The Canterbury Tales

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The Canterbury Tales Characters

Chaucer

Chaucer does not name himself in the General Prologue, but he is one of the characters who gather at the Tabard Inn. All of the descriptions of the pilgrims in the Prologue are narrated through… (read full character analysis)

The Knight

The Knight is a noble man who fights for truth and for Christ rather than for his own glory or wealth. He has traveled throughout many heathen lands victoriously. The Knight is one of the… (read full character analysis)

The Squire

The Squire is a young knight in training, a member of the noble class. While he is chivalrous and genteel, he is not quite as perfect as his father, the Knight, as he wears… (read full character analysis)

The Prioress

The Prioress attempts to be dainty and well-bred, and Chaucer makes fun of her by describing how she speaks French with a terrible accent and sings the liturgy straight through her nose. Although the Prioress… (read full character analysis)

The Monk

The Monk is another religious character who is corrupt. Instead of reading in his cell, the Monk prefers to go hunting, even though this is against the rules of the order of St. Benedict. The… (read full character analysis)
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The Friar

In medieval society, friars were mendicants, or beggars who could not work but had to live off the charity of others. Although they were supposed to be humble and modest, this Friar is jolly and… (read full character analysis)

The Merchant

The Merchant outfits himself in fashionable attire, with his multicolored cloak and his forked beard. He is a member of the new, rising middle class that Chaucer the author belongs to. Chaucer says that… (read full character analysis)

The Man of Laws

Like the Merchant, the Man of Laws is also a member of the new middle class. He works hard and attempts to pull himself up through merit rather than simply by birth. The Man… (read full character analysis)

The Franklin

The Franklin is a free, wealthy landowner, an excellent host who always keeps his table set for a feast. He provides frequent meals and entertainment for the peasants who live on his land. The Franklin… (read full character analysis)

The Wife of Bath

The Wife of Bath comes from the town of Bath, which is on the Avon River. She is a seamstress by trade but a professional wife by occupation: she has been married five times and… (read full character analysis)

The Reeve

In medieval society, a Reeve is a manager of an estate. This Reeve is slender, old, and crabby. Everyone is afraid of him because he knows all the tricks of the trade. The Reeve squirrels… (read full character analysis)

The Summoner

The Summoner is another supposedly devout religious figure who is actually a hypocrite. In medieval society, summoners brought people to the ecclesiastical court to confess their sins. He has a disgusting skin disease that makes… (read full character analysis)

The Host

The Host at the Tabard Inn, Harry Bailly, is a jolly, lively tavern-keeper. He establishes the main frame narrative of the Tales, since he is the one who proposes the tale-telling game and sets the… (read full character analysis)

The carpenter

The foolish, gullible old carpenter is very possessive of his beautiful young wife, Alison. The carpenter criticizes Nicholas, the scholar, for looking into “Goddes pryvetee” with all of his astrological studies, but as… (read full character analysis)

Nicholas

Nicholas is a poor young scholar from Oxford who studies astrology and is much cleverer than the foolish carpenter. Nicholas is lively and lusty and likes to play tricks. He sleeps with Alison directly under… (read full character analysis)

Alison

Alison is the beautiful, flirtatious young wife of the carpenter. When Nicholas woos her, she thinks nothing of her marital obligations and has no guilt at having an affair with the dashing young scholar… (read full character analysis)

Absolon

Absolon is a vain parish clerk who also tries to woo Alison. Unlike the poor Nicholas, Absolon is able to shower gifts and money on Alison, yet Alison scorns his advances, and she… (read full character analysis)

The miller’s wife

Unlike Alison, the wife in “The Miller’s Tale”, who is much younger than her husband, the miller’s wife is probably at least as old as the miller, considering they have a twenty-year-old daughter(read full character analysis)

Jankyn

The fifth and final of the Wife of Bath’s husbands, and the only one whom she names in her Prologue. Unlike the other husbands, Jankyn is not rich and old, but young and poor… (read full character analysis)

The knight

The unnamed knight in the Wife of Bath’s tale is a foolish, overly lusty bachelor who breaks the code of chivalry when he rapes a maiden in the woods. He is sent by the queen(read full character analysis)

The old woman

The ugly but wise old woman in the Tale is a common character in legends: the loathly lady, or the woman who seems to be an unimportant old woman but actually contains magical powers. The… (read full character analysis)

The queen

The unnamed queen, who is probably Guinevere out of Arthurian legend, wields most of the power in the kingdom: she orders the king to have mercy on the knight, and she dictates the… (read full character analysis)

Sir Thopas

Young, brave Sir Thopas is a knight in both the literal springtime and the figurative spring of his life, as he is just starting forth on all his adventures. Although he is chaste, he is… (read full character analysis)

Chaunticleer

Chaunticleer the cock, the widow’s prized possession, is the lord of the barnyard: he has seven hen wives, and his plumage is described as though it were made of jewels. Although Chaunticleer is a rooster… (read full character analysis)
Minor Characters
The Yeoman
Chaucer does not describe the Yeoman in much detail in the Prologue, primarily observing that since he is dressed in green clothing and keeps his arrows in good condition, he is an excellent forester who takes care of the Knight’s land.
The Second Nun and the Nun’s Priests
Even though the second nun and the nun’s priests are only mentioned in passing and are not described in the General Prologue, this second nun and one of the priests do get to tell tales.
The Clerk
The Clerk is a poor scholar who can only afford threadbare clothes because he spends all his spare money on books. There are many scholars through The Canterbury Tales, and though nearly all of them are poor, this does not dampen their spirits.
The Guildsmen (Haberdasher, Carpenter, Weaver, Dyer, Tapestry-Maker)
Chaucer mentions five specific guildsmen by trade in the Prologue, but none of them gets to tell a Tale. In medieval society, tradesmen organized into guilds to obtain more power and money, and these workers were rapidly gaining recognition and influence.
The Cook
The Cook, Roger de Ware, is one of the pilgrims explicitly based on a real-life figure. The Cook makes tasty food, but his disgusting appearance and severe lack of hygiene might not make that food the most appetizing of options.
The Shipman
The Shipman is a scoundrel who skims off the top of the wares he transports. However, even though he is a crook, the Shipman has a great deal of experience and is good at his job: he may be a thief, but he’s not a hypocrite.
The Physician
The Physician, like the Clerk, is well-educated, but he practices his trade for love of gold rather than love of knowledge. He may not know his Bible, but he certainly knows all that there is to know about science and medicine.
The Parson
Unlike most of the other religious characters in the Tales, the Parson is a sincere and devout priest, devoted to his parishioners. He genuinely practices what he preaches, traveling through rain and shine to the farthest corners of his parish.
The Plowman
The Plowman, the Parson’s brother, is also a devout Christian, dedicated to his labors. He wears a modest tunic, demonstrating his humble ways, and always pays his tithes in full, showing his devotion to Christ.
The Miller
The Miller is a pug-nosed, brawny worker with a red beard and a warty nose. He’s a champion wrestler, a thief––Chaucer says that he steals corn from his bosses––and something of a drunkard.
The Manciple
The Manciple supplies a school of law with provisions, but he is cleverer than the lawyers he works for. He, like the Shipman and the Miller, likely steals from his masters, since his accounts always come out ahead and in his favor.
The Pardoner
The Pardoner, with his mincing, feminine ways and long hair, has been interpreted as potentially homosexual. He carries a full bag of pardons and fake relics from Rome, which he uses to dupe gullible parishioners into giving him money.
Theseus
Theseus is the noble king of Athens. A powerful conqueror and a fair ruler, Theseus often must make the final judgment throughout “The Knight’s Tale”, but he accepts the counsel of others throughout.
Hippolyta
Hippolyta is Queen of the Amazons, a tribe of powerful women. Nevertheless, before the story begins, she has fallen in love with Theseus, and he brings her back to Athens as his bride.
Arcite
One of the two main knights of the Tale. Bound in chivalric brotherhood to Palamon, Arcite nevertheless falls in love with the same woman, Emelye, while the two are imprisoned in the tower.
Palamon
Brave, strong Palamon, sworn to eternal brotherhood with Arcite, his cousin, falls in love with the maiden Emelye while he and Arcite are imprisoned for life in the tower.
Emelye
The object of both Palamon’s and Arcite’s desire, Emelye, Hippolyta’s maiden sister, is the lady whom the knights love from afar. She is pious, virginal, and the epitome of an object of courtly love.
Perotheus
A duke who is a friend of both Theseus and Arcite, he petitions for Arcite’s release from prison.
Venus
Palamon prays to Venus, goddess of love, before battle, asking to win the hand of Emelye. The temple of Venus is decorated not only with heroic love but also with stories showing the sinful and disastrous effects that love can have.
Mars
Arcite prays to Mars, the god of war, asking for victory in battle. Mars’s temple is decorated with images of the destruction and havoc that war creates.
Diana
Emelye prays to Diana before the climactic battle. Diana is the goddess of chastity as well as of change. Her temple is decorated with symbols of virginity and maidenhead, but Diana’s emblem is the moon, and the temple also depicts various mythological characters whom she has changed.
Saturn
The father of the gods and the ultimate judge, pale, cold Saturn makes sure that everything turns out as Fortune and the gods have decreed.
Egeus
Theseus’s father and the voice of reason in the Tale who instructs Theseus to move forward despite his grief.
Symkyn
Symkyn the miller, a fat, pug-nosed man, resembles the portrait of the Miller in the General Prologue. Symkyn is a scoundrel who steals grain from his masters.
Aleyn
Aleyn, who comes from the north of England, is one of the two scholars studying at Cambridge. When the miller sets the clerks’ horse loose into the field of wild mares, Aleyn takes his revenge by setting himself loose upon the miller’s daughter and having sex with her.
John
John, who comes from the north of England, is one of the two scholars studying at Cambridge. By swapping the cradle from the foot of one bed to the foot of the other, John tricks the miller’s wife into sleeping with him.
The miller’s daughter
The twenty-year-old daughter resembles her father, Symkyn, since she also has a pug nose. She is a lusty young creature who steals grain from her thieving father to give back to the scholars. She sleeps with Aleyn.
The three rioters
The three rioters spend their days carousing, drinking, and making mischief. Although they swear brotherhood during their quest to slay Death, as soon as they find the bushels of gold all bets are off and they start plotting against each other, to their eventual demise.
The old man
The old man who cannot die is a typical character from a moral fable: he gives the rioters the information that they seek, but it turns out that he leads them directly into danger.
Sir Olifaunt
Sir Olifaunt, that is, “Sir Elephant,” is a huge giant who guards the elf-queen whom Sir Thopas falls in love with in a dream.
The widow and her daughters
The widow and her two daughters are the only humans who appear in this Tale: all of the other characters in this beast fable are animals. The widow and her daughters act like animals in the climactic scene of the Tale, when the entire barnyard chases the fox.
Pertelote
Chaunticleer’s favorite hen-wife, Pertelote, is also well-educated, quoting Latin authors and physician’s remedies. She is quite bossy and is an example of the kind of authoritative wife that the Wife of Bath champions in her Prologue.
Russell the Fox
The fox is the wily villain of the story, the murderous threat that Chaunticleer sees in a dream. The fox also is an allusion to the threat of royal power disrupting peasants’ lives, as Chaucer hints when he describes the barnyard chase as being like the Jack Straw rebellion.