The Canterbury Tales

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The Canterbury Tales: The Prologue List of Pilgrims and roles

Narrator

Also a character in the book; called Chaucer, but his words and opinions are not necessariliy Chaucer's own; in the General Prologue presents himself as a gregarious and naive character; writes down his impressions of the other pilgrims from memory, whom he does and doesn't like, chooses what to remember and what not to remember about the characters

Knight

First pilgrim Chaucer describes in the General Prologue; teller of the first tale; represents the ideal of a medieval Christian 'man-at-arms'; has participated in fifteen of the crusade of his era; brave, experienced, prudent; the narrator greatly admires him

Wife of Bath

Seamstress by occupation, but seems to be a 'professional wife'; has been married five times and had many other affiars in her youth, so is well practice in the 'art of love'; presents herself as someone who loves marriage and sex, but also enjoys rich attire, talking, arguing; deaf in one ear and has a gap between her front teeth (considered attractive in Chaucer's time); has traveled on pilgrimages to Jerusalem three times and elsewhere in Europe

Pardoner

Men of this profession granted papal indulgences (reprieves from penance in exchange for donations to the Church); many, including this one, collected profits for themselves; he excels in fraud, carrying a bad of fake relics (ex. the 'veil of Virgin Mary'); has long, greasy, yellow hair and is beardless (these characteristics were associated with shiftiness and androgyny in Chaucer's time); has a gift for singing and preaching whenever inside a church

Miller

Stout and brawny, has a wart on his nose and a big mouth; threatens the Host's notion of propriety when he drunkenly insists on telling the second tale; seems to enjoy overturning conventions (ruins the Host's planned storytelling order; rips doors off hinges; tells a blasphemous tale, ridiculing religious clerks, scholarly clerks, carpentars, and women)

Prioress

A nun who is the head of her convent; modest and quiet, aspires to have exquisite taste; has dainty table manners; speaks French; dresses well; is charitable and compassionate

Monk

Most men in this line during the Middle Ages lived in monasteries according to the Rule of Saint Benedict, which required that they devote their lives to 'work and prayer'; this one cares little for the Rule, as his devotion is to hunting and eating; is large, loud, and clad in hunting boots and furs

Friar

A roaming priest with no ties to a monastery, men in this line were an object of criticism in Chaucer's time; is always ready to befriend young women or rich men who might need his services; actively administers the sacraments in his town, esp. those of marriage and confession; has taken to accepting bribes

Summoner

Brings persons accused of violating Church law to ecclesiastical court; is a lecherous man whose face is scarred by leprosy; gets drunk frequently; is irrritable; not particularly qualified for his position; spouts the few words of Latin he knows in an attempt to sound educated

Host

The leader of the group; large, loud, and merry, although he possesses a quick temper; mediates among the pilgrims and facilitates the flow of the tales

Parson

The only devout churchman in the company; lives in poverty, but is rich in holy thoughts and deeds; pastor of a sizable town, preaches the Gospel and practices what he preaches; everything the Monk, Friar, and Pardoner are not

Squire

The Knight's son and apprentice; curly-haired, youthfully handsome, and loves dancing and courting

Clerk

A poor student of philosophy; has spent all his money on books and learning, so is threadbare and wan; speaks little, but when he does, his words are wise and full of moral virtue

Man of Law

Successful lawyer commissioned by the king; upholds justice in both large and small matters and knows every statute of England's law by heart

Manciple

In charge of acquiring provisions for a college or court; despite his lack of education, he is smarter than the thirty lawyers he feeds

Merchant

Trades in furs and other cloths, mostly from Flanders; part of a powerful and wealthy class in Chaucer's society

Shipman

Brown-skinned from years of sailing, has seen every bay and river in England, and exotic ports in Spain and Carthrage; a bit of a rascal, known for stealing wine while the ship's captain sleeps

Physician

One of the best in his profession; knows the cause of every malady and can cure most of them; though he keeps himself in perfect physical health, the Narrator questions his spiritual health; he rarely consults the Bible and has an unhealthy love of financial gain

Franklin

His name means 'free man'; in Chaucer's society, was neither a vassals serving a lord nor a member of the nobility; he is a connoisseur of food and wine, and the table remains laid and ready for food all day

Reeve

Similar to a steward of a manor; performs his job shrewdly: his lord never loses anything to other employees, and the vassals under his command are kept in line; however, he himself steals from his master

Plowman

The Parson's brother and equally good-hearted; a member of the peasant class, he pays his tithes to the Church and leads a good Christian life

Guildsmen

Listed together, these five men appear as a unit; English guilds were a combination of labor unions and social fraternities: craftsmen of similar occupations joined together to increase their bargaining power and live communally; all five of these men are clad in the 'livery of their brotherhood'

Cook

Works for the Guildsmen; Chaucer gives little detail about him, except for mentioning a crusty sore on his leg

Yeoman

The servant who accompanies the Knight and the Squire; the Narrator mentions that his dress and weapons suggest he may be a forester

Second Nun

Not described in the General Prologue, but she tells a saint's life for her tale

Nun's Priest

Like the Second Nun, is not described in the General Prologue; his story of Chanticleer, however, is well-crafted and suggests that he is a witty, self-effacing preacher

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