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Canterbury Tales Notes

1. The opening lines state the reasons for pilgrimage. First - to seek aid for sickness; secondly - weather is pleasant for a vacation; third - religious commitment. The second might possibly be the major reason.

2. The first pilgrim whom the reader meets is the narrator or persona (that character through whom the author speaks). In succinctly describing each character in his company, Chaucer with a few words states those details about the character which strikes him (impressionism). He carefully selects each detail to provide a realistic portrayal of character (verisimilitude). The reader, however, must decide for him/herself the attitude which the persona elicits from each character. In short, the reader must decide whom the narrator, the persona, enjoys and whom he discredits.

3. Irony, for the persona, is his na´ve approach to each character whom he meets.  Chaucer, the author, is aware of the significance of what he says.  The narrator, the na´ve persona, interprets the evidence presented in a way which the reader does not expect.

4. The persona is his own victim of irony and verisimilitude. He is the chief character, yet preČtends insignificance. In this way, the persona presents to the 20th century reader a complex, ironic, and comic serious vision of the medieval world through 30 characters.


1. Irony - a statement in which the actual meaning is opposite from the literal meaning.

2. Framed Tale - a story within a narrative frame

       Host  "Each one of you shall help to make things slip
              By telling two stories on the ortward trip
              To Canterbury . . ."

3. Persona -the character through whom the author speaks who expresses attitudes toward the characters and material in the work.

       Chaucer  "But none the less, while I have time and space,
                 It seems a reasonable thing to say
                 What their condition was . . ."

4. Impressionism - personal manner of writing in which the author presents characters as they appeal to his/her individual temperament, or painting a complete picture with only a few strokes.

       Prioress "She certainly was very entertaining,
                 Pleasant and . . .straining
                 To counterfeit a courtly kind of grace."

5. Realism - a manner of presenting subjects as they actually are, not as they ought to be.

       Friar "There was a Friar, a wanton one and merry."

6. Naturalism - world described seems bleak and hopeless; man is dehumanized, living a bestial existence.

       Miller "A wart on which there stood a tuft of hair
               Red as the bristles in an old sow's ear."

7. Microcosm - literally a small world, revealing an entire social structure by a small selected cross-section.

       Chaucer "It happened . . .as I lay
                Ready to go on pilgrimage
                Some nine and twenty in a company
                Of sundry folk . . .to fall in fellowship"

8. Journey motif - a method of organizing material around a literal journey or a psychological quest.

       "They were pilgrims all
        That towards Canterbury meant to ride."

9. Verisimilitude - literally means pretending truth, a method of using historical or actual allusions to establish reality in a fictional piece.

       Knight  "Of honour, above all nations, when in Prussia.
                When, in Granada, Algeciras sank
                   North Africa, raiding Benemarin;"

10. Stereotype - a character embodying only the conventional posing no individuality.

       Parson  "Yet he was rich in holy thought and work . . .
                Benign and wonderfully diligent."

Quotes about pilgrims

He should have an ulcer on his knee
The sea should be kept free at any cost
There was no such conveyancer as he (legal officer of the king)
In his trunk he had a pillow-case which he asserted was Our Lady's veil
Who from the day on which he first began to ride abroad had followed chivalry
spoke daintily in French; No morsel from her lips did she let fall
If, when he fought, the enemy vessel sank, he sent his prisoners home; they walked the 
Purchasing Agent
He was a carpenter of first rate skill
a lover and cadet
a thumb of gold  
For he had carbuncles
Many a dainty horse he had in stable; Greyhounds he had, as swift as birds to course
For he was Epicurus's very son
There is no finer burgess in Cheapside
Their wives demanded to be called "Madam"
Wore a medal of St. Christopher/dressed all in green          
Parson's brother    
He'd fixed up many a marriage, giving each of his young women what he could afford her.
He preferred having 20 books to having fine clothes
He therefore had a special love of gold
She had gap-teeth, set widely
If gold rusts, what then will iron do
I'm short of wit as you will understand