ESSAY ON CANTERBURY TALES – BY GEOFFREY CHAUCER (c. 1343 – 25 October 1400) Introduction on the Author: Geoffrey Chaucer was an English Author, Poet, Philosopher, Beaurocrat and Courtier. Though he has authored many books he is best remembered for his frame narrative of The Canterbury Tales. Introduction on the Canterburry Tales and a short Summary: The Canterbury Tales, written in the 14th century is a collection of short stories.
The frame tales are set in Spring in England (April), when piligrims from all corners of England and all walks of life come to visit the shrine of St. Thomas a Becket who was martyred in the Canterbury cathedral in the year 1170. The Canterburry Tales begins with a detailed description of the 29 piligrims who start the journey to the Canterbury Cathedeal.
The pilgrims are a mixture of virtuous and villainous characters from Medieval England and include a Knight, his son the Squire, the Knight’s Yeoman, a Prioress, a Second Nun, a Monk, a Friar, a Merchant, a Clerk, a sergent of Law, a Franklin, a Weaver, a Dyer, a Carpenter, a Tapestry-Maker, a Haberdasher and his troop, a Cook, a Shipman, a Physician, a Parson, a Miller, a Manciple, a Reeve, a Summoner, a Pardoner, the Wife of Bath, and Chaucer himself. They each bring a slice of England to the trip with their stories of glory, chivalry, Christianity, villainy, disloyalty, cuckoldry, and honor.
Some pilgrims are faithful to Christ and his teachings, while others openly disobey the church and its law of faithfulness, honor, and modesty. Body of the Essay: The author begins a journey to Canterbury in April from the Tabard Inn at southwerk. 29 people make the pilgrimage towards Canterbury and the narrator describes them in turn. All the pilgrims are listed and narrated in the order of their status, the first one being the Knight. The knight was an ideal man, too ideal to be true. He was very well mannered, gentle in speech and behavior.
He believes in the ideas of chivalry. He is like a true gentleman, who holds four main characteristics which are Truth, Honor, Generousness and Courtesy. He fought in the holy war know as Crusades and fought as many as 15 mortal battles. He was the most distinguished, the most wise of the group, yet he was very modest. He was a perfect gentle – knight. He had fine horses, and he was dressed in a fustian tunic which had armour marks from the battles he had fought. He had just returned home from service and had joined the pilgrimage to render his thanks to the lord.
All in total the knight represents an embodiment of the ideal man as seen by Chaucer. The Knight is accompanied by his son, who is a fine young squire. He is a bachelor of around twenty years and is very concerned about his appearance. He had made every effort to make sure that his hair curled perfectly. He is described as fresh as may showing his cleanliness and delightful appearance. He possessed all the qualities, which were social accomplishments at that time like riding horse, making songs and reciting. He knew how to dance and to draw and write.
He was very courteous, humble, and serviceable and he respected his father. He was with the yeoman, who wore a coat and hood of green with peacock feathered arrows which were hung at his belt and which never looked down. His face was brown and looked like a nut. He carried lot of instruments like bows and arrows, dagger, and a sharp spear. He wore a medal of St. Christopher, who was considered as protector of all travelers and pilgrims. Then there was madam Elagantyne, a nun and a prioress. She was dignified and had a strong love for god.
She ate her food elegantly without letting even a morsel drop from her mouth. She had very tender feelings, like she could even weep if she saw a mouse caught in a trap. She was dressed in a graceful cloak, wore a coral trinklet on her arm and set of green beads. She wore a golden brooch which had an A and written underneath it was Amor Vincit Omnia (Love conquers all). She was accompanied by another nun and three priests. Then there was also a monk, who was very dishonest. He was fat and wore expensive clothes and jewellary and completely ignored the rulings of St. Bernard or St. Maur.
His passion was hunting and he owned a big house and a stable of horses. He hunted hares and rode on fences. He did not spare any expense to have fun. He ignored the strict lives which a monk is supposed to live and was more obsessed with the modern world and was self indulgent. There was a friar, whose name was Hubert is described by the author as “a wanton one and merry” who took advantage of his status in the church for his personal gain. He has established good connection with the rich men and women by providing them artificial spiritual comfort for which he was well paid for his luxuries.
Though he had sworn to a vow of poverty, he hardly followed it and managed a rich lifestyle. Here, Chaucer also notes the hypocrisy of the society at that period where people could pay to the poor friars and get spiritual solutions for to atone their sins instead of praying and worrying. This friar also as Chaucer sarcastically points out had used the powers vested in him to seduce the girls and women and married them off later with what he could afford her. There was also a merchant, who is basically a prosperous exporter who likes to talk about his prosperity.
He is concerned about the pirates and his profits (not any one knew his debts) and very skillful in managing exchange rates. He had a forking beard and dressed up in a motley dress, a beaver hat, buckled shoes and rode his horse. He was very tight lipped about his business deals. The clerk, was an oxford student, was thin and hollow cheeked and dressed poorly in his overcoat. He was studying to find a job in the church. He didn’t care much about his looks but he preferred having Aristotle’s books by his bed side. He was formal and respectful and did not speak more than was necessary.
There was a sergeant of law who was very learned in law and was in a very high position. He knew of every case and crime from the time of King William and could dictate defenses or draft deeds and he knew every statue and order. His learning and fame obviously earned him a lot of money. He was dressed in a partly colored coat with a silken belt. The Franklin was also there, who was a shareiff, who checked entry everyday and he was also a member of the shire. He was very hospitable. His bread, wine and meat were of excellent quality and he also kept fat patridges in coops.
He also has fish in his private ponds. There were also a Haberdasher, a Dyer, a Carpenter, a Weaver and a Carpet Maker in the group. These men were finely dressed in clothes befitting their profession. They all represented one particular religious guild. Their belonging to a group suggests that they were an emerging class of identity. They seemed like potential aldermen and burgesses. A cook accompanied the guild of tradesmen who was not particularly admired by the author, because he had an ulcer on his knee.
But he made the best blancmange – a kind of sweet dessert. There was a skipper from Dartmouth, who owned a trading ship called Maudelayne. He was someone who didn’t care for his conscience and even participated into pirating and unlawful activities in the sea. In course of these activities, he would drown his prisoners if they didn’t accept his ways. He has sailed far and wide from Gottland to the Cape of Finisterre and from Brittany to Spain. There was also a doctor in the group. He loved gold a lot and prescribed it as a medicine.
He had made lot of money during plague which he did not spend. He was well read which the author compares him to Aesculapius (Greek god of learning and medicine). Chaucer also mentions the names of a list of authorities in Medicine like Hippocrates, Rufus, Dioscorides, Haly, Avicenna, Averroes, Rahzes to mention a few. Though he was so well read as far as medicine was concerned, he did not know much about the bible. He always told that gold stimulates the heart, and so he had a special love for gold.