The Canterbury Tales’ Characters: Chaucer’s Pilgrims Retold

The diversity of characters in The Canterbury Tales plays a crucial role in the book’s entire concept. Are you searching for The Canterbury Tales characters’ analysis? Explore our article and find the answers to all of your questions.

Important characters in The Canterbury Tales.

The Host

The Host from The Canterbury Tales is the central figure of the book. He is the one who offers storytelling competition among the pilgrims.

The Host’s name is Harry Bailey. Being a joyful and communicative man, he turns out to be the life of the party. Thus, he establishes the connection between the pilgrims, negotiates the quarrels, and evaluates the stories. 

The Host’s Quotes

Our Host made welcome each and every one,
And right away our supper was begun.
He served us with the finest in good food;
The wine was strong to fit our festive mood.
Our Host performed, so it seemed to us all,
As well as any marshal in a hall.

General Prologue

Our Host was an impressive man indeed
[…]
And he lacked nothing at all of the qualities proper to a man.”

General Prologue

A handsome man our Host was withal,
And fit to be a marshal in a hall.
A large man he was with striking eyes;
No fairer burgess was there in Cheapside.
Bold in his speech, and wise, and well taught,
And of honest manhood he lacked naught.
Add that he was a truly merry man;
And after supper jokingly began
To speak of entertainment and other things.

General Prologue

HOST:

And which of you that bears them best of all –
That is to say, who tells in this case
Tales the most serious that most solace –
Shall have a supper and we pay the cost,
Here in this place, sitting by this post,
When that we come again from Canterbury.
And to make you all the more merry,
I will myself gladly with you ride,
All at my own cost, and be your guide.

General Prologue

The Narrator

The Canterbury Tales narrator is Chaucer. Although the narrator’s name matches the author’s name, they are considered two different people.

The readers learn about the narrator’s personality traits from his descriptions of other characters. Chaucer’s pilgrims’ portrayals are usually full of satire and based on personal prejudice. He is a skillful observer and story-listener. However, when it comes to storytelling, the narrator fails.

Chaucer’s Quotes

But first I pray you of your courtesy,
Not to consider me unmannerly
If I speak plainly in this matter,
In telling you their words hereafter,
Though I speak their words literally;
For this you know as well as me,
Whoso tells the tale of another man
Must repeat as closely as he can
Every word, if it be in his power,
However coarse or broad his dower
Of words, or else his tale will be untrue,
Or feign things, inventing words anew.

General Prologue

Also I beg you, if you will, forgive me
If I have not placed folk in due degree
Here in this tale, as they indeed should stand;
I lack the wit, you may well understand.

General Prologue

The Knight

One of the brightest figures in the book is the Knight. The character is wise, honorable, and courageous. Besides, he is a skillful storyteller.

The Knight impresses the readers with his heroic military achievements and courteous behavior. He often becomes a peacemaker and conflict resolver.

With his nobility and manners, the Knight represents the highest class of society.

The Knight’s Quotes

There was a Knight and he a worthy man,
That from the day on which he first began,
To ride abroad, had followed chivalry,
Truth, honour, courtesy and charity.
He had fought nobly in his lord’s war,
And ridden to the fray, and no man more,
As much in Christendom as heathen place,
And ever honoured for his worth and grace.

General Prologue

This same worthy knight had been also
With the Emir of Balat once, at work
With him against some other heathen Turk;
Won him a reputation highly prized,
And though he was valiant, he was wise,
And in his manner modest as a maid.

General Prologue

He was a very perfect gentle knight.
But to tell of his equipment, his array,
His horses fine, he wore no colours gay
Sported a tunic, padded fustian
On which his coat of mail left many a stain;
For he was scarcely back from his voyage,
And going now to make his pilgrimage.

General Prologue

The Squire

The Squire in The Canterbury Tales is the Knight’s son. He likes singing, dancing, and composing poems. Overall, the Squire causes a good impression on the readers. However, he is still immature and too young to act bravely and valiantly.

The Yeoman

The Yeoman is the Knight’s servant. He appears only in the prologue and doesn’t tell a story.

The Prioress

The Prioress in The Canterbury Tales is a sentimental woman who weeps even because of the mouse’s death. The Prioress is trying her best to be graceful and elegant. Ironically, she is a very bulky woman.

The Monk

The Monk from The Canterbury Tales is the bulky, fat, and bald man. Although he is supposed to live a monastic and humble life, he is wealthy and careless.

The Friar

Just like the Monk, the Friar from The Canterbury Tales has to be a deeply religious person. Still, he is interested in making profits rather than forgiving people’s sins. The Friar’s inappropriate and immoral acts bring him a lot of money.

The Merchant

Looking for the most fashionable character? It is the Merchant. In The Canterbury Tales, he impresses with his expensive and trendy clothes. He aims to become rich. However, he is buried in debt. Moreover, the Merchant from The Canterbury Tales is unhappily married and struggles with his fate.

The Cleric

One of the characters of the book is a poor student from Oxford – the Cleric. He spends all his money on education, so he cannot even eat and dress appropriately. Although the Oxford Cleric from The Canterbury Tales is a highly-educated person, he is unemployed.

The Sergeant of the Law

The Sergeant at law is a professional lawyer. His outstanding performance at the job makes him a financially fulfilled person.

The Franklin

The Franklin from The Canterbury Tales is the noble and hospitable landlord. In The Canterbury Tales, Franklin shows an example of how to enjoy the simple things in life.

The Tradesmen

In the book, there are five tradesmen presented:

  • haberdasher
  • carpenter
  • weaver
  • cloth-dyer
  • tapestry-maker

By creating a trade union, they are capable of making huge profits and power.

The Cook

The Cook in The Canterbury Tales is a real professional in his field. However, he has a violent and bawdy nature.

The Shipman

Shipman is a dangerous and violent criminal. Yet, he is exceptionally skilled in his occupation, which brings him money.

The Physician

The Physician in The Canterbury Tales turns out to be the most educated pilgrim. He tells a dramatic story about the overprotective father and his daughter.

The Wife of Bath

One of the most lustful figures is the Wife of Bath. The character was married five times, so she considers herself a relationship expert and often gives advice.

The Wife of Bath successfully runs her cloth-making business. The high profits allow her to travel and explore the world.

The Wife of Bath’s Quotes

A good WIFE was there from next to BATH,
But pity was that she was somewhat deaf.
In cloth-making she was excellent,
Surpassing those of Ypres and of Ghent.

General Prologue

Had been a worthy woman all her life;
Husbands at the church-door she had five,
Besides other company in her youth –
No need to speak of that just now, in truth.
And thrice had she been to Jerusalem;
She had crossed many a foreign stream.
At Boulogne she had been, and Rome,
St James of Compostella, and Cologne,
And she knew much of wandering by the way,
Gap toothed was she, truthfully to say.

General Prologue

THE WIFE OF BATH:

I will bestow the flower of my age
On the actions and the fruits of marriage.

The Wife of Bath’s Prologue

THE WIFE OF BATH:

Experience, though no authority
Ruled in this world, would be enough for me
To speak of the woe that is in marriage.
For, lordings, since I twelve years was of age,
Thanks be to God who eternally does thrive,
Husbands at church-door have I had five –
If it be allowed so oft to wedded be –
And all were worthy men in their degree.

The Wife of Bath’s Prologue

The Parson

Parson is a person of high morality and principles. He preaches Christian values, serves the poor, and lives in poverty.

The Plowman

Parson’s brother that the author introduces in the prologue, is the Plowman. In The Canterbury Tales, he is described as a hard-working Christian fellow.

The Miller

The Miller from The Canterbury Tales is an ugly man with big nostrils, a red beard, and a disgusting hairy wart on his nose. Being an incredibly strong person, he can easily break the door and always wins wrestling matches.

The lack of Miller’s outer beauty matches his lack of inside beauty. He is a rude and brutal lover of flighty stories. Besides, he is a thief because he steals the grains or charges three times more.

The Miller’s Quotes

The MILLER was a strong man I own;
A stout fellow, big in brawn and bone.
It served him well, for, everywhere, the man,
At wrestling, always looked to win the ram.

General Prologue

His beard, as any sow or fox, was red,
And broad as well, as if it were a spade.
On the tip of his nose he displayed
A wart, and on it stood a tuft of hair,
Red as the bristles in a sow’s ear.
His nostrils were as black as they were wide;
A sword and buckler he wore at his side.
His mouth as great was as a great furnace.

General Prologue

He stole corn, and made one toll pay three;
Yet had the golden thumb, a mystery!

General Prologue

The Miller is a churl; you all know this.
So was the Reeve also, and others too,
And harlotry they told of, both the two.
Take thought, and hold me free of blame –
Man should not treat in earnest what’s a game.

The Miller’s Prologue

The Manciple

The Manciple is responsible for supplying food to the inn of the court. He always manages to make high profits. Thus, his ethics is quite questionable.

The Reeve

The Reeve from The Canterbury Tales is an unattractive and sickly man. Yet, he is a highly skilled manager of someone’s estate. Being a cunning crop recorder, he manages to steal the master’s property.

What is the Reeve’s second occupation? He works as a carpenter. Thus, The Miller’s Tale about a silly carpenter makes the Reeve furious and leads to the encounter.

The Reeve’s Quotes

The REEVE was a slender, choleric man.
His beard was shaved as close as any can;
His hair by his ears was fully shorn;
The top was cropped like a priest before.
His legs were long and very lean,
Like sticks they were – no calves to be seen.

General Prologue

Well could he judge from drought or rain
The yield of his seed and of his grain.
His lord’s sheep, beef-cattle, and his dairy,
His swine, his horses, stock and poultry,
Was wholly in this Reeve’s governance
And he made reckoning by covenant,
Since his lord had only twenty years;
No man could find him ever in arrears.

General Prologue

He could purchase better than his lord;
He had riches of his own privately.
He could please his lord subtly,
Giving and lending of his own goods,
And earn his thank you and a coat and hood.

General Prologue

THE REEVE:

The drunken Miller has told us here
Of this beguiling of the carpenter,
Perhaps in scorn because I too am one.
And by your leave I’ll him repay anon,
In his own boorish language, no mistake.
And I pray to God his neck might break!
He sees a mote in my eye, or a stalk,
But no beam in his own, for all his talk.

The Reeve’s Prologue

The Summoner

The Summoner in The Canterbury Tales is an ugly and dishonest church court worker. He takes bribes, seduced young girls, loves drinking, and leads an unethical lifestyle.

The Pardoner

The Pardoner from The Canterbury Tales is a dishonest man. He cheats on the people by persuading them in their sinfulness and selling indulgences. Although the Pardoner’s definition of money is evil, he lives a greedy life.

The Pardoner even attempts to sell the pardons after telling his tale about three rebels. However, the Host doesn’t let him do it.

The Pardoner’s Quotes

The Pardoner had hair as yellow as wax,
But smooth it hung like a hank of flax.
In clusters hung the locks he possessed,
With which his shoulders he overspread;
But thin they fell, in strands, one by one.

General Prologue

His wallet lay before him in his lap,
Brimful of pardons, come from Rome hotfoot.

General Prologue

THE PARDONER:

For my intent is only gain to win,
Not to correct them when they chance to sin.
For I care nothing, at their burying,
Whether their souls have gone blackberrying!

The Pardoner’s Prologue

THE PARDONER:

But briefly my intent I here confess:
I preach, but only out of covetousness.
Therefore my theme is now, and ever was:
“Radix malorum est cupiditas.”
Thus do I preach against the very vice
I too indulge in, which is avarice.
Though I myself am guilty of that sin.”

The Pardoner’s Prologue

The Canon and Canon’s Yeoman

The Canon and Canon’s Yeoman are two strangers that suddenly appear in the group of pilgrims. They are the alchemists that lie to people by taking their gold and promising to make ten times more. However, they never return the gold.

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