“The Canterbury Tales” is an anthology of 24 tales written in Middle English by Geoffrey Chaucer in 1475, mostly in verse and some are in prose.
The narrator commences the General Prologue with a description of spring, a time of the year when people wish to go on a pilgrimage.
The tales are narrated by a group of pilgrims in a contest as they travel to Canterbury from London to visit the shrine of the archbishop of Canterbury, martyr Saint Thomas Becket, who was killed in 1170 by the knights of King Henry II. His shrine can be found at Canterbury Cathedral. After his death, people worshiped him as England’s most popular saint.
The Host, Harry Bailey decides that every pilgrim will tell 2 stories on the road to Canterbury and other 2 on the way back. The person he judges to tell the best tale will receive a free meal at the Tabard Inn at Southwark when they return. Said pilgrims are: a Knight, a Prioress, his son the Squire, a Dyer, a Shipman, a Second Nun, the Knight’s Yeoman, a Monk, a Cook, a Friar, a Clerk, a Merchant, a Carpenter, a Franklin, a Man of Law, a Weaver, a Tapestry-Maker, a Haberdasher, a Physician, a Manciple, a Miller, a Reeve, a Pardoner, a Parson, a Summoner, the Wife of Bath, and Chaucer. Story-telling, the theme of the Tales, was very popular in England.
The pilgrims draw lots and decide that the first tale must be told by the Knight, because he draws the shortest stick.
The Knight’s Tale
The Knight’s Tale is a story about two knights from Thebes, Arcite and Palamon, who are taken prisoners in battle and put in prison in Athens at King Theseus’ order. While spending their time imprisoned in a tower, both see Theseus’s sister-in-law, Emelye, Hippolyta’s sister, and fall in love with her. In the end, the two knights abandon prison separately: a friend of Arcite asks Theseus to free him, and Palamon later escapes.
Banished from Athens, Arcite goes back to the Court of Athens dressed as a servant (a page in Emelye’s chamber), and when Palamon escapes and finds him, they fight over Emelye, but their fight ends when Theseus finds them. Theseus makes the rules for a fight between the two knights for the affection of Emelye, and each of them gets an army for a battle within a year.
Before the duel, Arcite prays to Mars for victory, Emelye prays to Diana that she marries happily, and Palamon prays to Venus to marry Emelye. The gods hear the prayers and argue over which should get priority, but Saturn decides to mediate. During their duel, Arcite gets the victory, but when he is crowned victor, is thrown from his horse by accident and gets killed. Before his death, he makes peace with Palamon and declares that he deserves to have Emelye as his wife. Palamon then marries Emelye.
After the Knight ends his story, they are all pleased with its honourable qualities, the Host tells the Monk to tell the next story, but the Miller, blind drunk, insists that he goes next.
The Miller’s Tale
The Miller’s Tale is the story of Nicholas, an impoverished student who lives with a carpenter named John and his younger wife, Alison and falls in love with her. Another man, the romantic Absolon, a young parish clerk also falls in love with her. Nicholas arranges to sleep with Alison by persuading John that a flood similar to Noah’s will get there soon, and the only manner that they will survive is by sleeping in separate tubs placed on the house roofs. While John remained in this tub, Nicholas and Alison sneak to sleep together, but are interrupted by Absolon, who sings at the window of Alison’s bedroom. She tells him to close his eyes to receive her kiss. He does so, and she pulls her pants down so he kisses her rear.
The humiliated Absolon gets a hot iron from a blacksmith and goes back to Alison. Nicholas uses the same trick, and Absolon brands his rear. Nicholas shouts for water, waking up John, who was asleep on the roof. Believing that the flood has come, he cuts the rope and falls destroying the floor of the house, up to the cellar and breaks his arm.
The pilgrims laugh a lot at this tale, but Oswald the Reeve, who also does carpentry is offended thinking that the Miller meant to dishonour carpenters.
The Reeve’s Tale
As a response, The Reeve’s Tale is a story about Miller Symkyn, who constantly tricked his clients, including a college in Cambridge. Two students from Cambridge, John and Aleyn, go to the Miller’s house to buy corn and meal, but while they were busy, Symkyn lets their horses run free and steals their flour that he had ground in order for them to take it. When the students catch their horses, it has already got dark, so they need to stay with Symkyn during the night.
Overnight, Aleyn seduces the Miller’s daughter, Molly, and John seduces the Miller’s wife. Mistaking the beds due to the fact that it was dark, Aleyn tells Symkyn of his adventures, believing that he is John: and they have a fight. The Miller’s wife wakes up and thinks that the devil had come to her, hits Symkyn with a staff in the head, leaving him unconscious, and the two students take back their stolen corn and leave.
The Cook’s Tale
The Cook’s Tale was meant to come after the Reeve’s Tale, but is only exists under the form of a fragment. Because the Cook likes the Reeve’s Tale a lot, he offers to tell another funny tale about an apprentice called Perkyn who due to the fact that he rinks and dances a lot, people call him ‘Perkyn Reveler’. In the end, Perkyn’s master says that he prefers his apprentice to go away to revel than remain home to corrupt the rest of the servants. Perkyn goes to live with a friend who drinks and gambles a lot. His wife is a prostitute.
After 58 lines, the tale ends, unfinished.
Man of Law’s Tale
The following story is the Man of Law’s Tale. The Man of Law apologizes that he is not able to tell a good tale that Chaucer has not already told and tells the tale of Constance, the Roman emperor’s daughter who gets engaged to the Syrian Muslim Sultan provided that he become a Christian. Mad due to by his order to convert the country from Islam, the sultan’s mother and her servants remain faithful Islam worshipers in secret.
The mother of the Sultan pretends to holds a banquet for her son and all the Christians and assassinates him and the Christians and Constance barely escapes. She is sent adrift on a rudderless ship that lands in Northumberland, where she is found and taken in at a nearby castle by a warden and his wife named Dame Hermengild. She converts them to the Christian faith.
One evening, Satan determines a young knight fall instantly in love with Constance, but when she refuses him, he murders Dame Hermengild and attempts to frame Constance, by placing the bloody knife next to her. However, when King Alla of Northumberland asks the knight swear that Constance killed Hermengild, but he is struck to the floor and his eyes explode, proving his guilt. King Alla marries Constance and she gives birth to their son, Mauritius while Alla is battling in Scotland.
Lady Donegild manages to get Constance banished by getting hold of the letters between Alla and his wife and replacing them by counterfeit ones that claim that the child is ugly and bewitched. She also intercepts Alla’s response, who says that the child should be loved and kept despite his malformation and replaces it by a letter saying that Constance and her son should be banished and be sent away immediately on the ship on which she had arrived.
Thus, Constance is again sent away, and during her trip her ship finds a Roman ship. A senator takes her back to Rome, where no one recognises her as the emperor’s daughter. In the end, King Alla goes to Rome on a pilgrimage, where he gets reunited with Constance, and the emperor of Rome understands that Mauritius was his grandson and appoints him as the next emperor of Rome.
The Wife of Bath
After the Man of Law’s Tale, the Parson is asked by the Host to tell the next story, but the Parson complains that he swore at him, and they start fighting. The Wife of Bath starts her story with a long dissertation on her feelings about marriage and tells the pilgrims about all her 5 husbands. With Biblical quotes, the Wife brings arguments against the people that believe marrying several times is wrong, and explains how she controlled all her husbands.
The first three were old and she used them to provide for her by making them guilty and refusing to provide sexual favours to them. The last two husbands, however, were young and harder to handle. Her last husband, Jankin, was half the Wife of Bath’s age and she married him for love instead of money. He gave her a lot of trouble, because he did not let the Wife of Bath control him and read books about how women should be submissive.
After she tears a page of his book, Jankin hit her and since then she became deaf by one ear. He then felt guilty and subsequently was completely submissive to his wife and they lived happily. The Friar interrupts and complains that her stories are too long, and the Summoner replies that friars are similar to flies, always prying.
The Friar says that he will tell a story about a summoner, and in turn the Summoner says that his tale will be about a friar. The Host shouts at them to calm down, get quiet and let the Wife start her tale. The Wife of Bath’s Tale narrates the tale of a knight of King Arthur’s court who, is sentenced to death because he rapes a young woman. He is, however, spared by Arthur’s queen, who will set him free if he can find the answer to the question “what do women want?”. The knight is not able manage to find a good answer until he meets an ugly old woman, who promises an answer if he gets married to her. He consents and is freed when he says to the queen that women want to control their husbands and be in charge of their own destiny.
However, the knight then admits later on that he does not like her appearance. So she says that she can be his old, ugly but submissive or young, beautiful but controlling wife. The knight says that the choice is hers, and her reward to him for letting her control the marriage is the fact that she becomes faithful and beautiful.
The Friar’s Tale
The Friar praises the tale narrated by the Wife of Bath’ and offers to say the next story, asking the Summoner to forgive him, because he will tell a tale about a lecherous summoner. The Summoner says that he will answer the Friar back with his tale.
The Friar’s Tale is about a mean summoner. He talks about a archdeacon who has no mercy when carrying out the law, especially when it comes to lechers and his summoner who has many spies that work for him, telling him who is being lecherous. The summoner asks the people he must summon for money, extorting them by charging them more than he should ask for as penalty.
While he is delivering church court summons, he finds a travelling yeoman who in the end turns out to be the devil in disguise. The two share trade secrets on their treachery and extortion, and the devil tells him that if the summoner is still in his trade, they will meet in hell. The summoner goes to see an old woman to hand her a summons, then makes her an offer to bribe him in order for her not to be excommunicated. The old woman strongly believes that she has not sinned and curses him. The devil comes up and takes the summoner to hell with him.
The Summoner’s Tale
The Summoner is enraged by the Friar’s Tale and asks the pilgrims to allow him to say the next story. First, he tells a short anecdote about an angel that took a friar to hell to show him how people were tormented there, and the friar asked why none of those people were friars, so the angel pulled up Satan by his tail and 20,000 friars got out of his rear.
In the Summoner’s Tale friars are attacked again. It talks about a friar who lives with an innkeeper Thomas and his wife and complains that they are not contributing to the church as much as they should and they are not coming to church lately. When the innkeeper says that he was not lately in church because of his illness and the fact that his daughter had died recently, the friar asks once more for donations. Thomas promises to give the friar a huge ‘gift’ so he gives him a fart. The friar complains so the squire of the lord of the manor makes a promise to divide the fart among all friars in an even manner.
The Clerk’s Tale
The Host asks the Clerk, who is a student at Oxford that had not said anything during the journey, to narrate a happy tale, and the Clerk consents and starts telling a tale by poet Petrarch. The Clerk’s Tale tells a story about an Italian marquis, Walter, who decides to eventually marry after the people of his province complain about his long-time status of bachelor. Walter gets married to Griselde, a hardworking but amazingly virtuous peasant who is loved by everybody. But Walter decides to test her faithfulness in several ways. When their daughter is born, Walter says to his wife that his people are not happy and want the child dead. He then takes the child away, pretending to kill her, but sends her to eb raised by his sister. He says the same about their second child: a son. In the end, Walter tells his wife Griselde that the pope asks him to divorce her. He chases her away from home. Each tragedy is accepted by Griselde with patience. Walter decides to change and brings back his two children. He tells his wife that he wants to get married again and introduces Griselde to the fake bride, whom he afterwards reveals as being their daughter. Their family gets reunited. Walter tells her that she has been and will be his wife forever because the divorce was fake, so they live in happiness. The Clerk finishes his story recommending that women should make efforts to be as loyal as Griselde.
The Merchant’s Tale
The Merchant praises Griselde for her character and complains that his wife is not at all the patient woman of the Clerk’s tale. The Host tells him to speak about the hardships of marriage, and he agrees. So he tells the story of the unfaithful wife.
The Merchant’s Tale is about January, an old blind knight who marries a younger woman, against the advice of his friends and despite his brother Placebo’s objections. January gets married to May, who soon starts to become dissatisfied about his sexual attempts and decides to be unfaithful to him with his own squire, Damian, who has been secretly chasing her.
When blind January and May are in their garden, she tells him that she wants to get a pear, so he helps her climb up the pear tree, and up there she sleeps with Damien. The king of the faeries Pluto and Proserpina come over Damian and May and January’s sight is restored by Pluto restores so that he sees what is happening. When January sees what his wife is doing, May says that he should not believe his eyes which recover from blindness and he listens to her: leading to a happy ending.
The Host prays to God to spare him from taking a wife like the one described by the Merchant.
The Squire’s Tale
The Host then asks the Squire to say something about his favourite subject, love, and the Squire willingly complies. But his tale is unfinished. The Squire’s Tale starts by a knight that mysteriously bearing gifts from the Arabian and Indian king to the court of Tartary. The knight gives as a present to King Cambyuskan of the Mongol Empire, a magic mechanical brass horse that can take him anywhere on the globe and bring him back in only one day and a sword that has the power to cure all wound created by it.
He also gives Cambyuskan’s daughter, Canacee a magic mirror that can discern honest people and a ring that gives the wearer the gift of understanding the language of birds and the healing power of the herbs. Canacee uses that ring to rescue dying female falcon that tells how her partner abandoned her for the love of another, but the tale then abruptly ends. The Squire’s Tale has been either left unfinished by Chaucer or is interrupted on purpose by the Franklin, who says that he would like his son to be as eloquent as the Squire. The Host is annoyed at the Franklin’s interruption, and tells him to start the next tale.
The Franklin’s Tale
The Franklin announces that the tale he will say is a ballad of Brittany. The Franklin’s Tale is about the marriage between knight Arviragus and Dorigen, his wife. Arviragus travels on a military expedition and Dorigen laments his trip and is afraid that, when he returns, his ship may be smashed against the rocks at shore.
Aurelius, another young man, falls in love with her, but she doesn’t want him. She promises to have an affair with him only on the condition that he clears the rocks from the coast, something that she believes to be impossible. A student that knows magic is paid by Aurelius to create an illusion that makes the rocks disappear.
Then Arviragus returns. Dorigen tells the truth to her husband about the promise made, so Arviragus decides that she will keep that promise. Aurelius is so amazed at by Arveragus’s honourable deed that he absolves her of the promise with generosity, and then the magician generously absolves young Aurelius of the debt. The story ends with a question: who behaved in the most generous and noble way?
The Physician’s Tale
The Physician’s Tale follows and tells the story of Virginius, an honourable Roman knight who had an amazingly beautiful daughter, Virginia. Town judge Appius lusted after Virginia and persuades a churl named Claudius to claim in court that Virginius had stolen Virginia, who had been his slave.
Appius orders that Virginius should hand his daughter over to Claudius. Aware that Appius and Claudius did it so that he can rape his daughter, Virginius tells her to choose between dying or being dishonoured. She agrees to her father’s chopping her head off. She chooses to die, so Virginius cuts off his daughter’s head and brings it to Appius and Claudius. The Roman people are so shocked at this fact that they understand that Appius and Claudius are frauds. Appius sentences Virginius to death where he killed himself, and Claudius was banished.
The Pardoner’s Tale
The Host is shocked at the sad injustice from the Physician’s Tale, and tells the Pardoner to tell a merry tale. The other pilgrims contradict the Host and want a moral tale. The Pardoner agrees to do so as soon as he has eaten and drunk. The Pardoner opens his tale with a long confession about all the tricks of his profession: he tells the pilgrims how he usually cheats people and gets their money by telling them that money is “the root of all evil”. He tells the secrets of their trade (which includes saints’ relics, described as useless items).
The Pardoner’s Tale is the story of three riotous youths who look for Death to kill him. They get to an old man who says that they may find Death under a tree, but instead they find a fortune (eight bushels of gold), which they are planning to sneak into town when darkness falls. Two of the rioters send the youngest of them into town to bring food and drink for the night and in his absence they plan to kill him. The third rioter brings back poison, hoping to get all the gold. When he returns, his companions stab him, then consume the wine and die due to the poison in it under the tree.
The three rioters therefore find Death under the form of avarice. The Pardoner finishes his tale with an imprecation against sin, imploring the travellers to give him money for pardons, and be absolved, and orders the Host to come to kiss his own relics. But the Host accuses him of fraud. The Knight convinces the two to make peace and bury the hatchet.
The Shipman’s Tale
The next story is The Shipman’s Tale and features a thrifty merchant and his unfaithful wife. The wife tells the merchant’s close friend, a monk, how unhappy her marriage is, and asks to borrow 100 francs from him. In return, she agrees to sleep with him. The monk then tricks her, borrows the money from the merchant, sleeps with his wife, and gives her the money of her husband.
The day that the merchant asks him to give his debt back, the monk says that he had given it to his wife. When the wife is confronted by the merchant, she simply tells him to forgive her debt and that she will repay it to her husband in bed. The Host likes the Shipman’s tale and asks the Prioress to be next.
The Prioress Tale
The Prioress tells a prayer that Virgin Mary guides her tale. The Prioress Tale narrates the story of a Christian child who lived in Asian city dominated by a sinning Jewish population. The Christian school of the town is situated at the border with a Jewish ghetto. The boy aged 7, the son of a widow, learned the Alma redemptoris (Gracious Mother of the Redeemer), a song praising the Virgin Mary, and travelled home from school singing it on his way through the ghetto. The Jews, angry at his behaviour, take the child and slit his throat, then throw him into a latrine.
The boy’s mother searches for her son everywhere, but the Jews do not want to tell the widow the whereabouts of her. When he is found by her, he had not died yet, because Virgin Mary had put on his tongue a grain that enabled him to speak until it got removed, so he amazingly starts singing Alma Redemptoris, so he is found and the Christian people take his body. When the grain is removed, the boy dies and goes to Heaven.
The magistrate orders the killing Jews to be killed by drawing them apart by wild horses and hanged. The tale ends in a lament for the death of the young Christian boy and a curse against the Jews that committed the horrible crime.
The Tale of Sir Thopas
After teasing Chaucer about his looks, the Host asks him to tell a tale. Chaucer tells the next story, The Tale of Sir Thopas, the only one he knows, a poem in rhyming couplets, a parody of bad poetry that only manages to annoy the company. Sir Thopas rides his horse and looks for an elf-queen in order to get married until he finds a giant that confronts him. The Host cannot take it anymore and stops Chaucer, telling him to narrate something else. He tells Chaucer to tell them a tale in prose, because his rhyme isn’t good at all.
The Tale of Melibee
Chaucer then narrates The Tale of Melibee, one of the only two tales written in prose (the other story being the Parson’s Tale). This the long, moral prose story speaks about Melibee, a strong and fearful ruler whose family is attacked by his enemies, who beat up Prudence, his wife, and wound Sophie, his daughter severely in her hands, feet, mouth, ears and nose.
Prudence warns him not to declare war on his enemies and remain merciful, and they start a long debate about his appropriate way to act. In the end, Melibee gives those enemies the option: they either get a sentence from him or from her. They submit to the judgment of Melibee, and he decides to disinherit and banish away the authors. However, in the end he puts the punishment of his foes in her hands. She forgives them for what they have done to her, being a true Christian model of generous behaviour.
The Monk’s Tale
The Host would love to have a wife as patient as Melibee’s wife, and asks the Monk to narrate the next tale. But first he is teased by the Host, saying that he is clearly no poor cloisterer. The Monk’s Tale is not narrative, but a list of many literary and historical figures who have had tragic falls from grace. These include Lucifer, Adam, King Pedro of Spain, Samson, Hercules, Bernabo Visconti, Julius Caesar, Nero Zenobia, Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar and Croesus. The Knight stops the Monk’s Tale, due to the fact that he finds his account of tragedies boring and depressing, and the Host agrees with him.
The Nun’s Priest’s Tale
After the Monk narrates 17 falls, the Knight cuts him out, and then the Host asks the Nun’s Priest to narrate something more lively. The Nun’s Priest’s Tale is the story of Chanticleer the rooster and Pertelote the hen. One night, Chanticleer fell ill and had a terrible dream that he was chased by a flattering fox who tricks him to close his eyes and show his crowing skills. He fears this dream is prophetic, but Pertelote assures him that his dream was due to his imbalanced humour and that he should find some herbs to get cured. Chanticleer however insists that his dreams are omens, but finally agrees with his wife. However, Chanticleer is indeed chased by a fox, and caught, but is released when he manages to trick the fox to open his mouth in order to brag about his feat to the barnyard, allowing Chanticleer to fly away.
The Second Nun’s Tale
The Host speaks highly of the Nun’s Priest’s Tale, thereupon Chaucer continues with The Second Nun’s Tale. In her Prologue, she explains that her story is about the life of a saint, Saint Cecilia, considering that she set a great example through her wise teachings and good works. She narrates about Saint Cecilia’s martyrdom.
She converts her husband Valerian and brother Tiburce to the Christian faith during the Roman Empire, a time when the Christian beliefs were not legal. Her husband and her brother are killed for their faith, and she is also cut with a sword three times when she is executed, but does not die right away. She stays alive for several days, and she orders that the poor get her property distributed to them. When she dies, Pope Urban declares that she will be a saint.
The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale
When the Second Nun ends her story, the pilgrims are joined by a Canon (alchemist) and his Yeoman who had heard about the pilgrims and their story-telling contest and want to join them. The Yeoman praises the Canon a lot, but then withdraws his praise, and the Canon gets annoyed and leaves suddenly, ashamed because his secrets had been discovered. So the Yeoman decides to tell a story about a cheating Canon who defrauded a priest. The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale is a tale about a canon’s work and the manner in which they trick people by creating the alchemy illusions.
The Manciple’s Tale
The Host tells the Cook who rides at the back of the pilgrims to tell the next story, but he is blind drunk so he cannot say a coherent one. So the Manciple criticizes him for his drunkenness and tells a story.
The Manciple’s Tale is a legend about a white crow inspired by the Metamorphoses written poet Ovid of Rome and a tale of The Arabian Nights. The tale narrates how Phoebus took the mortal form of a jealous husband. He followed his wife, afraid of her unfaithfulness. Phoebus had a white crow who spoke the language of humans and sang beautifully. The day the white crow finds out that Phoebus was cheated by his wife, Phoebus plucks his feathers and throws him out, cursing it with blackness. The Manciple claims that this is the explanation why crows are all black and their tone is unpleasant and cannot sing.
When the pilgrims enter a village in the evening, the Host asks the Parson to tell a fable. Not wanting to narrate fiction because it would break St. Paul’s rule, the Parson tells the final tale, a long treatise about the 7 Deadly Sins. Parson’s Tale does not narrate a story, instead it is a long sermon about the nature of sins and what is necessary for forgiveness: contrition, confession, and satisfaction. The story contains examples of the seven deadly sins and explanations, indicating what people need to do in order to get redemption.
Chaucer finishes the tales by a Retraction, asking the people that have been offended by the tales to blame it on his lack of manners and education, because he did not have immoral intentions and asked the people who found something useful in his stories to give all the credit for them to Christ. He retracts by a prayer for forgiveness for all his works narrating about secular and pagan characters, asking his readers to remember him for his homilies and his works about the lives of saints.
Chaucer’s characters are types and individual characters, representing their class, profession, gender, age, or sort of type, and also each of them is described in great detail in terms of their build, facial features, individual traits, dress, likes, dislikes, in order to make us feel that they are real individual human beings of the time. Chaucer has managed to keep a balance between the positive traits and negative traits of each character and class represented by them.
The Host (Harry Bailey) is the owner of the Tabard Inn, where the pilgrims going to Canterbury are staying before starting their journey. He volunteers to join them in their pilgrimage and promises to please them all, be their arbiter and guide, and be the judge of their tales. His class complex is obvious, as he is often behaving obsequiously to high-status characters.
The Knight is a noble and righteous fighter who fought in the Crusades. He socially is the most prominent person of the pilgrimage, embodying chivalry, truth, and honour. He stands apart from the other pilgrims thanks to his dignity and status. He travels with the Squire, his son.
The Yeoman travels with the Knight. He does not narrate a tale. He’s experienced with the bow and arrow and can carve wood very well.
The Squire is the Knight’s son, and the only pilgrim to have literary goals other than Chaucer, he likes to sing and dance, write poetry, can ride a horse very well, joust and wants to become a knight. He considers himself a lady’s man. He tells an unfinished tale about the gifts that a knight brings to the King of Tartary.
The Miller is a drunken and vulgar man, contemptuous of his fellow travellers, who interrupts and tells the Host that he wants his tale to be next, and warns the pilgrims that his story about the carpenter will be a vulgar one, which is true. He knows a lot of really crude stories.
The Weaver is one of the 5 guildsmen travelling with the pilgrims to the shrine of Canterbury but does not tell a tale.
The Dyer is also one of the 5 guildsmen travelling with the pilgrims to the shrine of but does not tell a tale.
The Carpenter is another one of the 5 guildsmen travelling with the pilgrims to the shrine of but does not tell a story.
The Tapestry-Maker is another one of the 5 guildsmen travelling with the pilgrims to the shrine of but does not tell any story.
The Haberdasher is another one of the 5 guildsmen travelling with the pilgrims to the shrine of but does not tell a tale.
The Plowman is hardworking and does not diss his neighbours, always pays his dues to the Church but does not tell a tale.
The Reeve is a very old and irritable man with a fiery temper who was once a carpenter. He does not like the Miller’s tale about the old carpenter. He has a tale as a response to the Miller’s Tale about a bad Miller humiliated by two students from Oxford.
The Man of Law (or Sergeant of Law) is lawyer and holds one of the high justice positions of the court. He is a rich, cautious and wise and one of the most cultivated men among the pilgrims (he knows many laws and court cases). He tells a religiously inspired tale about Constance, a woman who suffers many tragedies but is saved by her loyalty to her Christian religion.
Roger, the Cook is the best chef in the land and characterized by a ulcer that runs with pus. A vulgar man, he often engages in contentious behaviour. He tells a tale that seems to be a fabliau. His story is interrupted.
The Wife of Bath (Alison) is portrayed as gat-toothed, somewhat deaf, opinionated and boisterous and wearing bright scarlet red stockings. The most ostentatious of the travellers, a female supremacist and a feminist, she has had five husbands (the last one half her age), adores her freedom, and is sensual. She is now searching for another man to marry. She thinks she knows everything about love. Her tale promotes her opinion that women want to control men.
Hubert, the Friar is licentious, corrupt man who seduces girls and arranges their marriages. He loves money, is sensual, a hypocrite, likes high society and knows taverns better than the houses of the poor. He is an immoral man interested mostly in making profit instead of turning people away from sins. His story criticizes the wickedness of summoners.
The Summoner is a church officer who calls people to appear at church trials, ugly, he frightens the children with his pimples, complexion and boils, and his skin is infected with horrible scales. He issues summons for people that must attend the Church court for their crimes, but he sometimes takes bribes and looks the other way. He likes to show off by saying a few Latin words to impress everyone, even though he says the same few Latin words every time. He tells a tale as a response to the tale told by Friar against summoners, parodying Friars’ profession.
The Clerk is sincere, educated and devout Oxford student who likes to learn and is respected by the Tabard Inn company. He is poor because he likes to spend all his scant money on books. He is soft-spoken and doesn’t blabber. He tells the story of Griselde, a humble woman that marries a high-class man that puts her devotion to him to the test in many cruel ways.
The Merchant is an arrogant, shrewd and intelligent man, obsessed with profit margins who knows what to do to get a good bargain and belongs to the rich middle class. He’s in debt, though, but no one knows it, because he is slick. His tale is a comic story about a blind old man who marries a young woman who turns out to be unfaithful.
The Franklin is a wealthy landowner who enjoys fine living (takes delight in all simple pleasures – especially culinary ones), good companionship. He travels with the Man of Law and shares his food and wine with everyone. His story is about a woman who says that she will sleep with a man if he manages to save her husband who is away.
The Shipman is a huge man who can lead a ship but doesn’t have much respect for human life. He tells the story of a woman who consents to sleep with a monk who pays her so that she can pay back a debt to her husband, but the monk instead borrows the money from her husband and tricks her.
The Prioress is a very genteel and delicate lady. She has awesome manners, eats as an aristocrat would, a sentimental woman who loves animals and wears a brooch on which the words ‘Love conquers all’ are written in Latin. She cries when a small tragedy happens, as little as a mouse’s death. She tries to appear elegant, but she is only superficially a refined woman. Her story is about a child killed by the Jews who loathe him for singing about the Virgin Mary.
The Physician is a doctor who likes gold and makes a lot of money during the Black Plague of the early 1300’s. He knows about medicines, drugs, humours, and astrology. The Physician tells the story about a father who, wanting to protect his daughter from dishonour, murders her.
The Pardoner is the most complex pilgrim of all those going to Canterbury. He sells salvation to sinners, he is corrupt and two-faced. He is an intellect and uses psychology to reach his goal. Even if he is not a good man, his sermons are excellent. An immoral man, the Pardoner makes people believe they are sinners and must buy his pardons. His story is an allegory about 3 rioters who die due to their avarice. The Pardoner uses this tale to sell his pardons to the pilgrims, but is reduced to silence by the Host.
The Monk is a man who manages the property of a monastery. He is happy, fat, loves good wine and food, loves to hunt and likes taverns more than the cold, severe monastery. A masculine and robust man, the Monk travels with the Second Nun and the Prioress.
The Nun’s Priest is the priest of the church that accompanies nuns in order for them to confess.
The Second Nun is a very devout nun, secretary to the Prioress, who begins her story immediately, because she considers that idleness can lead to sin. The Second Nun tells in her story Saint Cecilia’s biography.
The Canon is a mysterious and threatening figure, he is not one of the pilgrims, but appears with his servant (the Yeoman) and leaves when his Yeoman discloses too much about the profession of his master.
The Canon’s Yeoman is the assistant to the Canon, who speaks openly about his master’s alchemy tricks, determining the Canon to leave the pilgrims. The Yeoman recognises that he regrets his master’s tricks, and tells a story detailing the canon’s fraud.
The Manciple is a steward at a law school. Although he is not as intelligent as the students in law, he is very clever and sly enough to be able to save some money, being even better than the pros. Educated in law, the Manciple tells the pilgrims a fable about the dark colour and unpleasant tone of crows’ sounds due to a white crow who told god Phoebus that his wife was cheating on her.
The Parson is a very poor, but virtuous religious man, devoted to his congregation who gives his money to his poor parishioners. He doesn’t let bad weather stop him from helping poor people. He and tries to set an ideal for others. He is decent and principled. He tells a highly moral tale about sins and their different forms.