MEG 01 British Poetry Summary of The Canterbury Tales
English Literature

MEG 01 British Poetry Easy Summary of The Canterbury Tales By Geoffrey Chaucer

For IGNOU first-year students, the Canterbury Tales are crucial. IGNOU asks questions from this section every year. This site has been developed in such a way that anyone from any background can grasp. The Canterbury Tales are divided into sub parts, each of which are summarised here.

The Canterbury Tales, a long poem by Geoffrey Chaucer, follows a group of pilgrims from all across England as they go to Canterbury to visit the shrine of St. Thomas Becket.

In colorful characterizations of his pilgrims, Chaucer combines humour and realism. Their stories have a devout to comedic tone to them, with academic wit and plain honest vulgarity thrown in for good measure.

Taken together, the stories provide a fascinating glimpse into life in late-fourteenth-century England.

There were nearly 100 stories in Chaucer’s original plan, but only 24 were completed.

The story opens in a bar, where a group of pilgrims gathered to prepare for their journey to Canterbury to visit St. Thomas Becket’s Shrine. Chaucer, the narrator, meets them there and joins their company.

All of the travellers are described in wonderful, if often absurd, detail by Chaucer. On the route to Canterbury, the Pilgrims stop for lunch, during which the tavern owner, or host, proposes to the company.

According to the host, each pilgrim will tell two stories on the way out and two on the way back. The group will be accompanied by the host, who will act as the judge of their stories.

At the end of the journey, the pilgrim who delivers the best narrative receives a free meal at the tavern.

Pilgrims readily accept to the host’s proposal in order to enjoy their voyage.

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

MEG 01 British Poetry Easy Summary of The Canterbury Tales By Geoffrey Chaucer

The Knight’s Tale:

Palamon and Arcite’s story is narrated in The Knight’s Tale. Theseus, the king of Thebes, captures them and imprisons them in a tower together. The knights spend their days peering out of the tower’s single window.

They come across Emilye, the queen’s younger sister, wandering in her garden one day. Both Palamon and Arcite fall in love with her right away, and while they fight over her at first, they eventually understand that fighting is fruitless because they’re both locked in a tower and thus pretty unlikely to meet, let alone marry, her.

Arcite, on the other hand, manages to escape the tower with the help of a friend several years later. He joins Emilye’s household as a page but does not reveal his feelings for her. Meanwhile, Palamon is imprisoned for several more years before escaping.

The two knights collide and battle over Emilye, but Theseus intervenes and demands that they hold a true tournament. Each of Palamon and Arcite is allowed a year to gather an army and return to Thebes. The tournament will be a fight to the finish, and the winner will be awarded Emilye’s hand in marriage.

Palamon, Arcite, and Emilye each visit one of the three shrines constructed into the tournament arena’s walls the night before the tournament. Arcite goes to the sanctuary of Mars, the Roman god of war, to pray for victory in the tournament. Palamon pays a visit to the shrine of Venus, the Roman goddess of love, where he prays for Emilye’s hand in marriage. Meanwhile, Emilye pays a visit to the sanctuary of Diana, the Roman goddess of chastity. She expresses her desire for Diana to enable her to remain single, but she also indicates that she is willing to accept whatever Diana’s wishes are for her.

The event starts the next day. Arcite wins the event after much battle, but he is thrown from his horse and dies as a result of his injuries. On his deathbed, he expresses his desire for Palamon and Emilye to marry.

Miller’s Tale:

Following the Knight’s tale, the Host invites the Monk to tell a story that rivals the Knight’s in noble purpose. However, the Miller, who is extremely inebriated, announces that he will tell a carpentry story. Oswald, the Reeve, protests since he used to be a carpenter. The reader is then warned that this story may be a little obscene, but Chaucer is obligated to relate all of the stories since a prize is at risk. As a result, the Miller begins his story.

John, an elderly carpenter married to an 18-year-old girl named Alison, lends a room to Nicholas, a young astrology student who claims to be able to predict the likelihood of rain or drought. Nicholas falls in love with Alison quickly, and one day grabs her by the groynes and screams, “Love me all-at-once or I shall die.” Alison first refuses, but the clerk quickly overcomes her resistance, and the two of them devise a scheme to fool the jealous husband.

Absalon, an androgynous incense swinger at the church, is Alison’s other admirer.  Absalon expresses his emotions for Alison by serenading her outside her bedroom window, but she considers him a bother and is only interested in Nicholas, who devises a complex plot to get John out of the house for the night.

Nicholas persuades John that the town is about to be flooded in the same way that Noah was in the Bible, and that in order to escape, he must construct and attach three boat-like buckets.  The night before the forecasted flood, John the carpenter, Alison, John’s wife, and Nicholas, Alison’s lover, climb into the boats, following Nicholas’ instructions. While the carpenter sleeps, Alison and Nicholas quickly descend to Alison’s bed and spend the night with each other.

Absalon walks to Alison’s window later that night after learning of the Miller’s absence. He begs for one kiss after being denied access to her chamber. Alison agrees to kiss the obnoxious clerk, but instead of her mouth, she extends her buttocks out the window, fearful of arousing the neighbours. Absalon “kissed her nude arse, extremely.

Absalon returns to Alison’s window, armed with a red-hot rod borrowed from the blacksmith, and tells her he has a golden ring for her: “I’ll give it to you for one more kiss.” In an attempt to outdo Alison’s abuse of Absalon, Nicholas instead opens the window and “thrust out his buttocks and all” and farts in Absalon’s face. Absalon swiftly recovers and thrusts the red-hot poker into Nicholas’ arse.

“Water, help, Water, Water,” Nicholas yells, shocking John out of his slumber. John rips the rope that holds his boat aloft and smashes to the ground, thinking the flood is approaching. Hearing the commotion, the neighbours rush in and laugh at John’s insanity when they learn of his flood preparations.


Reeve’s Tale:

The Reeve’s Tale tells the narrative of two students, John and Alan, who set out to deceive the village miller. Simkin, the miller, is well-known for taking flour from individuals who bring their grain to his mill. Simkin has a twenty-year-old daughter and a six-month-old boy, and his wife is the daughter of a local minister.

When John and Alan arrive at the mill with their grain, they ask to see Simkin grind it, claiming that they have never seen grain turned into flour before and are curious about the process. Simkin, on the other hand, sees through their scheme and promises to steal even more flour than he normally would to show them that they can’t outsmart him. He frees their horse and sends them chasing it through the fields all day, all the while stealing their flour and having his wife bake bread with it.

It’s twilight by the time John and Alan return to Simkin’s house, so they ask to spend the night with the miller and his family. There are three beds: one for Simkin and his wife, another for their daughter, and a third for John and Alan. At the foot of the miller’s bed, the baby’s cradle is put.

Simkin, his wife, and their daughter head to bed after a hard night of drinking. John and Alan, on the other hand, remain up all night plotting their vengeance. Alan first sneaks into the daughter’s bed; the daughter is so inebriated that she doesn’t notice he’s there until he’s started having sex with her. John moves the baby’s cradle to the foot of his bed when his wife gets out of bed to go to the washroom. When the wife returns, she detects the cradle and leaps into the bed above it, believing it to be hers – but she ends up in bed with John, who then makes love with her.

Alan wakes up the person in that bed, who is actually the miller, and declares that he has “swyved the miller’s daughter three times in this short night.” In a fit of wrath, Simkin springs from his bed, waking his wife, who lashes out with a club and beats him. John and Alan leave with the bread, the rest of the flour, and the horse.

Wife of Bath’s Tale:

In a prologue, the Wife offers details about her life and experiences before beginning her tale. The Wife of Bath opens her lengthy prologue by declaring that she has always followed experience over authority. She has enough experience with five husbands “at the church door” to consider herself an expert. She finds no problem with having five husbands and is perplexed by Jesus’ scolding of the woman at the well, who had five husbands as well. Instead, she prefers to follow the biblical command to multiply.

The Wife defends her viewpoint by citing King Solomon’s numerous wives . She challenges anyone to show her that God mandated virginity after demonstrating a grasp of the Bible. Furthermore, sexual organs are created for both practical and recreational purposes. She has always been willing to have sex anytime her partner wants it, unlike many chilly ladies.

The Wife of Bath then tells stories about her previous husbands and explains how she gained control (“sovereignty”) over them. Unfortunately, one of her spouses dies just as she obtains complete control over him. She then goes into detail about how she got control of her fifth spouse.

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She couldn’t take her gaze away from a young clerk named Jankyn, whom she had already admired, at her fourth husband’s funeral. Even though she was twice his age, she and Jankyn were married at the end of the month. She was upset to discover that Jankyn spent all of his time reading once the honeymoon was ended, particularly from a collection of novels that mocked women.

He started reading out loud from this collection one night, starting with the story of Eve and reading about all the adulterous women, murderesses, hookers, and other women he could discover. The Wife of Bath, unable to stand these stories any longer, seized the book and slammed it against Jankyn, causing him to fall over backwards into the fire. He leapt to his feet and slammed his fist into her. She collapsed and feigned to be dead on the floor. When he knelt over her, she smacked him again and feigned to die. He was so upset that if she lived, he offered her anything. She obtained “sovereignty” over her fifth spouse in this way.

In King Arthur’s court, a passionate young knight rapes a lovely young damsel. The people are disgusted by the knight’s actions and demand that he be punished. Despite the fact that the law requires the knight’s beheading, the queen and ladies of the court beg to be permitted to choose the knight’s fate. After that, the queen gives the knight a year to figure out what ladies really want.

The calendar year flies by. The knight returns to the palace dejectedly, knowing he will die, and finds 24 exquisite maidens dancing and singing. As he approaches, the maidens vanish, leaving only a horrible old woman to meet him and question about his intentions. When the knight describes his quest, the old woman guarantees him the correct solution if he does what she asks in exchange for preserving his life. The knight concurs. When the queen asks the knight to speak, he accurately states that women want dominion over their men the most.

The ancient crone insists that she be his wife and love after providing him with the correct answer. In pain, the knight agrees. The knight pays no heed to the filthy woman next to him on their honeymoon night. The old woman tells him that true modesty is based on virtue rather than appearances. She informs him that her good looks are an asset. Many men would go pursuing her if she were attractive; in her current state, however, he can rest certain that he has a good wife. She gives him the option of marrying either an old ugly hag like herself, who is still a loyal, true, and virtuous wife, or a beautiful woman with whom he must gamble. The knight says she has the last say. “Kiss me… and you shall find me both… fair and faithful as a wife,” she promises him, because she has “gotten the mastery.” She had grown into a wonderful young lady, and they lived peacefully together ever since.

Pardoner’s Tale:

Pardoner tells his story and the theme of Pardoner’s story is greed. Because he is a greedy man who works for a living.He begins his tale with three friends who spend all of their time drinking alcoholic beverages.

They watch a coffin being carried to the burial from the tavern where they are drinking.

These three discover that the man being taken away for burial is a friend of theirs. And he was killed by a thief who went by the moniker of Death. As a result, they agreed to assassinate the thief in honour of their friend.

They meet an elderly gentleman who informs them that the thief who murdered their companion is hiding under an oak tree, which the elderly gentleman points to.

They don’t discover the thief when they approach the tree, but they do see 8 bushels of gold cash.

These three reasoned that they should stay there until midnight in order to take the gold. One of the three, the youngest of the three, went to town to get some food so that the folks might spend the night here.

And the two devised a plot to assassinate the third and share the things amongst themselves, despite the fact that the person who went to obtain the supplies was also quite cunning.

He returns to the location with the purpose of poisoning his two companions by filling two bottles of wine with poison.

However, on his way back, the two killed him, and both of them died as a result of being poisoned by drinking wine.

The moral of the story is that greed is a bad thing.

The Nun’s Priest Tale:

With her two daughters, a poor widow leads a basic existence in a little home. Chaunticleer, her magnificent rooster and best singer in the land, is her most prized property. Chaunticleer can tell the time better than church clocks. His coxcomb is coral red, his beak is jet black, and his feathers are burnished gold. Chaunticleer owns seven hens, with Pertelote being his favourite.

Chaunticleer awakens one morning from a terrifying nightmare. He warns Pertelote that a ferocious reddish beast was ready to devour him. Pertelote chastises him, claiming she can’t love a coward like him. She claims that the Roman philosopher Cato advises men not to be afraid of dreams. She claims that the dream is caused by bodily melancholy and advises him to take a constipation medicine.

Men of much more authority than Cato, according to Chaunticleer, argue that dreams are exceedingly essential. In attempt to prove to Pertelote that “Mordre wol out” through dreams that expose the truth, he references authors who narrate premonitions of murders in dreams. Chaunticleer continues to reference numerous books and traditions concerning those who experience prophetic dreams.

Pertelote’s beauty is praised by Chaunticleer, who says, “In principio, mulier est hominis confusion,” which he translates as “Womman is mannes joye and all his blis.” Consequently, despite all of his proof that dreams are significant, Chaunticleer chooses to follow his wife’s counsel and disregard his dreams.

An unfathomable wave of melancholy washes over Chaunticleer one May day, just as he had professed his perfect contentment. Russell the fox appears in the yard that night and waits until daylight. The Nun’s Priest regrets the rooster’s eventual destiny at the hands of the homicidal fox, but insists that it is his responsibility to recount the storey. The rooster, as like Adam, has followed his wife’s advice .

Chaunticleer is observing a butterfly the following morning when he notices the fox eyeing him. The rooster is about to flee, terrified, when the sweet-talking fox flatters him. The fox claims Chaunticleer’s father is the best singer he’s ever heard, and he persuades Chaunticleer to perform for him. Russell jumps out and grabs Chaunticleer by the throat just as he begins to sing, puffing out his chest, beating his wings, closing his eyes, and stretching out his throat.

The women of Troy wept louder than the hens in the barnyard when their city was conquered. The widow and her daughters rush toward the barnyard when they hear the crying. They all hurry after the fox with the rest of the farm animals, much like Jack Straw led the peasants in revolt.

Chaunticleer advises the fox to come to a halt and tease his pursuers. This concept appeals to the fox. Chaunticleer, however, flies away and sits in a high tree as soon as the fox opens his jaws to do so. The fox tries to flatter the rooster once more, but Chaunticleer knows better. The Nun Priest ends the story by stressing that flatterers should never be trusted.

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