Study Questions for Chaucer's Ge

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					Study Questions for Chaucer's General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales
Ms. Hunt

Introduction: Why might we consider The Canterbury Tales as a microcosm of the medieval world?

Lecture or Handouts: Who is this Thomas Becket fellow? Our story begins in Southwark. What
sort of place is Southwark? The inn is called "The Tabard Inn." What is a tabard? Why does the
narrator-persona begin his discussion of the various pilgrims by describing the knight first?

Identify the following characters:

the Friar (Hubert), The Nun or Prioress (Madame Eglantine), the Knight, the Squire, the Yeoman,
the Monk, the Franklin, the Oxford Clerk, the Lawyer, the Five Guildsman, the Cook, the Sailor

Reading Questions:

              What season is described in the opening passage of The Canterbury Tales? What do
               people especially want to do when this season comes, according to the narrator?
              Where especially do English people want to go? Why do they want to go there?
              How many pilgrims does the narrator claim he meets at the Tabard inn?
              THE KNIGHT
              What are some of the places where the Knight has fought?
              What does the Knight do to his opponents if he beats them in the tournament ring
               ("the lists")?
              What is the Knight's conversation and speech like, according to the narrator?
              What is the Knight's armor (his habergeon) like in appearance? Why do you suppose
               it look like this?
              What pilgrim is the son of this Knight?
              THE SQUIRE
              How does the Squire's appearance contrast with that of the Knight?
              How old is the Squire? What talents does he have and how do they contrast with the
               Knight? Why does the Squire sleep so little?
              THE YEOMAN
              What's a Yeoman in the medieval world? Why is the Yeoman so sun-tanned? (What
               does this trait suggest about him, his activities, and how he spends a time?) Why do
               you suppose the Knight would want a servant who is good with a bow?
              THE PRIORESS
              What's a prioress? What is the name of the particular prioress who joins the
               pilgrimage company?
              What foreign language does the Prioress speak? Where (according to her accent) did
               she learn to speak French? What might this detail reveal about her background?
              How does the Prioress eat her food? What does this detail suggest about her
              What is the Prioress's attitude toward animals? What does this suggest about about
              What does her golden brooch have written on it? What are two ways of interpreting
               this quotation?
              What four people accompany the prioress?
              THE MONK
              The Monk, we hear, is an "outrider." What is an outrider in a monastery?
              What noise do people hear as the Monk rides past them?
              What is the Monk's attitude toward the Benedictine Rule or the Mauritian Rule (i.e.,
               the guidelines monks are supposed to obey)?
   What does the Monk think of the argument that holy men shouldn't hunt animals?
   What does the Monk think about studying books?
   What does the Monk think of Saint Augustine's Rule, which requires that monastic
    clergy work with their hands at manual labor?
   What animals follow the Monk around when he rides?
   What's unusual about the sleeves of the Monk's habit (robe)? Why does this seem
    strange for a monastic habit?
   What sort of pin does the Monk wear in his habit? Why is this pin strange or unusual
    for a Monk's clothing?
   What is the Friar's name?
   What does the Friar frequently arrange for young women in his parish? What are two
    ways of interpreting this "generosity"?
   What sort of absolution does the Friar grant to sinners?
   What locations does the Friar know especially well in every town? What sort of
    people does he know very well?
   We hear that the Friar was particularly of much help on "love-days." What are two
    ways of interpreting this phrase, "love-days"?
   What sort of hat does the Merchant wear?
   What sort of subject does the Merchant always talk about?
   What does the narrator say the Merchant's name is? (Trick question!)
   What does the word "Clerk" mean in medieval times?
   What does the Clerk of Oxford look like in terms of his physical build? What
    condition are his clothes in? What does this suggest about the Clerk?
   What does the Clerk apparently spend all his money on?
   How talkative is the Clerk? When he talks, what traits characterize his speech?
   What two things would the Clerk "gladly" do?
   The lawyer (Sergeant-at-law) is capable of quoting what verbatim? How busy is the
   The Franklin is described in particular detail. What is his beard like? What color are
    his cheeks? (What modern legendary figure does he resemble from our holiday
   What does it mean when the text reads the Franklin "was Epicurus' very son"? Who
    was Epicurus and what is Epicurean philosophy?
   To what saint is the Franklin compared explicitly? Why is this an appropriate
   What substances "snow" inside his house?
   The guildsmen--the Haberdasher, the Carpenter, the Weaver, the Dyer, and the
    Arras (Tapestry) Maker--all have eating utensils made of the same metal. What metal
    is this? [Lecture question: Why are they carrying items of this metal?] What hired
    help do the guildsmen bring with them?
   Who does the Cook apparently work for in the pilgrimage company?
   What does the Cook have on his shin? What does this indicate about the Cook's
    health or hygiene?
   What normal color is the sweet blanc-mange the Cook fixes? [Hint: the word "blanc"
    provides a clue!] Why is this particularly gross, given earlier details about the Cook's
              THE SAILOR
              What town is the sailor possibly from? [Lecture question: What is the area around
               this town famous for in the medieval period?]
              What does the Sailor keep on a cord around his neck? What does he keep "under his
               arm?" What does he keep hidden under his clothing {i.e., "and down")? Why do you
               suppose he keeps three of these items? What does it suggest about what sort of
               "sailor" this man is?
              What does the Sailor steal while the traders on his boat are asleep?
              If the Sailor gets involved in a naval battle, what does he do with the people he
               captures, according to the narrator? What does that mean?
              What is the name of his vessel?

Quotations for identification:

A. When April with his showers sweet with fruit
The drought of March has pierced to the root
And bathed every vein with liquor that has the power
To generate therein and sire the flower;
When Zephyr also has with his sweet breath,
Quickened again, in every holt and heath,
The tender shoots and buds, and the young sun
Into the Ram one half his course has run . . .
Then do folk long to go on pilgrimage
And palmers to go seeking out strange strands,
To distant shrines well known in sundry lands.

B. And [he] bore himself as meekly as a maid.
He never yet had any vileness said,
In all his life, to whatsoever wight.
He was a truly perfect, gentle knight.

C. She was so charitable and piteous
That she would weep if she but saw a mouse
Caught in a trap, though it were dead or bled.
She had some little dogs, too, that she fed
On roasted flesh, or milk, and fine white bread.

D. [He was] A manly man, to be an abbot able.
Full many a blooded horse had he in stable.
The rule of Maurus or Saint Benedict,
By reason it was old and somewhat strict,
This siad monk let such old things slowly pace
And followed new-world manners in their place.
I saw his sleeves were prufled at the hand
With fur of grey, the finest in the land.

E. For he would rather have at his bed's head
Some twenty books, all bound in black and red,
Of Aristotle and his philosophy
Than rich robes, fiddle or gay psaltery.
Yet, and for all he was philosopher,
He had but little gold within his coffer.
Not one word spoke he more than was his need;
And that was said in fullest reverence
And short and quick and full of high good sense.
Pregnant of moral virtue was his speech:
And gladly would he learn and gladly teach.

F. Well could he tell a draught of London ale.
And he could roast and seethe and broil and fry,
And make a thick good soup, and bake a pie,
But very ill it was, it seemed to me,
That on his shin a deadly sore had he;
For sweet blanc-mange, he made it with it with the best.

Study Questions for Chaucer's General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales (second half)

Lecture or Handouts: What does the trait of being gap-teethed indicate about a person according
to medieval beliefs about anatomy? Explain the theory of the four bodily humors. Why was gold
valued by medieval physicians? What was the medieval attitude toward widows and remarriage?

Identify the following characters:

The Doctor of Physick (i.e., the Doctor of Medicine), the Wife of Bath, the Parson, the Plowman,
the Reeve, the Summoner, the Pardoner, the Host (Harry Bailey)

Reading Questions:

              Why are the stars important for the Doctor of Physick's medical treatments? (i.e.,
               what "science" of the stars does the Doctor ascribe to?)
              What is this stuff about the "humour" of "hot or cold, of moist or dry"?
              What profitable business arrangement does the Doctor have with "apothecaries"?
               (What are apothecaries?)
              What sort of books is the physician well versed in?
              What book does the physician not know very well?
              What material does he like best of all as a "fine cordial"?
              THE WIFE OF BATH
              What physical disability does the Wife of Bath have?
              What does the Wife of Bath wear on her head? How much does this weigh? Why do
               you suppose she wears this?
              What color are her stockings?
              How many husbands has she had?
              What are two ways of interpreting that line about "not counting other company in
              How many times had the Wife of Bath journeyed to Jerusalem? What other places
               has she traveled to? What do these wide travels suggest about her as a character?
              What are the Wife of Bath's teeth like?
              What does the Wife wear on her feet/boots to help steer her horse? Why is this
               unusual for the period?
   When we hear that, "For of that art she'd learned the old, old dance," what is this old
    dance the speaker is referring to, given the context of her knowledge in the previous
   According to the narrator, the Parson is hesitant to "curse [his parishioners] to get a
    tithe." Instead, what does the Parson do with his own income and goods?
   Why does the narrator note that the Parson's parish was "wide" with "houses far
    asunder" before describing the Parson's travels? How does this characterize the
   What does the Parson do first before he teaches his flock?
   When the Parson asks allegorically, "if gold rust, what shall poor iron do?" what is he
    talking about? Who or what is the gold and who or what is the iron?
   When the narrator speaks about a "ty shepherd, shepherding clean sheep," what is he
    talking about?
   Why does the Parson refuse promotion to London or Saint Paul's Cathedral?
   To whom is the Plowman related? What sort of work does this Plowman do all day?
   What does the Plowman wear and how does this connect to the early setting of The
    Canterbury Tales?
   What's the Miller like in terms of physical build?
   The Miller has an usual party-trick. What technique does he use to remove a door
    from its hinges?
   What color is his hair or beard? To what animals does the narrator compare this hair
   What's unusual or disturbing about the Miller's nose?
   We find out the Miller is good at jesting and "poetizing," but what's the only thing he
    writes/composes poetry about?
   What does it mean when the speaker says the Miller had a "gold thumb?"
   What unusual musical instrument does the Miller play? According to the last lines of
    the portrait, where does he apparently travel in the pilgrimage order?
   What is a manciple? What apparently is the Manciple's attitude to "learned men" in
    comparison to his own wit?
   What does it mean in terms of bodily humors that the Reeve is "choleric"?
   How does the Reeve keep his hair and beard trimmed?
   What is the Reeve's bodily build like, judging by the narrator's description of the
    Reeve's legs?
   The narrator states that "Yet no man ever found him in arrears." What are two ways
    of interpreting this statement about the Reeve's skills in managing?
   Why are business agents more afraid of the Reeve than they are afraid of death?
   Before Oswald was a Reeve, what job did he have?
   From what region of England does the Reeve come?
   What position does the Reeve always ride in as he travels with the pilgrimage
    company? Why do you suppose he rides there?
   What is a summoner?
   What skin problems does Chaucer's Summoner have?
   What foods does the Summoner like best?
   What is the Summoner's mastery of Latin limited to?
   Why does the narrator think the Summoner is a generous, friendly fellow? (i.e., For
    what trade would the Summoner let a person off easily when that person was
               summoned to court?) What are two grammatical ways of reading that line about
               "suffer for a quart of wine, / Some good fellow to have his concubine"? What two
               possible antecedents could the pronoun "his" refer to?
              The text tells us, "Between ourselves, though ,he could pluck a gull." The original
               Middle English reads, "ful prively a fynch eek koude he pulle." What does this mean?
              How had the Summoner gained power over all the boys and girls of the diocese?
              The Summoner is making an unusual fashion statement. What does he wear upon his
               head, and what does he carry for a buckler (a shield)? How might this be a parody of
               scripture? (Check out Ephesians 6:16, a verse some priests required crusaders and
               pilgrims to read before going on a pilgrimage or crusade).
              What pilgrim in particular is a buddy to the Summoner and sings love-songs with
              THE PARDONER
              What is a pardoner? What is a pardon or indulgence?
              What is the Pardoner's hair like? What is this "Veronica" that the Pardoner has
               sewed to his cap?
              What documents are stuffed full into the Pardoner's wallet?
              What does the Pardoner's voice sound like?
              What's unusual about the Pardoner's beard (trick question).
              What does the speaker mean when he states, "I think he [the Pardoner] was a gelding
               or a mare"?
              What does the Pardoner claim about the pillow-case he carries?
              What does the Pardoner claim about his bottle filled with pig bones?
              What other fake relics does the Pardoner carry to sell?
              Chaucer's narrator notes that the Pardoner "moste preche . . . To wynne silver." Why
               do you suppose the Pardoner seeks to win silver? Why not gold?
              When the narrator finishes listing the 29 pilgrims, what does he apologize about to
               the reader in lines 720-746?
              THE HOST (HARRY BAILEY)
              What traits distinguish the host?
              What sport or entertainment does the Host suggest for the pilgrim company?
              Describe the rules of the game the Host establishes. How many stories will each
               pilgrim tell on the way to Canterbury? How many stories will each pilgrim tell on the
               way back to London?
              What are the two criteria used to determine the best tale? What is the prize the best
               storyteller will receive? Where will the winner receive this prize? Who will pay for it?
              Who will judge the contest? According to the Host, if anybody "gainsays" or
               questions his rule, what will that person have to do along the journey?
              How does Harry Bailey (the Host) determine the order of the storytellers? Why is it
               suspicious that the Knight "happens" to draw first and "happens" to win?

Quotations for identification:

A. He kept the gold he gained from pestilence.
For gold in physic is a fine cordial,
And therefore loved he gold exceeding all.

B. She'd been respectable throughout her life,
With five churched husbands bringing joy and strife,
Not counting other company in youth,
But thereof there's no need to speak, in truth.
In company well could she laugh her slurs.
The remedies of love she knew, perchance,
For of that art she'd learned the old, old, dance.

C. This fine example to his flock he gave,
That first he wrought and afterwards he taught;
Out of the gospel then that text he caught,
And this figure he added thereunto--
That, if gold rust, what shall poor iron do?
For if the priest be foul, in whom we trust,
What wonder if a layman yield to lust?
And shame it is, if priest take thought for keep,
A ty shepherd, shepherding clean sheep.

D. He was a chunky fellow, broad of build,
He'd heave a door from hinges if he willed,
Or break it through by running, with his head.
His beard, as any sow or fox, was red.
Upon the coping of his nose he had
A wart, and thereupon stood a tuft of hairs,
Red as the bristles in an old sow's ears.

E. Straight from the court of Rome had journeyed he.
Loudly he sang "Come hither, love, to me."
. . . [He] had hair as yellow as wax,
But lank it hung as does a a strike of flax;
A voice he had that bleated like a goat.
No beard had he, nor ever should he have,
For smooth his face as he'd just had a shave;
I think he was a gelding or a mare.

F. "And therefore will I furnish you a sport,
As I just said, to give you some comfort.
And if you like it all, by one assent,
And will be ruled by me, of my judgment,
And will so do as I'll proceed to say,
That each of you, beguiling the long day,
Shall tell two stories as you wend your way
To Canterbury town; and each of you
On coming home shall tell another two,
All of adventures he has known befall.
And who who plays his part best of all,
That is to say, who tells upon the road
Tales of best sense, in the most amusing mode,
Shall have a supper at the others' cost
Here in this room and sitting by this post."