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“The Canterbury Tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer


The Canterbury Tales is perhaps one of the most popular collections of tales from the 14th century. It is a collection of stories told by Geoffrey Chaucer who remains one of the significant contributors to literature in the 14th century. In this collection, Chaucer who doubles up as the narrator tells the stories of a group of pilgrims who are travelling to Canterbury (Johnston 23). The pilgrims are on their way to the shrine of St. Thomas Becket (Johnston 23). This is shrine is to be found in the Canterbury’s Cathedral. The journey from Southwark (where the pilgrims are coming from) to Canterbury is quite long. To keep each other company and to avert boredom and fatigue, the pilgrims engage in a story-telling contest. The winner of the contest is to be rewarded with a free meal at the Tabard Inn at Southwark which will be paid for by the other pilgrims (Kolve & Olson 34).

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In this essay, I am going to analyse a section of The Canterbury Tales that has been assigned to me. After reading the assigned portion of the tales, I am going to address several raised.

The Character in the Passage

The character in this passage is the Host. It is the host who is talking in this particular passage. He is addressing the other pilgrims who are assembled at the Tabard Inn. Though the narrator does not mention Tabard Inn in this passage, this fact is made obvious if one reads the rest of the tales.

The host is perhaps one of the most important characters in this collection. This is given the fact that he is the one who came up with the notion of story- telling. I believe that if it were not for the host, perhaps The Canterbury Tales will not have existed. This is given the fact that the collection revolves around those stories told by the pilgrims at the behest of the host.

How Does Chaucer Create the Host?

One way that Chaucer creates his characters is by letting them express themselves. As the narrator, he stands out from the tales and lets them unfurl themselves as they are being told by the various pilgrims. All he does is to let the reader know who is telling which story. This is perhaps one of the reasons why he opted for the voice of the 3rd person narrative. He does not tell the stories from a first person narrative. For example in the first line of the passage I was reading, Chaucer writes “’lords’ said he (the host)……” (Kolve & Olson 23) and continues to quote this character. He lets us see the character through his (the character’s) words.

To further prove this point, it is noted that the whole passage I was reading is a quotation of what the host was telling the others. The voice of the narrator remains in the background. The host is not interrupted throughout the passage. This is another strategy that Chaucer uses to tell us about him.

From this passage, the reader can see what the narrator is telling us about the host. Some characteristics of the host are made evident through this passage.

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For example, the host comes out as a merry making person who cannot stand boredom. Likewise, he cannot stand to see other people around him getting bored. This is the reason why he comes up with the idea of story- telling. Tale-telling is his idea of “…..shortening our way on this trip” (Johnston 43). He also appears as a man who is able to rally or organise people around a cause. In other words, he is an efficient organiser. He is able to sell the idea of storytelling to the other pilgrims. He also appears to be firm in dealing with his subjects. He seems like a man who does not entertain discontent from his subjects. This is perhaps one of the reasons why he tells the pilgrims that whoever goes against his judgement will be punished by meeting the expenses incurred by the rest of the pilgrims. The host also appears to be a condescending fellow. He makes it known to the others that he is the one responsible for their happiness along the way when he says “and to make you all the merrier” (Kolve & Olson 9).

The Interesting Word

I find the word case as used in the two versions very interesting. In the Middle English version, Chaucer writes “that is to seyn, that telleth in this cas” (Johnston 4). This is translated as “that is to say, whoever tells in this case” (Johnston 4). The reason why I found this interesting is the fact that I later came to learn that the final –e in a word is a very significant aspect of this narrator’s morphology (Kolve & Olson 29). Chaucer’s works are distinguished by the fact that he did not pronounce the final –es in his writing. I was very amused when I found this aspect in the passage I was reading.

Conclusion: Humour and Irony in the Passage

I can detect some instances of irony in this passage. For example, I find it ironical that pilgrims who are on their way to a shrine do not shy away from betting. It is noted that betting or gambling is not encouraged by the church. By agreeing to reward the winner of the story-telling contest by a meal, it appears to me that the pilgrims are involved in gambling. I also find it ironical that a free meal is the reward that the pilgrims came up with. In my opinion, they should have made a bet based on something more substantial than a “…supper at cost of the rest of us” (Johnston 4).

Works Cited

Johnston, Ivans. Introduction to the General Prologue of the Canterbury Tales. 2012. Web.

Kolve, Vincent & Olson, Glending. The Canterbury Tales: Fifteen Tales and the General Prologue. New York: Norton and Company, 2005. Print.

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