THE CANTERBURY TALES STUDY GUIDE QUESTIONS Prologue 1. In lines 1-18 (which are all one sentence), identify the time and the author’s main point. April; the main point is that according to the poet, people long to go on a pilgrimage in the Spring. 2. Why does the urge to go on pilgrimage hit people in the spring? Winter is over; it’s time for renewal. 3. Who is at the inn? Who arrives at the inn? What is the central idea? (Look in ll. 19-28). The narrator is at the inn; twenty-nine pilgrims arrive; the central idea is that the 29 pilgrims arrive at the Tabard Inn where the narrator-poet is staying. 4. In lines 19-28, identify the rhymes that preserved, even though pronunciation may differ today. day/lay; hostelry/company; fall/all 5. What is the first traveler? What qualities does the Knight possess that are different from those you might expect in a veteran soldier who has been fighting for forty years? The Knight arrives first; He is modest, considerate, and well-mannered. He is the idea of chivalry. 6. When Chaucer states qualities of the Knight, what method of characterization is he using? (ll. 70-74) He uses direct characterization 7. In ll. 76-78, what method of characterization is being used? Indirect characterization is used because clues reveal the Knight’s character 8. What does the Knight’s soiled clothing reveal about him? It reveals that the fustian is coarse and worn and suggests a plain, honest, modest man who cares more about thanking God for his blessings than he does about making an impression on others. He might not have much money. 9. In ll. 80-95, what clues do you get for the meaning of the word squire? Compare a squire to the Knight. A squire is a knight’s attendant; the Squire is younger; his clothing is flashier; his hair is well-coiffe; both he and his horse seem more active, less sedate. The Squire might be less knowledgeable or wise 10. Who accompanied the Knight and Squire? a Yeoman 11. Nuns were not supposed to keep pets because the money for their keep was supposed to go to the poor. Based on this information, what can you infer about the Prioress? She cares more about luxuries than she does about her responsibilities to her order. 12. A high forehead was considered a sign of intelligence and good breeding; a nine-inch brow would be most unusual however; why does Chaucer exaggerate this feature? He might be exaggerating to gently mock the Prioress for her pretensions to good breeding. 13. In ll. 160, what effect is created by saying she is “by no means undergrown” rather than saying “She is indeed overgrown”? The understatement adds to the lightly amusing satire of the Prioress. She must be a bit heavy or at least tall. 14. In Chaucer’s time, coral was considered a defense against worldly temptation, as well as a love charm. Why does he picture the Prioress with a coral trinket on her arm? It shows she is interested in love, though as a nun, she should not be. Or it could show that she is trying to ward off worldly temptation. Since she does not seem to deny herself worldly luxuries, such as a nice veil and cloak, however, it seems possible she also does not deny herself love. 15. Like a nun, a monk is a member of a religious order who has taken vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. How do the details of the Monk’s character suggest, without directly saying, that his Monk is not serious about his vocation? The monk rides a fine horse, hunts hares, wears rich clothes and jewelry, and enjoys good food, such as fat swans (traditionally cooked with their feathers on). 16. Because peasants in the Middle Ages did not always have enough to eat, obesity was a sign of success and affluence. Why is it ironic that monk is fat? According to his vow of poverty, a monk is meant to suffer for the world’s sins, not enjoy the world’s temptations. 17. Unlike monks, who lived in monasteries, friars went into the world as beggars to preach, help the poor, and cure the sick. One of a friar’s duties was to hear people’s confessions and was to hear people’s confessions and to absolve or forgive them with a penance, or penalty of prayer, or doing good works. How does Chaucer characterize this Friar in lines 212-213? Chaucer’s Friar gives light penances because people pay him. He is more interested in making money than in saving people’s souls. 18. What characteristics might a lily-white neck represent? (see table of physical characteristics on p. 128?) The comparison to the lily suggests that the Friar is cowardly, as in the expression “lily-livered coward”; perhaps it means he is loose or immoral. 19. In line 256, Chaucer uses the word brethren, which is plural of brother. What does this term refer to here? All the members of the same society or profession. 20. How does the Friar earn his living? What does his semi-cope reveal about his income? Forgiving sins and settling disputes for a fee. 21. Visualize the Merchant. Describe what you see. What secret does the merchant keep hidden? Someone sitting far forward on his horse and very erect; someone dressed in motley, which was brightly colored cloth; someone wearing a beaver hat, the latest rage in hats; someone with a beard split down the middle; someone with fancy boots; someone trying to look prosperous. He is hiding the fact that he is in debt. 22. How is the Oxford Cleric portrayed? What contemporary stereotype does Chaucer play on? Both rider and horse are poor and gaunt. Chaucer plays on the stereotype of the starving student. 23. A Sarjeant at the Law was one of a select group of lawyers who served as the king’s legal advisors. What attitude does the narrator have toward the Sarjeant? What evidence in the narrative supports your answer? The narrator disapproves of him. Although the narrator calls him “a man to reverence,” he finds nothing remarkable in him. The Sarjeant narrow- mindedly and predictably executes his job, and he gives the appearance of being far busier and more knowledgeable than he really is. 24. In ll. 351-360, is Chaucer using direct characterization, explaining who the Franklin is to the reader? Or is he using indirect characterization, using details to let the reader draw conclusions about the character? What inferences can you draw about the Franklin? Direct characterization. Franklin is a shallow, self-indulgent man who cares too much about eating. 25. Guilds were organizations of tradespeople who taught their trade to apprentices, or trainees. The associations such as the Goldsmith’s Guild or the Fishmonger’s Guild were a powerful economic force, controlling the quality and price of the goods they produced or sold. During this period, members of the guilds often wore a special uniform and were upwardly mobile. What do you think the poet thinks of this group and especially their wives? He makes fun of their social climbing and social pretensionsions. 26. In ll. 392-396, note that Chaucer does not mention the Cook’s open sore until after describing the Cook’s delicious specialties. What is the effect? To entertain readers by horrifying them or by making them laugh to spoil the reader’s appetite. 27. In ll. 408-410, notice that the word nice has multiple meanings. Here, the word means “subtle; requiring discernment.” Why is the use of this meaning ironic, given the Skipper’s treatment of his prisoners of war? The distinction between treating prisoners with respect and killing them is not subtle. 28. In ll. 435-454, how does Chaucer’s characterization of the Doctor convey a negative attitude? Although he says the doctor is a perfect practicing physician, the narrator makes it clear that the Doctor profits from people’s illnesses by prescribing drugs that don’t work and sharing in the profits with the apothecaries, or pharmacists. Consequently, the doctor is well-dressed and appears to have plenty of money to spend on himself. 29. What is the Wife of Bath concerned about when she goes to church? What does this suggest about her? She is concerned that she is the first to the altar and that she is wearing the best clothes. People approached the altar according to social rank, so her concern suggests she cares more about status than spirituality. 30. Some critics think that the Wife of Bath is based on Chaucer’s paternal grandmother who had three husbands. Based on the description in the text (ll. 482-486), what words or phrases would you use to describe the Wife of Bath? A life force; bold; assertive; imposing; earthy; strong; intelligent; frank; stubborn 31. What sort of tale do you think the Wife of Bath will tell? A tale involving love and marriage, since she has been married five times, or a story about wealth and beauty, since these seem very important to her. 32. Chaucer describes the Parson as poor; from what you know of Chaucer’s values so far, do you think he will approve or disapprove of the Parson? Why? He appearsto approve of poverty elsewhere in his characterizations and disapprove of wealth and especially greed. He will approve of the Parson because he is “rich in holy thought and work.” 33. What do you believe “cursing to extort a fee” refers to in ll.497? Refers to the corrupt practice of threatening people with excommunication and damnation unless they paid a fee. 34. What two metaphors are used to describe the Parson? Interpret these two metaphors. One compares him to a shepherd and his parishioners to sheep. The other asks a hypothetical question comparing corruption in priests and men to corroding gold and rusting iron. The Parson’s job is to watch his “sheep,” or keep an eye on the spiritual health of his “flock,” or the people in his care. The metaphor of gold and iron warns that if gold, a refined metal, corrodes, then iron, a coarse metal, cannot help but rust. This suggests that if a priest sets a poor example, his parish members will follow suit. 35. What kind of priest is the Parson? He is a good one because he stays with his parish instead of going to the city to make money. He is also kind, soft-spoken, modest, and fair and sets a good example for his flock. 36. Name the allusion found in ll. 544-547 and tell what type it is. Biblical allusion to Luke 10:27: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart . . . and thy neighbor as thy self. 37. Chaucer praises the Plowman, the Parson, and the Cleric. What qualities do these men share? In what ways do they differ? All are generous, spiritual, uninterested in wealth, and full of energy for their work. They differ in education and profession. 38. In ll. 568-575, the Miller is compared to a sow or fox, a spade, a sow’s ear, and a furnace door. What do the comparisons suggest about the Miller’s character? They suggest he is fough, uncouth, wild, belligerent, and as ordinary as the most common animal or tool. 39. In ll. 578-581, explain what you think Chaucer means by the words “An honest miller has a golden thumb.” It implies that most millers overcharge their customers by putting their thumbs on the scale. 40. How does the Reeve do his job? What does the information presented in the text tell you about the character of the Reeve? Chaucer starts out by saying the Reeve does his job well but ends by implying that he is mean to the serfs and has become rich by embezzling from the master. He is dishonest and uses people. 41. In his portrayal of the Summoner (ll. 641-661), how does Chaucer appeal to the reader’s sense of sight? He enables the reader to see a hideously ugly face, covered with pus-filled pimples, boils, and sores. He lets the reader call to mind other features as well, such as black, scabby eyebrows 42. How does the Summoner deal with people who keep a mistress? How does the phrase “noble varlet” convey Chaucer’s attitude towards the Summoner? The Summoner ignores offenders if they pay him in money or in wine. A varlet is a scoundrel. The word noble in conjunction with varlet just means “big” or “complete” scoundrel. 43. What do you think the Pardoner and the Summoner may have in common? They may have the same attitudes toward appearance, drinking, and their professions. 44. Long hair was a violation of the rule that men who worked for the Church should wear their hair tonsured (short, with a shaved spot at the top, as a symbol of humility)). What other details does Chaucer mention that suggest that the Pardoner is a less-than-savory character? His hair hangs like rat-tails; he puts on airs by trying to ride in a fashionable style; he has a voice like a goat; he has bulging eyeballs. All are unappealing. 45. Are ll.730-734 an example of direct or indirect characterization? They are an example of both. The author directly tells the reader that the Pardoner reads a lesson, tells a story, and sings an Offertory well. He implies that the Pardoner is motivated by greed and sings to “sin silver from the crowd.” 46. In lines 735-36, has Chaucer told you all about the pilgrims “shortly, in a clause”? Students should feel that they have learned a lot about each pilgrim but that Chaucer has not done so “in a clause”; in fact, he has gone on for many pages, in great detail. Some will feel that the Prologue is a fairly short summary, given that so many complex individuals, representative of all walkds of live, have been drawn in so few pages. 47. In ll. 745-53, who is really the author of these tales? why does the narrator say he is merely recording what other people have said? Chaucer, of course, invented the characters and their tales, but pretending that he is merely a reporter relieves him of responsibility for the tales’ often bawdy content. Also, writing secular poetry was still not a respected profession, and Chaucer, an important government servant and member of the middle class, had his reputation to protect. 48. In ll. 781-800, what hypotheses can you offer for why the Host proposes his plan for the pilgrim’s entertainment? He may be a playful man; he may do this all the time with groups of pilgrims; he may be bored to death with his usual company; he may have been planning to travel to Canterbury anyway and wishes to be entertained along the way. 49. In ll. 803-04, identify the rhyme, analyze the placement of the rhyming words, and explain the result. Word rhymes with deferred, but the two words are not only in separate sentences but in even separate sections: the Host’s speech and the narrator’s commentary. the result is a rhyme that sounds conversational and natural, not sing-song. 50. Why might the pilgrims agree to do as the Host says even before they know what he will propose? (ll. 803-08) They know the journey will be long. They trust the Host. They know that he is the type of man who will think of something entertaining. 51. In ll.814-816, is the Host correct in stating that “morality” and “pleasure” define a good story? Why or why not? What does make a good story? Morality is not necessary for a good story, which does not have to be told to teach anything. Other criteria might include originality, suspense, elements of surprise, action, richly drawn characters, and realistic details. 52. In ll. 822-29, is the Host’s speech and example of direct or indirect characterization? What does it reveal about him? It is an example of indirect characterization. The host shows through his own words that he is a man who enjoys people, traveling, and simple entertainment. 53. Summarize the bargain that the pilgrims have made with the Host. The Host has promised to be the judge of the best tale and to give the winner a supper paid by all, in his tavern, the Tabard Inn. the pilgrims also agree that he can set the price of the supper, as well as standards of judgment. Anyone who refuses to tell a tale must pay the cost of the journey.
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