Canterbury Tales is very important for IGNOU first year students. Every year IGNOU puts questions from this section. We have so designed this blog that anybody from any background can easily understand MEG 01 Summary of The Canterbury Tales.
Geoffrey Chaucer’s long poem “The Canterbury Tales” follows the journey of a group of pilgrims from across England who are on their way to Canterbury to visit the shrine of St. Thomas Becket who was martyred in the Canterbury cathedral.
Chaucer mixes satire and realism in lively characterizations of his pilgrims. The tone of their tales ranges from pious to comic, humorously tossed between erudite wit and good honest vulgarity.
Taken together, the tales offer a fascinating insight into English life during the late 14th century.
Chaucer’s original plan had over 100 stories, but only 24 were completed.
The story begins in a tavern where a group of pilgrims gathered in preparation for their trip to visit the Shrine of St. Thomas Becket in Canterbury. The narrator, Chaucer, meets them there, and becomes one of their company.
Chaucer describes all the pilgrims in delightful, and often grotesque, detail. Pilgrims go to lunch during which the tavern owner, or host, proposes to the group on the way to Canterbury.
The host says, each pilgrim will tell two tales, and then two on the way back. The host will accompany the group and act as the judge of their tales.
The pilgrim who tells the best story wins a free dinner at the tavern at the end of the trip.
Pilgrims, wanting to enjoy their journey, quickly agree with the host’s proposal.
Characters or The Pilgrims:
- The Host (Harry Bailey)
- The Knight
- The Miller
- The Reeve
- The Lawyer
- The Merchant
- Roger, the Cook
- The Wife of Bath
- The Pardoner
- The Monk
- The Nun’s Priest
- The Parson
The Knight’s Tale:
So his story begins in Athens.
From a place called Athens, a king named Theseus was on his way back to the city with his wife Hypoleta and his sister in law Emily.
There he saw some women who were crying. In order to get justice for these women, Theseus had to fight a dictator called Creon and got justice for these women. But two men survived after that fight. The name of these two survivors was Arcite and Palamon, both of them were badly injured after the fight.
So Theseus took these two with him and put them in jail in Athens. These two were cousins.
One morning in the prison, Palemon saw Emily from the window and after seeing her he started to fall in love with her. But once the cousins swore that no girl would ever come in between them, but the girl had arrived.
The other guy Arcite also fell in love with Emily.
But for some reason of these two cousins, Arcite was released from prison on a condition that he would never return to Athens. But Arcite also loved the same girl. So he returned to Athens in disguise to win over his love while Palemon who was his cousin is still in jail.
Palemon somehow escaped from the prison by fainting the jailer of the prison.
These two brothers reached a place in the forest and met there, not to hug each other but to fight for Emily. Theseus caught them both and asked them to stop for a year and prepare their army and fight the fight.
Theseus gave word that whoever of them wins will get married to his sister in law Emily. So both of them started preparing their own army.
Theseus also prepared an arena for them to fight.
Palamon was praying to Venus for his victory and Arcite to Mars.
The battle started between two cousins and Palamon was defeated in that battle and Arcite came out victorious.
And as soon as he won, he started celebrating his victory that suddenly a rage raged against his horse, causing the horse to jump on which Arcite was sitting and threw Arcite off and was badly injured and died.
Before he died, he went on to say that there could be no better person than Palemon for Emily. So Arcite dies and Theseus arranges a Great Funeral for him. After this, Emily and Palemon got married and started living their lives happily. The story of the knight ended here.
Following Knight’s story, the host asked the monk to tell a story. That’s when Miller speaks in the middle that he would tell his story. Miller is an alcoholic man and he says he would tell a true story.
Chaucer himself says that this story is going to be a bit vulgar and can skip their pages if the reader doesn’t want to listen to Miller’s story.
So Miller begins his story. He speaks of an old carpenter John who had a young wife whom he loved very much. Her name was Alison.
Nicholas, a young boy who was a scholar from Oxford, soft-soaped Alison, and the two started making plans to sleep with each other.
Another guy named Absalon who was a parish clerk also liked Alison. He also wanted to sleep with Alison, but she did not like him at all.
Nicholas fools the old carpenter John that a very severe flood is going to come, which was on the Noah’s time and that too will be twice as big.
Nicholas convinces John the carpenter that they can survive if they get in the boat tied to the ceiling and once the water rises, they would cut the ropes and stay afloat.
However, Nicholas was fooling the Carpenter so that he could spend the night with Alison making love.
Later that night, Absalon went there to ask for a kiss from Alison at Alison’s window, but only then did he hear that both Alison and Nicholas were inside, and making fun of Absalon as he didn’t get to kiss her lips but her butt.
Absalon got angry and went to the blacksmith to bring a red hot poker to take revenge on Alison but unfortunately, Nicholas extends his butt out the window and then he got the red hot poker branded in his butt.
Nicholas howled in pain and yelled “Water, water …” The carpenter who woke up from this cry thought that the flood had already begun, cut the rope on which the boat was hanging, and with a loud crash crashed down. The neighbors came running to the noise. Everyone laughed at the poor old man who was waiting for the end of the world and paid for it with a broken leg.
This is how a cunning young boy managed to trick an old carpenter into seducing his wife.
The narrator describes the hilarity that follows Miller’s story, with the whole company laughing and playing except for Reeve. Reeve is offended because he is a carpenter and takes the miller’s story as a personal insult.
So the story begins with a miller named Symkyn. He had a flat nose and was a punk. Symkyn had a young daughter, a wife, and a child who was very young.
He used to steal grain.
There were two brothers named Alyn and John. They tried to stop him from stealing.
So Symkyn unties their horse, and two brothers can’t help catching them before nightfall. Symkyn the miller steals the clerks’ flour and gives it to his wife to bake a loaf of bread.
It was already night, both of them came to stay at Miller’s house.
These two took advantage of Miller’s wife and his young daughter to take revenge on Miller.
When the miller’s wife leaves her bed to relieve herself of the wine that she is drunk, John moves the baby’s bassinet to the foot of his own bed. Upon returning to the darkened room, the miller’s wife feels for the cradle to identify her bed. She mistakenly assumes that John’s bed is her own. When she crawls into bed, she thinks it’s her own, John jumps on her and starts having s** with her.
Dawn comes and Aleyn says goodbye to the daughter.
Seeing the bassinet before he takes over in Symkyn’s bed (but actually John), he goes to another bed, shakes the miller, whom he thinks John is awake and tells that he had s** with her daughter thrice in the same night.
Hearing this, Symkyn gets out of bed in a rage, which wakes his wife up in John’s bed. She takes the club and hits her raging husband by mistake, believing him to be one of the brothers.
John and Aleyn beat the miller and flee, taking with them their horse and bread made from their stolen grain.
This is how Reeve retaliates with Miller by telling this story.
Wife of Bath’s Tale:
Before telling the story of Wife of Bath’s, this Wife gives a short intro of her story.
She already had 5 husbands and says that she has more knowledge about the relationship between woman and man.
She says that the first three husbands were very boring. All three were rich but old. While the fourth husband had an affair with someone and the fifth husband was good looking but a poor man.
Her story begins with a knight who raped a girl. So the queen instead of beheading the knight gives a chance to save his life, and gives the knight a task to find out what woman really desires.
If he can find this thing, he will be spared. Now this knight went to find out to save his life. Every woman whom he asks this gets different answers.
Finally, he found an old woman who said that I will tell you what the woman wants. You just promise me that you will be mine after being saved.
So the knight agreed to her condition.
He went to the queen’s court with the old lady, the knight told the queen that what a woman wants in this world is the sovereignty over their husbands. He got his answer correct and spared of his life.
So now according to the condition the knight was to marry that old lady. Because he promised to marry her.
The knight accepted her despite being old and ugly, seeing his loyalty, the old woman was happy with the knight and she transformed herself into a young and beautiful girl.
And the story of the Wife of Bath’s ends here.
Pardoner narrates his story and greed is the theme of Pardner’s story. Because he himself is a greedy man and works for money.
He starts his story with three friends who just spend their time drinking alcohol.
They see a coffin coming out of the tavern where they are drinking, and is taken to the burial.
These three learn that the man who is being taken away for burial was their friend. And a thief killed him and the name of that thief was Death. So they decided that they would kill that thief for their friend.
They meet and old man and he told these three that the thief who killed their friend is hiding under an oak tree, that old man pointed towards that oak tree.
When they reach the tree they don’t find the thief and what they see are 8 bushels of gold coins.
These three thought that they should wait there untill the nightfall, so that they can take this gold.
One of the three, who was the youngest among them, went to the town to fetch some food so that this people can spend here for the night.
And the two made a plan that they would kill the third one and would distribute the goods among themselves, whereas the person who went to get the foods was also very cunning.
He plans to kill the two, he returns to the place with the intention of killing his friends by filling two bottles of wine with poison.
But the two killed him on his way back, while both of them were poisoned by drinking wine, they also died.
The moral is greed is bad.
The Nun’s Priest Tale:
This story has a mock epic and contemporary political Satire. The story of the Nun Priest begins with a widow and her two daughters living on a small farm in their village.
They had a rooster named Chaunticleer who had 7 chickens. One of which was his sweetest chicken named Pertelot.
One night, the rooster Chaunticleer dreamed that a fox came to him and killed him.
So his beloved chicken pertilote said that he was just afraid of a dream and made fun of him.
Chaunticleer gave up worrying after hearing his beloved chicken.
Later, Chaunticleer encountered one fox named Don Russel hiding near the farmyard.
The fox asked Chaunticleer to sing, as soon as he startd singing the fox caught him by the throat and took him away.
The old widow and her daughters saw him and all the other animals in the farm started chasing the fox.
Chaunticleer was still in the mouth of the fox, so he told the fox that he could fool anyone as he fooled him.
As soon as the fox opened his mouth, Chaunticleer flew away and sat up on a tree.
Again the fox tried to trap him in his words, but the latter had learned a lesson not to listen to flatterers, now he was not going to come down.
Some important previous year questions:
- His hors were gode,but he was nat gay,
Of fustian he wered a gipoun;
Al bismotered with his habergeoun;
For he was late y-come from his viage,
And wente for to doon his pilgrimage.
2. Lo, swich it is for to be recchelees,
And necligent, and truste on flaterye,
But ye that holden this tale a folye,
As of a fox, or of a cok and hen,
Taketh the moralitee, good men.
3. He yaf nat of that text a pulled hen,
That seith, that hunters been nat holy men;
Ne that a monk, whan he is cloisterlees,
Is lykned til a fish that is waterlees,
4. Wel coude he sitte on hors, and faire ryde.
He coude songes make and wel endyte,
Iuste and eek daunce, and wel purtreye and wryte,
So hote he lovede, that by nightertale
He sleep namore than dooth a nightingale.
5. His comb was redder than the fyn coral,
And batailed, as it were a castel-wal;
His byle was blak, and as the Ieet it shoon;
Lyk asur were his legges, and his toon.
6. A knyght ther was, and that a worthy man,
That fro the tyme that he first bigan
To riden out, he loved chivalrie,
Trouthe and honour, freedom and curteisie.