Chaucer’s General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales

European Humanities

Fall 2018

Chaucer’s Pilgrims and The Late Medieval World (c. 1397)

For our next unit, you will be responsible for working with partners to create a presentation about one group of pilgrims in Chaucer’s General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales. By next week you should be ready to do your presentation. These presentations will prepare the class to write an essay on the General Prologue:

Here is the essay question:

How does Chaucer’s portrait of English society at the end of the fourteenth century reveal the changes for both good and evil overtaking Medieval Europe as it entered the Renaissance?

This essay is due on Thursday, November 15th at 3:30 pm.

Here is your job:

  1. Do a close reading of the section in the General Prologue about your group. You need to carefully read Chaucer’s poetic portrait of each character and try to determine just what the poet is up to in his presentation. (Read your section in both Middle English and a modern translation.)
  2. Answer the questions listed after the excerpt about each character. Think about how Chaucer’s description confirms or surprises our expectations about this social type?
  3. Then dive into the links to the primary documents and secondary sources provided on the internet. They will help you gain an understanding of your character’s place in the heirarchy of the Medieval World. (If any links are not working, let me know. If you find good resources, pass on the good news as well.)
  4. Finally, working with your partners, create an In-Class Presentation about your group of characters in which you describe the place of your character in Early Renaissance England and explain Chaucer's intention in his portrait of him or her. 
  6. Come to class in appropriate costume!


Group One:

The Knight, The Squier, and The Yeoman

Group Two:

The Monk, The Prioresse, and The Friar

Group Three:

The Merchant, The Clerk, The Sergeant at Law, The Franklin, The Shipman, The Doctor of Physik, The Wife of Bath,

Group Four:

The Parson and The Ploughman

Group Five: 

The Miller, The Maunciple, The Reeve, The Summoner, The Pardoner



Prologue: Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (1397)

(Off-line Text)
(User Friendly Text Adobe PDF)
(Dual Text: Middle English/Modern)
(Interlinear Translation: Middle English/Modern)

Proem read aloud: (lines 1-14; lines 15-29) (Chaucer Metapage)



E. Talbot Donaldson Chaucer: The Pilgrim



General Resources:

Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400)
Pilgrimages (Harvard)

The Fourteenth Century 
Timeline of British History

Harvard’s Geofferey Chaucer Page (Awesome!)
The General Prologue
The Road to Canterbury

The Canterbury Cathedral

The Martyrdom of Thomas a’ Becket

Important Events in the 14th Century (Zatta)
The End of Europe’s Middle Ages (Calgary)
Life and Manners in the Time of Chaucer
Woodcuts of the Ellesmere Portraits
(The Pilgrims from the General Prologue)

Pico della
Mirandola, Oration on the Dignity of Man (1487)
Guibert of Nogent, On His Childhood,
, a virtual English Estate        
The Medieval World

Medieval Labyrinth
Feudal Life

Medieval Culture
(Net Serf)

Weid's Links to the Middle Ages

Early Renaissance Architecture, Painting and Sculpture


The Proem

                      Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote

                      The droghte of March hath perced to the roote

                      And bathed every veyne in swich licour,

                      Of which vertu engendred is the flour;

5                    Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth

                      Inspired hath in every holt and heeth

                      The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne

                      Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,

                      And smale foweles maken melodye,

10                  That slepen al the nyght with open eye-

                      (So priketh hem Nature in hir corages);

                      Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages

                      And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes

                      To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;

15                  And specially from every shires ende

                      Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,

                      The hooly blisful martir for the seke

                      That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seeke.

Amor v. Amor Dei

Chaucer describes the fertilization of March by April’s sweet showers and the subsequent conception of virtue.

Chaucer inverts traditional Church teaching about the corruption of Earthly Love and the holiness of Divine Love. Augustine’s formulation of Original Sin had deemed the earthly realm to be spoiled and utterly separate from the transcendent City of God.

Chaucer suggests that God’s heaven can be found on Earth: in Love. The most perfect expression of God’s love may be in earthly happiness, particularly the passionate love between man and woman best manifested in Holy Matrimony. Chaucer’s God is immanent. Chaucer’s God gives us permission to enjoy life and to revel in instinct.

However, Chaucer is not suggesting that all human behavior inspired by Spring is holy. Rather, the impulse itself is holy- although it can be perverted by man.

So our task in reading The Canterbury Tales is to use our own critical imagination to play God: we must determine which of the pilgrims will make it into heaven and which will not. And our job is not made easy by Chaucer: he has upset the dogmatic judgments of the Church; instead, we must use our own imagination and determine if each pilgrim is misusing the gifts God has given him or her, or is he or she being true to oneself and thus natural and holy.


Group One: 

The Knight                                                 

                      A KNYGHT ther was, and that a worthy man,

                      That fro the tyme that he first bigan

45                  To riden out, he loved chivalrie,

                      Trouthe and honour, fredom and curteisie.

                      Ful worthy was he in his lordes werre,

                      And therto hadde he riden, no man ferre,

                      As wel in cristendom as in hethenesse,

50                  And evere honoured for his worthynesse.

                      At Alisaundre he was, whan it was wonne.

                      Ful ofte tyme he hadde the bord bigonne

                      Aboven alle nacions in Pruce;

                      In Lettow hadde he reysed, and in Ruce,

55                  No Cristen man so ofte of his degree.

                      In Gernade at the seege eek hadde he be

                      Of Algezir, and riden in Belmarye.

                      At Lyeys was he and at Satalye,

                      Whan they were wonne; and in the Grete See

60                  At many a noble armee hadde he be.

                      At mortal batailles hadde he been fiftene,

                      And foughten for oure feith at Tramyssene

                      In lystes thries, and ay slayn his foo.

                      This ilke worthy knyght hadde been also

65                  Somtyme with the lord of Palatye

                      Agayn another hethen in Turkye.

                      And everemoore he hadde a sovereyn prys;

                      And though that he were worthy, he was wys,

                      And of his port as meeke as is a mayde.

70                  He nevere yet no vileynye ne sayde

                      In al his lyf unto no maner wight.

                      He was a verray, parfit gentil knyght.

                      But, for to tellen yow of his array,

                      His hors were goode, but he was nat gay.

75                  Of fustian he wered a gypon

                      Al bismotered with his habergeoun,

                      For he was late ycome from his viage,

                      And wente for to doon his pilgrymage.

Knight Resources:

The Knight (Modern Translation)

Important Events in the Fourteenth Century (Jane Zatta)

The Knight's Tale (Schmoop Summary)
The Knight (Resources at Harvard)

The Crusades:

The Crusades (Calgary)
The Knight Templar (Wikipedia)

The Crusades (Encyclopedia Britannica)
Images from the Crusades

The War Being Fought Between France and England During Chaucer's Lifetime:

The Hundred Years War (Calgary)
The Hundred Years War (Encyclopedia Brittanica)
The Hundred Years War (Kansas University)

Jean Froissart: On The Hundred Years War (1337-1453)  

Jakob Burckhardt's chapter on "War as a Work of Art" in his classic work, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy 

Tournaments That Took Place During Chaucer's Life:

The Rules of Courtesy:


  • Describe how the Knight is dressed: what is surprising? 
  • How has Chaucer brought this idealized portrait of a type to full life?
  • How many servants does he travel with? How large would a typical knight's retinue be?
  • Why has this knight gone on pilgrimage?
  • How does he treat people from different social classes?
  • Where has the knight fought? Why? (Tell the class a bit of the history of the Crusades and  the current phase of the 100 Years War between England and France.)
    What political purpose would it serve to send these warriors on a crusade against the enemies of Christendom?
  • What is a 'lyste'? How many 'lystes' has the knight fought in? (Describe a contemporary tournament from Chaucer's London.)
  • What was the code of chivalry that the knight upheld?
  • What was 'courtly love'? The tale that the knight tells on the pilgrimage is about courtly love about two knights who were best friends but fell in love with the same lady. The most famous tale of courtly love describes the love of Lancelot for Guinevere (who was married to King Arthur). How was the perfect knight supposed to behave?


The Squier                                                                

                      With hym ther was his sone, a yong SQUIER,

80                  A lovyere and a lusty bacheler;

                      With lokkes crulle, as they were leyd in presse.

                      Of twenty yeer of age he was, I gesse.

                      Of his stature he was of evene lengthe,

                      And wonderly delyvere, and of greet strengthe.

85                  And he hadde been somtyme in chyvachie

                      In Flaundres, in Artoys, and Pycardie,

                      And born hym weel, as of so litel space,

                      In hope to stonden in his lady grace.

                      Embrouded was he, as it were a meede,

90                  Al ful of fresshe floures, whyte and reede;

                      Syngynge he was, or floytynge, al the day,

                      He was as fressh as is the monthe of May.

                      Short was his gowne, with sleves longe and wyde.

                      Wel koude he sitte on hors, and faire ryde.

95                  He koude songes make, and wel endite,

                      Juste, and eek daunce, and weel purtreye and write.

                      So hoote he lovede, that by nyghtertale

                      He slepte namoore than dooth a nyghtyngale.

                      Curteis he was, lowely, and servysable,

100                And carf biforn his fader at the table.

Squier Resources

The Squier (Modern Translation)

The Squier's Tale Synopsis
The Squier's Tale (Harvard Resources)

The Squier (Schmoop)

The Troubadour:

 The Art of Courtly Love:

Chrétien de Troyes, Lancelot, c. 1170, excerpts.
Heloise, Letter to Abelard

Adam de la Halle, The Song of Robin and Marian (c. 1210) (YouTube)


  • How is the Squier dressed? What do his clothes tell us about his character?
  • What was the precise definition of a bachelor at Chaucer's time? (Go to the OED) What does he need to do in order to move up to next step on the social ladder?
  • What military experience does the Squire possess?
  • What skills must a troubadour possess? Find an example of the type of song that a troubadour might have sung to his lady.
  • What is the the code of courtly love? Does this young man follow it?
  • How does this son show respect to his father?
  • How has Chaucer taken the stereotype of the medieval troubadour and brought him to full life?


The Yeoman

                      A YEMAN hadde he and servantz namo

                      At that tyme, for hym liste ride soo;

                      And he was clad in cote and hood of grene.

                      A sheef of pecok arwes, bright and kene

105                Under his belt he bar ful thriftily,

                      (Wel koude he dresse his takel yemanly:

                      Hise arwes drouped noght with fetheres lowe)

                      And in his hand he baar a myghty bowe.

                      A not heed hadde he, with a broun visage,

110                Of woodecraft wel koude he al the usage.

                      Upon his arm he baar a gay bracer,

                      And by his syde a swerd and a bokeler,

                      And on that oother syde a gay daggere

                      Harneised wel and sharpe as point of spere.

115                A Cristopher on his brest of silver sheene.

                      An horn he bar, the bawdryk was of grene;

                      A forster was he, soothly, as I gesse.

Yeoman Resources:

The Yeoman (Modern Translation)

The Yeoman (Schmoop)

Medieval Warfare (Wikipedia)

Images from the Crusades
The Medieval Soldier
The English Longbow
The Longbow

The War Being Fought Between France and England During Chaucer's Lifetime:

The Hundred Years War (introduction)
The Hundred Years War (Kansas)
Jean Froissart: On The Hundred Years War (1337-1453)

The Hundred Year's War in 5 minutes (YouTube)
Jakob Burckhardt's chapter on "War as a Work of Art" in his classic work, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy

Peasant Rebellion:

Jean Froissart: the rebellion of Wat Tyler, and the rising of the Jacquerie (peasants) in France, and Siege and Capture of Jerusalem from Chronicles (1381)


  • What exactly was a yeoman?
  • What job does he do for the Knight?
  • What battles has he fought in with the Knight? (Tell the class a bit of the history of the Crusades and  the current phase of the 100 Years War between England and France.)
  • Tell us about the type of combat that went on in a battle at this time. How did the longbow transform the art of warfare?
  • What does the Yeoman long to do when he retires as a soldier?
  • How is he dressed? Why does he need to be so well armed on a pilgrimage?
  • What does he wear around his neck?


Group Two:

The Prioresse

                     Ther was also a Nonne, a PRIORESSE,                

                     That of hir smylyng was ful symple and coy;

120                Hir gretteste ooth was but by Seinte Loy;

                      And she was cleped Madame Eglentyne.

                      Ful weel she soong the service dyvyne,

                      Entuned in hir nose ful semely,

                      And Frenssh she spak ful faire and fetisly,

125                After the scole of Stratford-atte-Bowe,

                      For Frenssh of Parys was to hir unknowe.

                      At mete wel ytaught was she with alle:

                      She leet no morsel from hir lippes falle,

                      Ne wette hir fyngres in hir sauce depe;

130                Wel koude she carie a morsel, and wel kepe

                      That no drope ne fille upon hir brist.

                      In curteisie was set ful muche hir list.

                      Hire over-lippe wyped she so clene

                      That in hir coppe ther was no ferthyng sene

135                Of grece, whan she dronken hadde hir draughte.

                      Ful semely after hir mete she raughte.

                      And sikerly, she was of greet desport,

                      And ful plesaunt, and amyable of port,

                      And peyned hir to countrefete cheere

140                Of court, and been estatlich of manere,

                      And to ben holden digne of reverence.

                      But, for to speken of hir conscience,

                      She was so charitable and so pitous

                      She wolde wepe, if that she saugh a mous

145                Kaught in a trappe, if it were deed or bledde.

                      Of smale houndes hadde she, that she fedde

                      With rosted flessh, or milk and wastel-breed.

                      But soore weep she if oon of hem were deed,

                      Or if men smoot it with a yerde smerte;

150                And al was conscience, and tendre herte.

                      Ful semyly hir wympul pynched was,

                      Hire nose tretys, hir eyen greye as glas,

                      Hir mouth ful smal, and therto softe and reed;

                      But sikerly she hadde a fair forheed;

155                It was almoost a spanne brood, I trowe;

                      For, hardily, she was nat undergrowe.

                      Ful fetys was hir cloke, as I was war;

                      Of smal coral aboute hir arm she bar

                      A peire of bedes, gauded al with grene,

160                An theron heng a brooch of gold ful sheene,

                      On which ther was first write a crowned A,

                      And after Amor vincit omnia.

Prioresse Resources:

The Prioresse (Modern Translation)

The Prioresse (Schmoop)
The Prioresse's Tale (Harvard Resources)

The Benedictine Order (Encyclopedia Britannica) 
The Rule of St. Benedict (excerpts) (481) (Wikipedia)
Daily Life in A Benedictine Nunnery

Medieval Women and Music
Medieval Music: Gregorian Chants
 (A Chant at Wikipedia)

Meals and Manners in Medieval England (Harvard)

Benedictine Monasteries


  • What was a Benedictine monastery?
  • What were the responsibilities of a Prioresse attached to an abbey of a Benedictine order? What was the typical day like in a priory? Find an example of the kind of sacred music she would sing at a service.
  • From which social class does Eglentyne come? What language does she speak?
  • Describe her table manners.
  • What pets has she brought with her on this pilgrimage? How does she spoil them
  • What was the model of female beauty at Chaucer's time?
  • Describe the way that Eglentyne has altered her nun's habit. Describe the brooch that she wears.
  • Why has she gone on this pilgrimage?
  • What makes Eglentyne an atypical prioresse?
  • What has Chaucer done to our stock expectations of the leader of a nunnery in the midst of a holy era? 


The Monk

                      A MONK ther was, a fair for the maistrie,

                      An outridere, that lovede venerie,

                      A manly man, to been an abbot able.

                      Ful many a deyntee hors hadde he in stable,

                      And whan he rood, men myghte his brydel heere

170                Gynglen in a whistlynge wynd als cleere

                      And eek as loude, as dooth the chapel belle.

                      Ther as this lord was keper of the celle,

                      The reule of Seint Maure, or of Seint Beneit,

                      By cause that it was old and somdel streit

175                This ilke Monk leet olde thynges pace,

                      And heeld after the newe world the space.

                      He yaf nat of that text a pulled hen,

                      That seith that hunters beth nat hooly men,

                      Ne that a monk, whan he is recchelees,

180                Is likned til a fissh that is waterlees,-

                      This is to seyn, a monk out of his cloystre

                      But thilke text heeld he nat worth an oystre;

                      And I seyde his opinioun was good.

                      What sholde he studie, and make hymselven wood,

185                Upon a book in cloystre alwey to poure,

                      Or swynken with his handes and laboure,

                      As Austyn bit? How shal the world be served?

                      Lat Austyn have his swynk to him reserved!

                      Therfore he was a prikasour aright:

190                Grehoundes he hadde, as swift as fowel in flight;

                      Of prikyng and of huntyng for the hare

                      Was al his lust, for no cost wolde he spare.

                      I seigh his sleves purfiled at the hond

                      With grys, and that the fyneste of a lond;

195                And, for to festne his hood under his chyn,

                      He hadde of gold ywroght a curious pyn;

                      A love-knotte in the gretter ende ther was.

                      His heed was balled, that shoon as any glas,

                      And eek his face, as it hadde been enoynt.

200                He was a lord ful fat and in good poynt,

                      Hise eyen stepe, and rollynge in his heed,

                      That stemed as a forneys of a leed;

                      His bootes souple, his hors in greet estaat.

                      Now certeinly he was a fair prelaat;

205                He was nat pale as a forpyned goost.

                      A fat swan loved he best of any roost.

                      His palfrey was as broun as is a berye,

Monk Resources

The Monk (Modern Translation)

The Monk (Schmoop)
The Monk's Tale (Harvard Resources)

Medieval Monasticism and the Benedictine Order:

Benedictine Monks (Middle Ages) 
The Benedictine Order (Encyclopedia Britannica)
St. Benedict and his Order
St. Benedict of Nursia 
The Rule of St. Benedict (excerpts) (481) 

Men of God: Bishops, Priests, and Monks
Daily Life in a Benedictine House


  • What was the job of a Benedictine monk? How were Benedictine monks supposed to lead their lives?
  • How does this monk lead his life? What makes him a modern monk? What does he think of the monastic rules that had been laid out a thousand years before by St. Augustine?
  • What kind of horse does he like to ride? How is it bridled?
  • What does this monk like to hunt for? (double entendre?) 
  • Describe the costume that this monk wears. What do his clothes tell you about his social class and his character? What kind of pin does he wear? What is his favorite food? How has he gotten so rich?
  • What is Chaucer doing to our typical notions of this holy stereotype?
  • What vision of the medieval world in 1380 is emerging?


The Friar

                      A FRERE ther was, a wantowne and a merye,

                      A lymytour, a ful solempne man.

210                In alle the ordres foure is noon that kan

                      So muchel of daliaunce and fair langage.

                      He hadde maad ful many a mariage

                      Of yonge wommen at his owene cost.

                      Unto his ordre he was a noble post,

215                And wel biloved and famulier was he

                      With frankeleyns overal in his contree,

                      And eek with worthy wommen of the toun;

                      For he hadde power of confessioun,

                      As seyde hymself, moore than a curat,

220                For of his ordre he was licenciat.

                      Ful swetely herde he confessioun,

                      And plesaunt was his absolucioun:

                      He was an esy man to yeve penaunce,

                      Ther as he wiste to have a good pitaunce.

225                For unto a povre ordre for to yive

                      Is signe that a man is wel yshryve;

                      For, if he yaf, he dorste make avaunt,

                      He wiste that a man was repentaunt;

                      For many a man so harde is of his herte,

230                He may nat wepe, al thogh hym soore smerte;

                      Therfore in stede of wepynge and preyeres

                      Men moote yeve silver to the povre freres.

                      His typet was ay farsed ful of knyves

                      And pynnes, for to yeven yonge wyves.

235                And certeinly he hadde a murye note:

                      Wel koude he synge, and pleyen on a rote;

                      Of yeddynges he baar outrely the pris.

                      His nekke whit was as the flour-de-lys;

                      Therto he strong was as a champioun.

240                He knew the tavernes wel in every toun

                      And everich hostiler and tappestere

                      Bet than a lazar or a beggestere;

                      For unto swich a worthy man as he

                      Acorded nat, as by his facultee,

245                To have with sike lazars aqueyntaunce.

                      It is nat honeste, it may nat avaunce,

                      For to deelen with no swich poraille,

                      But al with riche and selleres of vitaille.

                      And over al, ther as profit sholde arise,

250                Curteis he was, and lowely of servyse.

                      Ther nas no man nowher so vertuous.

                      He was the beste beggere in his hous;

                      (And yaf a certeyn ferme for the graunt

                      Noon of his brethren cam ther in his haunt;)

255                For thogh a wydwe hadde noght a sho,

                      So plesaunt was his "In principio"

                      Yet wolde he have a ferthyng, er he wente;

                      His purchas was wel bettre than his rente.

                      And rage he koude, as it were right a whelp.

260                In love-dayes ther koude he muchel help,

                      For there he was nat lyk a cloysterer

                      With a thredbare cope, as is a povre scoler,

                      But he was lyk a maister or a pope;

                      Of double worstede was his semycope,

265                That rounded as a belle out of the presse.

                      Somwhat he lipsed for his wantownesse

                      To make his Englissh sweete upon his tonge;

                      And in his harpyng, whan that he hadde songe,

                      Hise eyen twynkled in his heed aryght

270                As doon the sterres in the frosty nyght.

                      This worthy lymytour was cleped Huberd

Friar Resources:

The Friar (Modern Translation)

The Friar (Schmoop)
The Friar's Tale (Harvard Resources)

Men of God: Bishops, Priests, and Monks

St. Francis of Assisi and the Franciscan Order:
St. Francis of Assisi (Wikipedia)
The Rule of St. Francis (Catholic Encyclopedia)
Spiritual Practices of St. Francis of Assisi
St Francis of Assissi (Encyclopedia Brittanica) 
The Testament of St. Francis (1226)


  • Who established the Franciscan order? What was the job of a Franciscan Friar?
  • What kind of work in the neighborhood does this Friar do?
  • How does he use the power of the confessional booth to befriend many of the poor women in his neighborhood? What is his cloak stuffed with? What is this rogue’s scam?!
  • What does the monastic order to which he belongs think of this behavior? What makes him so talented?
  • With whom does he like to hang out? How does he defend his begging territory?
  • What were 'love days'? How would this friar distinguish himself on 'love days'?
  • What does Huberd look like? What does he wear?
  • Wow! How does Chaucer portray these representatives of the organized Church? 



Group Three: 

The Merchant

                      A MARCHANT was ther with a forked berd,

                      In mottelee, and hye on horse he sat;

                      Upon his heed a Flaundryssh bever hat,

275                His bootes clasped faire and fetisly.

                      His resons he spak ful solempnely,

                      Sownynge alway th'encrees of his wynnyng.

                      He wolde the see were kept for any thyng

                      Bitwixe Middelburgh and Orewelle.

280                Wel koude he in eschaunge sheeldes selle.

                      This worthy man ful wel his wit bisette;

                      Ther wiste no wight that he was in dette,

                      So estatly was he of his governaunce

                      With his bargaynes and with his chevyssaunce.

285                For sothe, he was a worthy man with-alle,

                      But, sooth to seyn, I noot how men hym calle.

Merchant Resources:

The Merchant (Modern Translation)

The Merchant's Tale (Schmoop)
The Merchant's Tale (Harvard Resources)

The Emergence of a Market Economy
The Medieval Merchant
Banking in the Middle Ages (Calgary)

Medieval Merchant Culture (Decameron Web)
Medieval English Urban History

Town Life in the Middle Ages

Population in Europe
Reginald of Durham: Life of St. Goderic - a 12th century merchant

Thomas Aquinas: On Usury, c. 1269-71
Jewish Views of  Royal Monetary Policy in Aragon
, 13th Century

The Ascent of Money (PBS): Episode One: From Bullion to Bubbles (Go to Minute 20:00 and learn about the rise of credit and the birth of credit in Renaissance Florence.


  • How had trade and commerce begun to alter the very structure of medieval society?
  • What did Chaucer's father do for a living? What did Chaucer himself do for a living?
  • What is usury? What was the Catholic Church's official policy on usury?
  • How did the Medici manage to end run the Church’s prohibition on usury and enable the birth of modern banking? 
  • Why does the narrator have very little to say about this merchant? The narrator looks back, and come to think of it, no one remembers his name! Why not? 
    What can you guess about the nature of his business from the little that he does say?
  • Can you put together the various hints Chaucer gives us and explain why this 'marchant' has gone on a pilgrimage at this particular time. 
  • Describe the Merchant's costume. What makes this costume particularly fashionable?
  • What is Chaucer’s portrait of the emerging merchant class in England at the end of the 14th century? 




The Clerk


                      A CLERK ther was of Oxenford also,

                      That unto logyk hadde longe ygo.

                      As leene was his hors as is a rake,

290                And he nas nat right fat, I undertake,

                      But looked holwe and therto sobrely.

                      Ful thredbare was his overeste courtepy;

                      For he hadde geten hym yet no benefice,

                      Ne was so worldly for to have office.

295                For hym was levere have at his beddes heed

                      Twenty bookes, clad in blak or reed,

                      Of Aristotle and his philosophie,

                      Than robes riche, or fithele, or gay sautrie.

                      But al be that he was a philosophre,

300                Yet hadde he but litel gold in cofre;

                      But al that he myghte of his freendes hente,

                      On bookes and on lernynge he it spente,

                      And bisily gan for the soules preye

                      Of hem that yaf hym wherwith to scoleye.

305                Of studie took he moost cure and moost heede.

                      Noght o word spak he moore than was neede,

                      And that was seyd in forme and reverence,

                      And short and quyk, and ful of hy sentence;

                      Sownynge in moral vertu was his speche,

310                And gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche.

Clerk Resources

The Clerk (Modern Translation)

The Clerk (Schmoop)

The Clerk's Tale (Harvard Resources)

Humanism (Hooker)
Medieval Education; (more)
Medieval Schools and Universities

A Brief History of Oxford University

Thomas Aquinas (Encyclopedia Britannica)
Aquinas (pp.165-187) (Sophie)

Aquinas: Reasons in Proof of the Existence of God, 1270, from the Summa Theologiae, trans D. Burr, or another version


  • When was Oxford founded?
  • What would be a typical course of study for a student at Oxford in 1380? What were the trivium and the quadrivium?
  • Define humanism. What was the studia humanitatis? 
  • What will the clerk do for a living once he has finished his studies? What would the Clerk prefer to do with his life?
  • How is he dressed? How does he appear?
  • What vision of the changing place of education and classical learning is suggested by Chaucer’s description of the clerk?


The Sergeant of Law

                      A SERGEANT OF THE LAWE, war and wys,

                      That often hadde been at the Parvys,

                      Ther was also, ful riche of excellence.

                      Discreet he was, and of greet reverence-

315                He semed swich, hise wordes weren so wise.

                      Justice he was ful often in assise,

                      By patente, and by pleyn commissioun.

                      For his science, and for his heigh renoun,

                      Of fees and robes hadde he many oon.

320                So greet a purchasour was nowher noon:

                      Al was fee symple to hym in effect,

                      His purchasyng myghte nat been infect.

                      Nowher so bisy a man as he ther nas,

                      And yet he semed bisier than he was.

325                In termes hadde he caas and doomes alle

                      That from the tyme of Kyng William were falle.

                      Therto he koude endite and make a thyng,

                      Ther koude no wight pynche at his writyng;

                      And every statut koude he pleyn by rote.

330                He rood but hoomly in a medlee cote

                      Girt with a ceint of silk, with barres smale;

                      Of his array telle I no lenger tale.

Sergeant of Law Resources

The Sergeant of Law (Modern Translation)

The Sergeant of Law (Schmoop)

The Man at Law's Tale (Harvard Resources)

Origins of English Common Law:

Ordeals (the origins of trials)
Peter T. Leeson, Why the trial by ordeal was actually an effective test of guilt Aeon 10-18-17
Common Law (Wikipedia) 
Medieval Law and Order
Common Law - Henry II and the Birth of a State (BBC)
The Magna Carta (BBC) (text)

Bracton on the Laws and Customs of England (1210-1268)
The Year Books (13th c.)
The Historical Rise of Common Law (Wikipedia) 
NetSERF: Medieval Law


  • How busy is this man? What makes him seem busier than he really is?
  • Describe the function of a "Sergeant of Law" at the King's Court.
  • What took place at the porches of St. Paul's Cathedral in London?
  • What responsibilities would a lawyer at the court of assizes have? How would he assess his fee? How could he profit illicitly from these duties?
  • What makes this lawyer one of the most powerful men in the kingdom?
  • How comprehensive is his knowledge of legal precedents and statutes? 
  • How is this man dressed? What does his costume tell you about him?
  • What point is Chaucer making about the law and the legal profession of his time? 


The Franklin

                      A FRANKELEYN was in his compaignye.

                      Whit was his berd as is a dayesye;

335                Of his complexioun he was sangwyn.

                      Wel loved he by the morwe a sope in wyn,;

                      To lyven in delit was evere his wone,

                      For he was Epicurus owene sone,

                      That heeld opinioun that pleyn delit

340                Was verray felicitee parfit.

                      An housholdere, and that a greet, was he;

                      Seint Julian was he in his contree.

                      His breed, his ale, was alweys after oon,

                      A bettre envyned man was nowher noon.

345                Withoute bake mete was nevere his hous

                      Of fissh and flessh, and that so plentevous,

                      It snewed in his hous of mete and drynke,

                      Of alle deyntees that men koude thynke.

                      After the sondry sesons of the yeer,

350                So chaunged he his mete and his soper.

                      Ful many a fat partrich hadde he in muwe,

                      And many a breem and many a luce in stuwe.

                      Wo was his cook, but if his sauce were

                      Poynaunt and sharp, and redy al his geere.

355                His table dormant in his halle alway

                      Stood redy covered al the longe day.

                      At sessiouns ther was he lord and sire;

                      Ful ofte tyme he was knyght of the shire.

                      An anlaas and a gipser al of silk

360                Heeng at his girdel, whit as morne milk.

                      A shirreve hadde he been, and a countour.

                      Was nowher swich a worthy vavasour.

Franklin Resources

The Franklin (Modern Translation)

The Franklin (Schmoop)
The Franklin's Tale (Harvard Resources)

The Rise of Parliament:

Magna Carta
A Brief History of the English Parliament (BBC) 
Parliament in Late Middle Ages (BBC) 
The Birth of the English Parliament

 The Commons as lawmakers
Thomas Walsingham: The Good Parliament of 1376
Summons of a Bishop, a Baron, and the Commons to Parliament 1295

Description of a Manor House
Meals and Manners in Medieval England (Harvard)
Food and Drink in Medieval England


  • What was a 'franklin'?  (Check the OED)
  • What class in society did this 'franklin' come from? How has he made his money?
  • How come this commoner is such good friends with this wealthy nobleman? Chaucer’s point? 
  • Chaucer describes the franklin as of ‘sangwyn complexioun’. What would that disgnosis mean to a medieval doctor?
  • The Franklin is described as ‘Epicurus’ owne sone’. What is the aim of this man's life? What makes the franklin such a great patron of hospitality? How does he show it? Does he have any ulterior motives?
  • Chaucer tells us that the Franklin serves as the district judge ‘at sessiouns’ in his neighborhood. What does that mean?
  • He also is the ‘knight of the shire’ for his region. What does that mean? How did he become so rich? How does this commoner dress? 
  • What point is Chaucer making about the changing composition of medieval society? How is society also becoming more secular in its focus?


The Shipman

                      A SHIPMAN was ther, wonynge fer by weste;

                      For aught I woot, he was of Dertemouthe.

                      He rood upon a rouncy, as he kouthe,

                      In a gowne of faldyng to the knee.

                      A daggere hangynge on a laas hadde he

395                Aboute his nekke, under his arm adoun.

                      The hoote somer hadde maad his hewe al broun,

                      And certeinly he was a good felawe.

                      Ful many a draughte of wyn had he ydrawe

                      Fro Burdeux-ward, whil that the chapman sleep.

400                Of nyce conscience took he no keep.

                      If that he faught, and hadde the hyer hond,

                      By water he sente hem hoom to every lond.

                      But of his craft, to rekene wel his tydes,

                      His stremes, and his daungers hym bisides,

405                His herberwe and his moone, his lodemenage,

                      Ther nas noon swich from Hulle to Cartage.

                      Hardy he was, and wys to undertake;

                      With many a tempest hadde his berd been shake.

                      He knew alle the havenes as they were,

410                From Gootlond to the Cape of Fynystere,

                      And every cryke in Britaigne and in Spayne.

                      His barge ycleped was the Maudelayne.



The Doctor of Physik

                     With us ther was a DOCTOUR OF PHISIK;

                      In al this world ne was ther noon hym lik,

415                To speke of phisik and of surgerye,

                      For he was grounded in astronomye.

                      He kepte his pacient a ful greet deel

                      In houres, by his magyk natureel.

                      Wel koude he fortunen the ascendent

420                Of his ymages for his pacient.

                      He knew the cause of everich maladye,

                      Were it of hoot, or coold, or moyste, or drye,

                      And where they engendred, and of what humour.

                      He was a verray parfit praktisour:

425                The cause yknowe, and of his harm the roote,

                      Anon he yaf the sike man his boote.

                      Ful redy hadde he hise apothecaries

                      To sende him drogges and his letuaries,

                      For ech of hem made oother for to wynne-

430                Hir frendshipe nas nat newe to bigynne.

                      Wel knew he the olde Esculapius,

                      And Deyscorides and eek Rufus,

                      Olde Ypocras, Haly, and Galyen,

                      Serapioun, Razis, and Avycen,

435                Averrois, Damascien, and Constantyn,

                      Bernard, and Gatesden, and Gilbertyn.

                      Of his diete mesurable was he,

                      For it was of no superfluitee,

                      But of greet norissyng, and digestible.

440                His studie was but litel on the Bible.

                      In sangwyn and in pers he clad was al,

                      Lyned with taffata and with sendal;

                      And yet he was but esy of dispence;

                      He kepte that he wan in pestilence.

445                For gold in phisik is a cordial,

                      Therfore he lovede gold in special.

The Physician's Tale (Synopsis)
The Physican's Tale (Harvard Resources)

The Physican (Schmoop)


The Wife of Bath

                      A good WIF was ther, OF biside BATHE,

                      But she was somdel deef, and that was scathe.

                      Of clooth-makyng she hadde swich an haunt,

450                She passed hem of Ypres and of Gaunt.

                      In al the parisshe wif ne was ther noon

                      That to the offrynge bifore hire sholde goon;

                      And if ther dide, certeyn so wrooth was she,

                      That she was out of alle charitee.

455                Hir coverchiefs ful fyne weren of ground;

                      I dorste swere they weyeden ten pound

                      That on a Sonday weren upon hir heed.

                      Hir hosen weren of fyn scarlet reed,

                      Ful streite yteyd, and shoes ful moyste and newe.

460                Boold was hir face, and fair, and reed of hewe.

                      She was a worthy womman al hir lyve:

                      Housbondes at chirche dore she hadde fyve,

                      Withouthen oother compaignye in youthe, -

                      But therof nedeth nat to speke as nowthe.

465                And thries hadde she been at Jerusalem;

                      She hadde passed many a straunge strem;

                      At Rome she hadde been, and at Boloigne,

                      In Galice at Seint-Jame, and at Coloigne.

                      She koude muchel of wandrynge by the weye.

470                Gat-tothed was she, soothly for to seye.

                      Upon an amblere esily she sat,

                      Ywympled wel, and on hir heed an hat

                      As brood as is a bokeler or a targe;

                      A foot-mantel aboute hir hipes large,

475                And on hir feet a paire of spores sharpe.

                      In felaweshipe wel koude she laughe and carpe.

                      Of remedies of love she knew per chaunce,

                      For she koude of that art the olde daunce.

Wife of Bath Resources

The Wife of Bath (Modern Translation)

The Wife of Bath (Schmoop)
Medieval Bath
The Wife of Bath's Tale Synopsis
The Wife of Bath's Prologue (Harvard Resources)

The Wife of Bath’s Prologue (Spragins Notes)

The Place of Women in Medieval Society:
Women in the Middle Ages 
Selections from the Bible on Marriage
St. Augustine on On Marriage and Concupiscence

Women in Medieval Society: Aspects of Marriage

The Costume Page - Medieval Era Costume (Julie Zetterburg)

Pilgrimages (Harvard)

Le Menagier [or Goodman] of Paris: On ideal marriage
Bernardino of Siena: Sermons on Wives and Widows
Margery Kempe (1413-1415): Book of Margery Kempe
Jaume Roig  Spill: A Fictional Pilgrimage from Valencia to Santiago in the Fifteenth Century


  • How many husbands has this merry widow had? How old is she? 
  • What was the town of Bath renowned for in England? How is the Wife a walking advertisement for her business?  What does she look like?
  • How does her behavior at church show us that she is filthy rich? 
  • How many times has she been to Jerusalem? Where else has she traveled? (Is this wide range of travel even possible for a person during this era?) Why does she go on so many pilgrimages? 
  • How has the Wife of Bath learned to make a highly lucrative living? Where does she meet her prospective husbands?  What did medieval superstition say about gap-toothed women?
  • How is she dressed?  What is she wearing on her boots? What knowledge does she have of remedies for disease?
  • What is Chaucer’s purpose in his depiction of the Wife of Bath? How does this outrageous, larger than life character seem to jump off the page and into our lives directly from the Middle Ages? What is the measure of Chaucer’s genius as an artist?


Group Four: 

The Parson

                      A good man was ther of religioun,

480                And was a povre PERSOUN OF A TOUN,

                      But riche he was of hooly thoght and werk.

                      He was also a lerned man, a clerk,

                      That Cristes gospel trewely wolde preche;

                      His parisshens devoutly wolde he teche.

485                Benynge he was, and wonder diligent,

                      And in adversitee ful pacient,

                      And swich he was ypreved ofte sithes.

                      Ful looth were hym to cursen for his tithes,

                      But rather wolde he yeven, out of doute,

490                Unto his povre parisshens aboute

                      Of his offryng and eek of his substaunce.

                      He koude in litel thyng have suffisaunce.

                      Wyd was his parisshe, and houses fer asonder,

                      But he ne lefte nat, for reyn ne thonder,

495                In siknesse nor in meschief to visite

                      The ferreste in his parisshe, muche and lite,

                      Upon his feet, and in his hand a staf.

                      This noble ensample to his sheep he yaf,

                      That first he wroghte, and afterward he taughte.

500                Out of the gosple he tho wordes caughte,

                      And this figure he added eek therto,

                      That if gold ruste, what shal iren do?

                      For if a preest be foul, on whom we truste,

                      No wonder is a lewed man to ruste;

505                And shame it is, if a prest take keep,

                      A shiten shepherde and a clene sheep.

                      Wel oghte a preest ensample for to yive,

                      By his clennesse, how that his sheep sholde lyve.

                      He sette nat his benefice to hyre

510                And leet his sheep encombred in the myre

                      And ran to Londoun unto Seinte Poules

                      To seken hym a chaunterie for soules,

                      Or with a bretherhed to been witholde;

                      But dwelt at hoom, and kepte wel his folde,

515                So that the wolf ne made it nat myscarie;

                      He was a shepherde and noght a mercenarie.

                      And though he hooly were and vertuous,

                      He was to synful men nat despitous,

                      Ne of his speche daungerous ne digne,

520                But in his techyng discreet and benygne;

                      To drawen folk to hevene by fairnesse,

                      By good ensample, this was his bisynesse.

                      But it were any persone obstinat,

                      What so he were, of heigh or lough estat,

525                Hym wolde he snybben sharply for the nonys.

                      A bettre preest I trowe, that nowher noon ys.

                      He waited after no pompe and reverence,

                      Ne maked him a spiced conscience,

                      But Cristes loore, and Hise apostles twelve

530                He taughte, but first he folwed it hymselve.

Parson Resources

The Parson (Modern Translation)

An Age of Faith:
The Parson (Schmoop)
The Parson's Tale Synopsis
The Parson's Tale (Harvard Resources)

Men of God: Bishops, Priests, and Monks
Innocent III: Sermon on the Resurrection of the Lord.
Thomas ŕ Kempis (c.1380-1471): The Imitation of Christ
Sermon Stories: Tales of Confession,
Sermon Stories: Tales of The Virgin,
Sermon Stories: Tales of The Host, Sermon Stories: Tales of Relics


  • In what ways does Chaucer affirm the traditional principles of feudal society?  How does the parson epitomize the principles of church and society that held together the rule of the Catholic Church throughout the European world for a millennium?
  • What are 'tithes'? Why doesn't the parson punish the parishioners who do not pay their tithes to the church? What does he give them instead?
  • What are the parson's various responsibilities as parish priest?  Why does he carry a shepherd's staff with him?
  • What example does the parson set for his parishioners? 
  • Unfortunately, what have many parish priests done instead of fulfilling their responsibilities? How have they found ways to enrich themselves?
  • How does the parson treat the sinful in his parish? 
  • In short, he strives to follow Christ’s laws as best he can. For what purpose is he taking his pilgrimage to Canterbury? 


The Ploughman

                      With hym ther was a PLOWMAN, was his brother,

                      That hadde ylad of dong ful many a fother;

                      A trewe swynkere and a good was he,

                      Lyvynge in pees and parfit charitee.

535                God loved he best with al his hoole herte

                      At alle tymes, thogh him gamed or smerte,

                      And thanne his neighebor right as hym-selve.

                      He wolde thresshe, and therto dyke and delve,

                      For Cristes sake, for every povre wight

540                Withouten hire, if it lay in his myght.

                      Hise tithes payed he ful faire and wel,

                      Bothe of his propre swynk and his catel.

                      In a tabard he rood, upon a mere.

Ploughman Resources

The Ploughman (Modern Translation)

The Ploughman (Schmoop)
Feudalism (Calgary)

Economy on a Medieval Manor:
Acmylen from Wichamstow, a virtual English Estate                        
Medieval Economy
Medieval English Towns (Stephen Alsford)

The Lifestyle of Medieval Peasants
"The Poor Peasant"
Medieval farming
The farming year
Medieval Fiefdom

William Langland: Piers Plowman: Excerpts. [At Harvard]
Technology in the Middles Ages
Wharram Percy Page (Wharram Percy is a deserted English Medieval village.)

The Great Plague of 1348-50
Wat Tyler’s Peasant Revolt 1381 

Anonimalle Chronicle: English Peasants' Revolt 1381


  • How have willing workers like this ploughman preserved the stability of the medieval world for centuries?
  • How is the ploughman related by family to the parson?
  • Is he a serf?
  • What kind of work does he do, besides ploughing the fields?
  • Does he receive profit for his labours? What does he live on?
  • Are  these portraits of the Parson and the Plowman nostalgic glances back at a world fast receding into the past, or are they emblematic of the ideal world towards which the corrupt pilgrims in their pilgrimage needed to rededicate themselves? What is Chaucer’s purpose?


Group Five: 

The Miller

                     The MILLERE was a stout carl for the nones;

                      Ful byg he was of brawn and eek of bones-

                      That proved wel, for over al ther he cam

550                At wrastlynge he wolde have alwey the ram.

                      He was short-sholdred, brood, a thikke knarre,

                      Ther was no dore that he nolde heve of harre,

                      Or breke it at a rennyng with his heed.

                      His berd as any sowe or fox was reed,

555                And therto brood, as though it were a spade.

                      Upon the cop right of his nose he hade

                      A werte, and thereon stood a toft of herys,

                      Reed as the brustles of a sowes erys;

                      Hise nosethirles blake were and wyde.

560                A swerd and bokeler bar he by his syde.

                      His mouth as greet was as a greet forneys.

                      He was a janglere and a goliardeys,

                      And that was moost of synne and harlotries.

                      Wel koude he stelen corn, and tollen thries;

565                And yet he hadde a thombe of gold, pardee.

                      A whit cote and a blew hood wered he.

                      A baggepipe wel koude he blowe and sowne,

                      And therwithal he broghte us out of towne.


Miller Resources

The Miller (Modern Translation)

The Miller (Schmoop)

The Miller's Tale Synopsis
The Miller's Tale (Harvard Resources)

The Peasant Rising of 1381

(See St. Albans Rising)  (Millstone) (Millstone in Pavement) (The Miller's Tale) and (The Mystery Plays) (The Bleak Conclusion of the Hundred Years War)

Economy on a Medieval Manor:
Acmylen from Wichamstow, a virtual English Estate                       
Medieval Economy (Calgary)
Medieval English Towns (Stephen Alsford

The lifestyle of the Medieval Peasant
"The Poor Peasant"
Medieval farming
The farming year
Medieval Fiefdom

The Fabiliaux (Harvard Chaucer Site)
Popular English Drama: The Mystery Plays (Harvard Chaucer Site)


  • What essential service does a miller perform for his community?  How does this miller misuse his position to cheat the villagers?  
  • During times of famine does the miller alter his practices? How does he represent the very worst aspects of the emerging market economy?
  • Describe the physical attributes of this man. What prize does he always win at the local fair? Why can no door hold him? What does he look like? How are his facial features described? What kinds of stories does he like to tell? 
  • What musical instrument does he play as the pilgrims make their march? 


The Maunciple

                      A gentil MAUNCIPLE was ther of a temple,

570                Of which achatours myghte take exemple

                      For to be wise in byynge of vitaille;

                      For wheither that he payde or took by taille,

                      Algate he wayted so in his achaat

                      That he was ay biforn, and in good staat.

575                Now is nat that of God a ful fair grace,

                      That swich a lewed mannes wit shal pace

                      The wisdom of an heep of lerned men?

                      Of maistres hadde he mo than thries ten,

                      That weren of lawe expert and curious,

580                Of whiche ther weren a duszeyne in that hous

                      Worthy to been stywardes of rente and lond

                      Of any lord that is in Engelond,

                      To maken hym lyve by his propre good,

                      In honour dettelees (but if he were wood),

585                Or lyve as scarsly as hym list desire,

                      And able for to helpen al a shire

                      In any caas that myghte falle or happe-

                      And yet this Manciple sette hir aller cappe.


The Reeve

                      The REVE was a sclendre colerik man.

590                His berd was shave as ny as ever he kan;

                      His heer was by his erys ful round yshorn;

                      His top was dokked lyk a preest biforn.

                      Ful longe were his legges, and ful lene,

                      Ylyk a staf, ther was no calf ysene.

595                Wel koude he kepe a gerner and a bynne;

                      Ther was noon auditour koude on him wynne.

                      Wel wiste he by the droghte and by the reyn,

                      The yeldynge of his seed and of his greyn.

                      His lordes sheep, his neet, his dayerye,

600                His swyn, his hors, his stoor, and his pultrye,

                      Was hoolly in this Reves governynge,

                      And by his covenant yaf the rekenynge,

                      Syn that his lord was twenty yeer of age,

                      Ther koude no man brynge hym in arrerage.

605                Ther nas baillif, ne hierde, nor oother hyne,

                      That he ne knew his sleighte and his covyne;

                      They were adrad of hym as of the deeth.

                      His wonyng was ful faire upon an heeth;

                      With grene trees shadwed was his place.

610                He koude bettre than his lord purchace.

                      Ful riche he was astored pryvely:

                      His lord wel koude he plesen subtilly,

                      To yeve and lene hym of his owene good,

                      And have a thank, and yet a cote and hood.

615                In youthe he hadde lerned a good myster;

                      He was a wel good wrighte, a carpenter.

                      This Reve sat upon a ful good stot,

                      That was al pomely grey, and highte Scot.

                      A long surcote of pers upon he hade,

620                And by his syde he baar a rusty blade.

                      Of Northfolk was this Reve, of which I telle,

                      Bisyde a toun men clepen Baldeswelle.

                      Tukked he was as is a frere aboute,

                      And evere he rood the hyndreste of oure route.

Reeve Resources

The Reeve (Modern Translation)

The Reeve (Schmoop)
The Reeve's Tale Synopsis

The Reeve's Tale (Harvard Resources)

Economy on a Medieval Manor

The lifestyle of the Medieval Peasant
Medieval farming
The farming year

Acmylen from Wichamstow, a virtual English Estate                        
Medieval English Towns (Stephen Alsford
Medieval Economy -- Medieval Professions
:  Some information on the guild systems
Medieval Economy
:  Information on medieval commodities.

Medieval Fiefdom

The Fabiliaux (Harvard Chaucer Site)

Popular English Drama: The Mystery Plays (Harvard Chaucer Site)


  • What job does a reeve perform on a farm? What makes this reeve particularly good at this job? Why do the peasants not even try to cheat him? Why are the people on the estate terrified of him? 
  • Why do he and the Miller hang out together? 
  • What does this guy look like? Why does he dress like a friar? What is the real religion that he practices?  What would a medieval physician have said about a man who is 'choleric'?
  • Why do you think he takes the ‘hyndereste’ place on the route? 


The Summoner

                      A SOMONOUR was ther with us in that place,

                      That hadde a fyr-reed cherubynnes face,

                      For saucefleem he was, with eyen narwe.

                      As hoot he was and lecherous as a sparwe,

                      With scalled browes blake, and piled berd,

630                Of his visage children were aferd.

                      Ther nas quyk-silver, lytarge, ne brymstoon,

                      Boras, ceruce, ne oille of tartre noon,

                      Ne oynement, that wolde clense and byte,

                      That hym myghte helpen of his whelkes white,

635                Nor of the knobbes sittynge on his chekes.

                      Wel loved he garleek, oynons, and eek lekes,

                      And for to drynken strong wyn, reed as blood;

                      Thanne wolde he speke and crie as he were wood.

                      And whan that he wel dronken hadde the wyn,

640                Than wolde he speke no word but Latyn.

                      A fewe termes hadde he, two or thre,

                      That he had lerned out of som decree-

                      No wonder is, he herde it al the day,

                      And eek ye knowen wel how that a jay

645                Kan clepen "Watte" as wel as kan the pope.

                      But whoso koude in oother thyng hym grope,

                      Thanne hadde he spent al his philosophie;

                      Ay "Questio quid iuris" wolde he crie.

                      He was a gentil harlot and a kynde;

650                A bettre felawe sholde men noght fynde;

                      He wolde suffre, for a quart of wyn,

                      A good felawe to have his concubyn

                      A twelf-monthe, and excuse hym atte fulle;

                      Ful prively a fynch eek koude he pulle.

655                And if he foond owher a good felawe,

                      He wolde techen him to have noon awe,

                      In swich caas, of the ercedekenes curs,

                      But if a mannes soule were in his purs;

                      For in his purs he sholde ypunysshed be.

660                "Purs is the erchedekenes helle," seyde he.

                      But wel I woot he lyed right in dede;

                      Of cursyng oghte ech gilty man him drede,

                      For curs wol slee, right as assoillyng savith,

                      And also war him of a Significavit.

665                In daunger hadde he at his owene gise

                      The yonge girles of the diocise,

                      And knew hir conseil, and was al hir reed.

                      A gerland hadde he set upon his heed

                      As greet as it were for an ale-stake;

670                A bokeleer hadde he maad him of a cake.

Summoner Resources

The Summoner (Modern Translation)

The Summoner (Schmoop)
The Summoner's Tale Synopsis

The Summoner's Tale (Harvard Resources)

Judgment and Salvation:

Ecclesiastical Courts Catholic Encyclopedia


  • What is an ecclesiastical court? What kind of sentence could an ecclesiastical court impose on a person? What job does a summoner perform for the court? How could a corrupt summoner exploit his position? How has this particular guy exploited his position? Why is he particularly terrifying to the children and young women in his village?  
  • What does this summoner look like? What does his breath smell like? What does he do when he gets drunk? What is his costume?
  • Why is he on this pilgrimage? 


The Pardoner

                      With hym ther rood a gentil PARDONER

                      Of Rouncivale, his freend and his compeer,

                      That streight was comen fro the court of Rome.

                      Ful loude he soong "Com hider, love, to me!"

675                This Somonour bar to hym a stif burdoun;

                      Was nevere trompe of half so greet a soun.

                      This Pardoner hadde heer as yelow as wex,

                      But smothe it heeng as dooth a strike of flex;

                      By ounces henge his lokkes that he hadde,

680                And therwith he hise shuldres overspradde;

                      But thynne it lay by colpons oon and oon.

                      But hood, for jolitee, wered he noon,

                      For it was trussed up in his walet.

                      Hym thoughte he rood al of the newe jet;

685                Dischevelee, save his cappe, he rood al bare.

                      Swiche glarynge eyen hadde he as an hare.

                      A vernycle hadde he sowed upon his cappe.

                      His walet lay biforn hym in his lappe

                      Bretful of pardoun come from Rome al hoot.

690                A voys he hadde as smal as hath a goot,

                      No berd hadde he, ne nevere sholde have;

                      As smothe it was as it were late shave,

                      I trowe he were a geldyng or a mare.

                      But of his craft, from Berwyk into Ware,

695                Ne was ther swich another pardoner;

                      For in his male he hadde a pilwe-beer,

                      Which that he seyde was Oure Lady veyl:

                      He seyde he hadde a gobet of the seyl

                      That Seint Peter hadde, whan that he wente

700                Upon the see, til Jesu Crist hym hente.

                      He hadde a croys of latoun ful of stones,

                      And in a glas he hadde pigges bones.

                      But with thise relikes, whan that he fond

                      A povre persoun dwellyng upon lond,

705                Upon a day he gat hym moore moneye

                      Than that the person gat in monthes tweye;

                      And thus, with feyned flaterye and japes,

                      He made the persoun and the peple his apes.

                      But trewely to tellen atte laste,

710                He was in chirche a noble ecclesiaste.

                      Wel koude he rede a lessoun or a storie,

                      But alderbest he song an offertorie;

                      For wel he wiste, whan that song was songe,

                      He moste preche, and wel affile his tonge

715                To wynne silver, as he ful wel koude;

                      Therfore he song the murierly and loude.


The Pardoner Resources

The Pardoner (Modern Translation)

The Pardoner (Schmoop)
The Pardoner's Tale Synopsis

The Pardoner (Resources at Harvard)

Judgment and Salvation                     

Ecclesiastical Courts (Catholic Encyclopedia)
Papal Indulgences (Wikipedia)
Purgatory (Wikipedia)
Christian Relics (Wikipedia)
An Avaricious Archdeacon The Scots chronicler of Lanercost (13th Century)
Decameron; Sixth Day, Tenth Tale: The selling of false relics was an abuse frequently satirized; the adventure of Friar Cipollo (Friar Onion) in Boccaccio's Decameron has some general similarities to the Pardoner's trickery.
Sermon Stories: Tales of Relics
, 12th-13th Century.
Invention of the Relics of St. Benedict
, (7th century?)
Amulo of Lyon: Letter on the Misuse of Relics in Dijon. mid-9th Century. Trans. by Thomas Head
Claudius of Turin: Apology: An Attack on Veneration of Relics. 8-9th Cent.
Guibert of Nogent (1053-1124): On the Relics of the Saints: Book I,
Guibert of Nogent (1053-1124): from Treatise on Relics.
Stephen de Bourbon: De Supersticione: On St Guinefort,
The Translation of Saint Nicholas [Greek Anonymous]
, 13th Century MS. The story of the sacred theft of the relics of St. Nicholas from Myra in 1087.
The Questioning of John Rykener, A Male Cross-Dressing Prostitute, 1395

George Lyman Kittredge, Chaucer's Pardoner, The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 72, 1893, pp. 829-33.
Monica McAlpine, The Pardoner's Homosexuality and How It Matters, PMLA 95, (1980), pp. 8-22.
David Benson, "Chaucer's Pardoner: His Sexuality and Modern Critics," Medievalia 8 (1985 [for 1982]), pp. 337-46.
Richard F. Green, "The Sexual Normality of Chaucer's Pardoner," Medievalia 8 (1985 [for 1982]), 351-57.


  • The Summoner’s good buddy is his traveling companion, the Pardoner. 
  • What is the Pardoner's job in the church? Why was the sale of relics so popular?  What are 'indulgences'? 
  • Why was the sale of indulgences so lucrative in the medieval church? What should have been done with the monies raised through the sale of relics and indulgences? 
  • How does this Pardoner exploit his position for personal gain? 
  • Describe the personal characteristics of this guy. What does he look like? What kind of singing voice does he have? Why does Chaucer give him such an effeminate appearance? 
  • What is Chaucer up to? 


Chaucer's Apology

                      Now have I toold you shortly in a clause,

                      Th'estaat, th'array, the nombre, and eek the cause

                      Why that assembled was this compaignye

720                In Southwerk, at this gentil hostelrye

                      That highte the Tabard, faste by the Belle.

                      But now is tyme to yow for to telle

                      How that we baren us that ilke nyght,

                      Whan we were in that hostelrie alyght;

725                And after wol I telle of our viage

                      And all the remenaunt of oure pilgrimage.

                      But first I pray yow, of youre curteisye,

                      That ye n'arette it nat my vileynye,

                      Thogh that I pleynly speke in this mateere,

730                To telle yow hir wordes and hir cheere,

                      Ne thogh I speke hir wordes proprely.

                      For this ye knowen also wel as I,

                      Whoso shal telle a tale after a man,

                      He moot reherce as ny as evere he kan

735                Everich a word, if it be in his charge,

                      Al speke he never so rudeliche or large,

                      Or ellis he moot telle his tale untrewe,

                      Or feyne thyng, or fynde wordes newe.

                      He may nat spare, al thogh he were his brother;

740                He moot as wel seye o word as another.

                      Crist spak hymself ful brode in hooly writ,

                      And, wel ye woot, no vileynye is it.

                      Eek Plato seith, whoso kan hym rede,

                      The wordes moote be cosyn to the dede.

745                Also I prey yow to foryeve it me,

                      Al have I nat set folk in hir degree

                      Heere in this tale, as that they sholde stonde.

                      My wit is short, ye may wel understonde.