which point he is smote
down

The king converts to Christianity. He takes Constance for his wife
but Donegild, the knight’s mother, protests. Constance gives birth
to a boy, Mauricius, whilst Alla is away fighting in Scotland.

Donegild prevents the messenger from going to Scotland and replaces
his letters with ones saying that the child is evil. Alla replies
that he will love the child regardless. Donegild then replaces this
letter with one banishing Constance and her child from the land

Alla comes back, finds out, and murders his mother for her cruelty.
Constance has set sail already and is washed to another heathen
land. The warden’s steward comes and says that he will be her lover
whether she likes it or not, so she prays to the Virgin Mary and he
is swept overboard

The Roman army who had been avenging their dead in Syria is
returning home. The senator in charge finds Constance and she
returns to Rome even though he doesn’t know who she is

Alla comes to Rome to seek penance for killing his mother. Their
son goes with the senator to meet Alla

Alla and the son and Constance are reunited and she realises the
trickery

The Pope later makes their child emperor

Alla dies and Constance returns to Rome after having been in
England, to find her father and to praise God

Dinshaw- principal critic

### The Franklin’s Tale

Arviragus and Dorigen are married happily. The narrator comments
that when ‘maistrie’, that the Wife of Bath desired, enters a
marriage, love flies away. The two live in equal harmony

The knight Arviragus is sent away to England to work for two years.
Dorigen weeps for his absence. She often watches for her husband
returning on a ship. She asks God why he created the sharp rocks to
the mouth of the harbour and this preoccupies her, fearing that her
husband would die on the rocks

Her friends organise a party. Aurelius, a squire, dances in front
of her, and he is as wonderful as the month of May. He has been in
love with her for two years but has never told her. He tells her
now

Dorigen says that she will never be untrue to her husband, but says
that she will love him when all the rocks are removed from the
coast.

Arviragus returns. Two years pass and Aurelius is in torment. His
brother says that there is a lawyer at Orleans who is versed in
illusion and magic

They go and find a clerk, who already knows their purpose. They
follow him to the house where he shows them various illusions. He
says that he can remove the rocks for £1000

They travel to Brittany, and the rocks are invisible for a few
weeks. He tells Dorigen, who despairs

She doesn’t know whether to forfeit her body or her reputation

Arviragus tells her that she must keep the promise, and sends her
to Aurelius. Aurelius declines the offer and leaves it unfulfilled.
The law student forgives Aurelius’ debt. The narrator asks who the
listener thinks is the most honourable

### The Nun’s Priest’s Tale

A poor widow has a cottage, leading a simple life. Her cockerel is
called Chaunticleer, who was the best at crowing, and had seven
hens under his government

Chaunticleer starts groaning. His favourite hen, Dame Pertelote
and is praying to God to ask help in interpretation. He has dreamt
of a dog coming to kill them

Pertelote tells him that his humours are out of balance, quoting
Cato at length to prove her point. She will pick herbs to bring him
back to normal

The cock disagrees, looking for other authorities, and citing
examples of dream-prophecies

He flies down from his perch, tells the hens that there is some
grain in the yard, and has sex with Pertelote until morning

March is over, and a coal fox comes into the yard. The narrator
wishes that Chaunticleer had listened to his women. The fox comes
into the yard and asks the cock to sing beautifully like his
father. He stands on tiptoes and stretches his neck out, before the
fox takes him by the throat into the woods.

The widow and her daughters hear the uproar of the chickens and
chase after the fox.

The cock manages to tell the fox to turn to the pursuers and curse
them. In doing so he let’s go of his neck and C flies away

### The Summoner’s Tale

A Friar goes to preach in Holderness. He begs for donations for the
church and also for charity from the locals.

The Friar goes house by house until he reaches Thomas, who normally
indulges him. Thomas is ill and the friar speaks of the sermon he
has just given, and orders a meal from Thomas’ wife.

Their child had died a fortnight ago and the friar tells her that
he has had a revelation that the child is in heaven. He tells
Thomas that he is ill because he hasn’t given money to the church

Thomas says that he has given money to lots of friars, but this
friar is annoyed that it hasn’t all gone to him, and comments that
a farthing split into twelve is worth nothing

He lectures Thomas about anger, telling the tale of an angry
king

Thomas says that if the friar reaches down his trousers, there is a
gift there if he agrees to split it between the friars. The friar
agrees, reaches down, and Thomas farts. The servants chase the
friar out of the house and the lord’s squire comes up with a plan
to share the fart between twelve friars by splitting the tubes.

**Kelly, Henry Ansgar. Chaucerian Tragedy. Suffolk: Boydell &amp; Brewer
Inc., 1997. Print.**

It is widely thought that Chaucer introduced the word ‘tragedy’ into the
language but an awareness of the Latin word ‘tragedia’ was prevalent at the
time.

Ranulph Higden uses the word ‘tragedia’ to describe the death of Prince
William in 1120. Here it seems to be a synonym for ‘disaster’

A fifteenth century poem Vision of Philibert regarding the Body and the
Soul refers to the ‘dreadful tragedy of the soul’, that has gone to hell-
“Of this speryte the dredfule tragedye”

Augustinian friar, John Capgrave, says in his Abbreviation of Chronicles
that tragedy is defined as “Trajedi is as mech to say as he that writith
eld stories with ditees hevy and sorrowful”

Thomas of Walsingham- Benedictine chronicler of St Albans, just north of
London. Tragedy here seems to mean great crimes and is very clearly
contrasted with comedy. In his narrative of 1378 he interrupts to tell of
“a more than tragic matter”, a murder in Westminster Abbey. He refers to
‘seeing’ it- in the chronicle Ypodigma Neustriae he tells readers “who wish
to see the rustic tragedy” to refer to his previous account of it. This may
mean that he was aware of the dramatic nature of tragedy as an institution.
He composed a commentary on the Metamorphoses, which Chaucer would have

“Under the rubric, “Effects of Comedy”, Walsingham comments that comedy is
so constructed that it does not narrate events in the manner of histories,
but rather an event is put together from the “collucution” (dialogue) of
persons, as if happening among them at that moment”. He says that comedy is
not written in the same high style as tragedy- instead, it is written in a
‘middle and sweet style’, dealing with humble people, an idea taken from
Placidus.

Walsingham says: “Tragedic poets differ from comedic. For the end of
tragedies should always be mournful, while comedy should have happy
endings. Furthermore, just as comedy comprises the affairs of private and
humble persons, so tragedy shows the old deeds and crimes of wicked kings
and tyrants.”

**Papias definitions of tragedy**:

• Focused on criminal activity

• Restricted to persons of high standing

• Written in a high style

• Ending in sorrow

• Containing lamentations

• Practiced only in ancient times

• A kind of poetry but written in verse

Papias definitions of comedy:

Restricted to the speeches of characters

        Intended for public recitation

Intended for multiple actors

Seneca’s tragedies all begin disastrously, but Walsingham says that they
can begin happily as well

Chaucer’s treatment of tragedy that goes away from Walsingham-

Featuring unexpected or undeserved misfortunes

Consisting of a narrative account

A present-day genre

Chaucer’s understanding of tragedy can be taken from Fortune’s rhetorical
question at the beginning of Boethius’ Consolations of Philosphy- “Quid
tragediarum clamor aliud deflet nisi indiscreto ictu Fortunam Felicia regna
vertentem?”- “What other thynge bywaylen the cryinges of tragedyes but
oonly the dedes of Fortune, that with an unwar strook overturneth the
realms of greet nobleye?”- as in his translation of the work.

Boethius: tragedy is something that falls upon people. For Chaucer, tragedy
is something that comes about through people’s own actions.

### The Book of the Duchess

One of his earliest major poems.

The sleepless poet lies in bed, reading a book. The story is
telling of Ceyx loses his life at sea, and the mourning of his
wife, Alcyone. She prays to Juno to ask his fate. Juno sends a
messenger to Morpheus to bring back the body of Ceyx with a message
to Alcyone; the messenger relays the orders. Ceyx’s body instructs
his wife to bury him and stop feeling her sorrow, and when she has
opened her eyes, he is gone.

The poet wishes that he had someone like Juno. He falls asleep and
says that he is about to relay his dream, which no-one can
interpret

The poet wakes in a chamber- the windows are stained with the story
of Troy and the Romance of the Rose. He hears a hunt so he leaves
to enquire. It is Octavian’s hunt. The dogs are released, and the
poet is left behind, following a small dog into the forest.

He comes across a clearing and finds a knight in black composing a
song for the death of his lady. The knight says that he played a
game of chess with Fortuna, lost his queen and was checkmated. The
poet takes this very literally and begs him not to be upset over a
game of chess

The knight has always served Love but has waited for the one woman
that would surpass all others, calling her ‘good, fair White’. The
poet does not understand the chess game and asks the knight to
finish the story and explain what it was that was lost. The knight
tells him that White is actually dead, and the poet realises what
has happened just as the hunt has ended.

He wakes up, reflects on the dream and decides to set it to rhyme

**Phillips, Helen, and Nick Havely. Chaucer's Dream Poetry. London: Longman
Annotated Editions, 1997. Print.**