Prologue to Canterbury Tales: Short Questions & Answers

1: Why do the pilgrims set out for their spiritual journey in the month of April?

The narrator opens the General Prologue with a description of the return of spring. He describes the April rains, the budding flowers and leaves, and the chirping birds. Around this time of the year, the narrator says, people begin to feel the desire to go on a pilgrimage.

2: What does the poet say about the month of April?

The poet says that April gives a new look to the nature around and natural life gets renewed in the same way people go on a pilgrimage for spiritual renewal.

3: Who is host?

The host is the manager of the Tabard Inn, the origination of the journey to Canterbury.

4: What do you know about the host?

He goes on the trip and is also somewhat the proprietor of the tales, for he suggests that each pilgrim tell two tales on the way to Canterbury and two on the way back. He mediates arguments between the pilgrims and interjects his comments throughout the different tales. It is the host who holds the group together during their journey.

5: Who is the first character mentioned in the Prologue?

The Knight, almost Chaucer’s ideal character is the first character mentioned in the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales.

6: Draw a short character sketch of the Knight.

The Knight is the epitome of nobility and honour on this pilgrimage. He is a strong and honourable fighter who was in the Crusades and fought for Christianity. He brings along his son, a Squire, to see Canterbury. It is a love triangle with a mixed ending, involving knights, battle, and chivalry.

7: What is the famous classical line about the Knight?

"He was a verray, parfit, gentil knight,” is a memorable line about the Chaucer’s Knight.

8: How many battles the Knight has fought?

Knight, the true model of chivalry has fought fourteen mortal battles in heathen and Christian lands. He has fought these battles for the sake of Christianity in order to please his lord.

9: Who is Squire?

The Squire is second character described in The Prologue. He is the Knight’s son. He is not so serious in his job as his father was. He is a combination of virtues and vices.

10: What do you know about him?

The squire is repeatedly described as a lusty bachelor and has trouble competing the tale he begins. He is only twenty years old and does not possess the same vigour as his father. His incomplete tale is about gifts brought to court by a mysterious knight of Tartary.

11: How the Knight and the Squire are different from each other?

If the Knight represents the true spirit of chivalry, the Squire is a symbol of change. He does not fight for his Lord but for the pleasure of his sweetheart. Unlike his father he is clad in colourful and fantastic costumes. If the Knight loves chivalry, truth and honour, the Squire has an inclination towards singing, dancing and painting.

12: Give a brief account of the character of Prioress.

The Prioress is an emotional and sentimental woman of God who lets her feelings and tears run loose for any and all small events of death. She is weak with her self-control. The prioress tries to give off a refined impression, while all the while she is crude.

13: Who is the Clerk?

The Clerk is an unemployed Oxford student making the pilgrimage perhaps to help him find money and a job. He is dressed in rags, alluding to his impoverished status. He does nothing but reads books and prays for those who help him in his studies.

14: How the description of garments helps define each character?

In the General Prologue, the description of garments, in addition to the narrator’s own shaky recollections, helps to define each character. In a sense, the clothes symbolize what lies beneath the surface of each personality. The Physician’s love of wealth reveals itself most clearly to us in the rich silk and fur of his gown. The Squire’s youthful vanity is symbolized by the excessive floral brocade on his tunic. The Merchant’s forked beard could symbolize his duplicity, at which Chaucer only hints.

15: Do physiognomy play any role in Chaucer’s descriptions of the pilgrims?

Yes! Physiognomy plays a significant role in Chaucer’s descriptions of the pilgrims in the General Prologue. The most exaggerated facial features are those of the peasants. The Miller represents the stereotypical peasant physiognomy most clearly: round and ruddy, with a wart on his nose, the Miller appears rough and therefore suited to rough, simple work. The Pardoner’s glaring eyes and limp hair illustrate his fraudulence.

16: What do you know about the Monk?

The Monk continues the series of incongruous church- people; in this description the narratorial voice often seems to be echoing the monk’s comments in indirect quotation. He has many horses at home; he does not respect his monastic rule, but goes hunting instead of praying. The narrator expresses surprisingly strong support for the Monk’s chosen style of living.

17: Who is the Wife of Bath?

The Wife of Bath is the only woman, beside the Prioress and her companion Nun, on this pilgrimage.

18: What do you know about her?

About her the narrator is positive: "She was a worthy womaan al hir live” and he glides quickly over the five husbands that later figure in such detail in her Prologue, where also we may read how she became deaf. She is a business woman of strong self-importance, and her elaborate dress is a sign of her character as well as her wealth.

19: What do you know about the Summoner?

The Summoner and the Pardoner are two grotesque figures on the edge of the church, living by it without being priests; one administers the church courts, the other sells pardons.Children are afraid of the Summoner’s face, he is suffering from some kind of skin disease; he is corrupt.

20: What do you know about the Pardoner?

The Pardoner is really odd, and modern critics have enjoyed discussing just what Chaucer meant by saying: "I trowe he were a gelding or a mare”. With his collection of pigs’ bones in a glass, that he uses as relics of saints to delude simple poor people and he is a monster in every way.

21: Draw a brief character sketch of the Friar.

The Friar who follows him is also wanton and merry, and he is a ‘lymytour’ by trade (a friar licensed to beg in certain districts). He is extremely well beloved of franklins (landowners) and worthy woman all over the town. He hears confession and gives absolution, and is an excellent beggar, able to earn himself a farthing wherever he went. His name is Huberd.

22: The characters of the prologue are individualized creations. Describe?

The Canterbury Tales is more than an estates satire because the characters are fully individualized creations rather than simple good or bad examples of some ideal type. Many of them seem aware that they inhabit a socially defined role and seem to have made a conscious effort to redefine their prescribed role on their own terms. For instance, the Squire is training to occupy the same social role as his father, but unlike his father he defines this role in terms of the ideals of courtly love rather than crusading.

23: Who is the Doctor of Medicine?

The Doctor of Medicine is described clad in red and blue, and no-one in the world can match him in speaking about medicine and surgery. He knows the cause of every illness, what humour engenders them, and how to cure them.

24: What do you know about him?

The Doctor of Medicine is a perfect practitioner of medicine, and he has apothecaries ready to send him drugs and mixtures. He is well-read in the standard medical authorities. The Doctor, however, has not studied the Bible.

25: Describe briefly the element of irony in the Prologue.

This sort of assessment is particularly challenging in the General Prologue because of the ironic tone which pervades so many of the portraits. In fact, there could hardly be a better introduction to the importance of evaluating irony than this famous poem. There is irony in most of the portraits but most important of all are the Wife of Bath, the Prioress and the Friar.

26: Which are Chaucer’s ideal characters?

Some of the portraits of the Prologue are clearly not ironic; we are invited to take them as literal portraits of an ideal. I would argue, as I have mentioned, that the Knight and the Squire and the Parson and the Ploughman are such ideals. Perhaps the Clerk is as well. But almost all the rest are ironic portraits of human characters whose qualities are inherently ambiguous.

27: Write a note on satire in the Prologue.

Satire always has something aggressive about it, a desire to point a finger and say, in effect, "Look how ridiculous this person is.” Making readers laugh at the foolishness of others is the essence of all satire. In that sense, we can usefully talk about a satiric presence throughout the General Prologue. Now, it’s clear that the narrator in the Canterbury Tales is inviting us to laugh at the foolishness of some of the portraits. We are invited to sense ambiguities in Prioress’ character. The Friar is obviously a sinner, derelict in his duties, as is the Monk.

28: Has the narrator any liking for these characters?

 Yes! The narrator conveys a liking for these characters and an admiration for some of their qualities. This collapses the distance between the target and the readers and makes the satire.

29: Who was expert in the remedies of love?

The worthy Wife of Bath was expert in the remedies of love because she had gone through old game of that art. Further, she had five legal husbands, besides other company in her youth.

30: Who arranged numerous marriages of young women and why?

The wanton, jolly and self-important Friar had arranged numerous marriages of young women and had even paid the marriage expenses from his own pocket. He did so because he was authorized to solemnize marriages. Further, he might have had illicit relations with the women before he married them off.

31: Describe Chaucer’s treatment of ecclesiastical characters in the Prologue.

Chaucer has given a very true and realistic picture of the ecclesiastical characters of his age. He satirizes the corrupt and worldly minded clergies and on the other hand he appreciates the good characters and presents a model picture of him. The pleasure-loving Monk, the wanton Friar, the Summoner, the corrupt Pardoner, the good Parson and the Prioress are the ecclesiastical characters. The description of these characters also throws much light on Chaucer’s attitude towards religion.

32: Write a brief note on Chaucer’s observation shown in the Prologue.

“The Prologue of the Canterbury Tales” has become one of the vivid epoch of history. Moreover Chaucer mixes with all types of mankind and he observes the minute peculiarities of human nature. In the portrayal of characters in “The Prologue” he gives us his minute and delicate records of details in dress, behaviour, which makes it a mime of observation as from the portrait of Prioress:

“She leet no morsel from hir lippes falle,

Ne wette hir fyngres in hir sauce depe,

Wel koude she carie a morsel, and wel kepe

That no drope no fille upon hir brest.”

33: What do you think of Chaucer’s realism in the Prologue?

A careful observation of the portrayal of characters in “The Prologue” shows that it would be quite justifiable to call Chaucer as a realist of high rank because his principle object has been to portray men and women trustfully with an acute power of observation. He sees things as they are and describes them as he really sees them. He does not project the tint of his likes and dislikes, views and prejudices on what he paints. "Chaucer sees what is and paints it as he sees it.”

34: Through which character Chaucer has presented the spirit of new learning?

The Spirit of New Learning: Through the character of the Clerk of Oxford Chaucer has presented the interest that people of his age started talking in classical writers. The new learning began to be popular at this time, as can be seen in the case of the Clerk of Oxford.

35: Who is the author of The Canterbury Tales?

Geoffrey Chaucer is the author of The Canterbury Tales.

36.How many pilgrims are present there at the Inn?

There are Twenty-Nine pilgrims who are making a pilgrimage to Canterbury to see the shrine of St. Thomas Becket.

37: How many stories is every pilgrimage is bound to tell?

In order to make their trip to Canterbury go quicker, each pilgrim will tell two stories on the way there and two stories on the way back.

38: What do you know about the Manciple?

This pilgrim sells church indulgences and fake religious relics.  He has a high voice, long blond curls, and very little facial hair.  He is very good at convincing people to give him money.

39: Who is the Merchant?

This pilgrim seems to defy her vows of: Obedience, Chastity, and Poverty.  This pilgrim dresses in nice clothing and is very pretty.  She has fancy manners and speaks French with an English accent.  She looks and acts like a fine lady even though she is not.  Her nickname is “Madame Eglantyne.”  She has a pack of little dogs that she spoils with rich expensive foods.  She wears a brooch that says “Love conquers all.”

40: What do you know about Plowman?

This pilgrim lives in the city of Bath and is a wealthy weaver.  This pilgrim has been married 5 times and has had many boyfriends.  She has a gap between her front teeth (a sign of a highly sexual person).

41: Describe the Miller briefly!

This pilgrim works for the church court handing out violations.  His face is covered with puss-filled sores and pimples (suffering from syphilis).  This pilgrim is “with the Pardoner.

42: Was Chaucer’s Physician a lover wealth?

Chaucer’s Physician was really a lover of wealth. His love of wealth reveals itself most clearly to us in the rich silk and fur of his gown.

43: Give a short introduction to The Canterbury Tales.

Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales, a collection of stories in a frame story. It is the story of a group of thirty people who travel as pilgrims to Canterbury (England). The pilgrims, who come from all layers of society, tell stories to each other to kill time while they travel to Canterbury.

 44: What do the scholars thinks of the order of the tales?

Chaucer never finished his enormous project and even the completed tales were not finally revised. Scholars are uncertain about the order of the tales. As the printing press had yet to be invented when Chaucer wrote his works, The Canterbury Tales has been passed down in several handwritten manuscripts.

45: Briefly describe what the General Prologue actually is?

The General Prologue is the key to The Canterbury tales that narrates about the gathering of a group of people in an inn that intend to go on a pilgrimage to Canterbury (England) next morning. In the General Prologue, the narrator of The Canterbury Tales, who is one of the intended pilgrims, provides more or less accurate depictions of the members of the group and describes why and how The Canterbury Tales is told.

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