Language Arts 3-4H
Chaucer’s World: 14th Century England
Basic assumptions of the medieval world:
 Existence of a Christian afterlife
 2 paths: religious life or secular life
 Things of the world inferior to things of God
 Medieval passion for order/fear of disorder
Recurrent image: Fortuna & the wheel
 Immutable order: one’s estat is an absolute, both sinful
& futile to rebel against
Signaled by clothing (array), manner (curteisye)
Chaucer’s Middle English
 Angl0-Saxon Old English enriched by French, Latin
 Important, serious writing = French & Latin
 Light, often comic writing = English
 Chaucer’s high diction used for abstraction, while low,
colloquial diction used for comic relief; formal diction
(particularly when given in or mixed with Latin or
French) can sometimes be used to satirize intellectual
29 pilgrims meet at
the Tabard Inn to
travel on pilgrimage
to Canterbury
Cathedral for
repentance, divine
goodwill, etc.
Cathedral is the
shrine of St. Thomas
Becket (1118-1170),
martyred by Henry
II’s henchmen while
at prayer in the
cathedral. If life is a
journey, pilgrimage
gives pilgrims a taste
of their ultimate
On to Canterbury!
4 types of tale (some overlap)
 Bawdy: lewd content, usually for comic effect
 Morally instructive: teaches a moral lesson
 Satirical: obvious target; told in the hopes of inciting
 Allegorical: a tale in which one thing represents
Cross-section of society:
“Those who work”
(in order of hierarchy)
 Landed gentry: Franklin
 Professionals: Sergeant of the Law, Doctor of Physic
 Tradespeople: Merchant, Wife of Bath, Five
Guildsmen, Harry Bailly (tavern keeper), Miller
 Secular employees: Manciple, Reeve
 Laborers: Shipman, Yeoman, Cook
 Peasants: Plowman
Cross-section of society:
“Those who fight”
 Knight
 Squire
Cross-section of society:
“Those who pray”
 Religious orders: Monk, Prioress, Friar, Nun’s Priest,
Second Nun
 Parish clergy: Parson
 Student: Clerk at Oxford
 Church employees: Pardoner, Summoner
The Knight
The Squire
 “Troth & honor, freedom
 Son of the knight
and courtesy”
 Crusader
 Must be ready both to
slay his foe and be a
perfect gentleman – code
of chivalry
 Apprentice—he is a
 Courtly lover & lusty
The Yeoman
The Prioress
 Country rustic
 Madame Eglentyne
 Clothing signifies his
 Well-mannered, tender-
country origins and
satirizes them as well
hearted and sweet;
knows social graces
 Values are primarily
social, not religious
The Monk
The Friar
 Hypocritical—violates
 Description is both
monastic rules of
poverty, self-denial
 Chaucer points out the
problems of the church
through him
ironic and critical, notes
that the Friar prefers the
society of tavern-keepers
and ladies to lepers and
 Has a side business to
support his more worldly
The Merchant
The Clerk
 Man of the business
 Poor & sincere
 Despite his appearance,
bargaining, buying,
selling, trading, etc. =
risk (he is also in debt)
 Represents what a good
scholar should be
 One of the few role
models in Canterbury
Tales (despite the fact
that he’s a little dull)
The Lawyer &
The Franklin
The 5 Guildsmen
 Lawyer is competent,
 Guild = medieval trade
knows the law = “For his
science and for his heigh
renoun/Of fees and
robes hadde he many
 Franklin is a country
 He is an Epicurean physical pleasure
 Prosperity of tradesmen
meant they could be
consumers” (above their
estat—disrupting order)
The Cook
& the Shipman
The Doctor
 Cook to the guildsmen
 Has skill & knowledge;
(another sign of their
 Good cooking, but little
attention to hygiene!
 Shipman more of a pirate
than a seaman
doesn’t have dedication
 In it for the money: “For
gold in phisik is a
cordial/Therefore he
lovede gold in special”
The Miller &
the Manciple
The Reeve
 Miller is very “salt of the
 Manager/overseer of an
earth” character
 Beauty = virtue in the
medieval world, so . . .
 Manciple is a profiteer-he is the financial
manager of a law school
(Inn of Court)—pockets
the difference
 Skims profits of
employer also (same
class of people as
Manciple & Miller)
Wife of Bath
The Parson &
the Plowman
 Alisoun, 5 times a widow
 Parson is a truly good
 Inherited and earned
man—the best of
Chaucer’s religious
 Pure Christian principles
 Plowman hauls dung for
a living, but has a good
spiritual attitude
(she is a weaver) income
 Associated with the color
red (her costume her
 Traits—assertiveness &
The Summoner The Pardoner
 Medieval physiognomy
 Documented spiritual
at play . . . physical
condition symbolic of
spiritual condition
 His job was to summon
people to ecclesiastical
benefits from virtuous
deeds (sold pardons)
 Also sold (dubious)
 Takes advantage of the
faith of the poor and

Chaucer's Canterbury Tales