Thursday, 21 May 2015

Canterbury Tales: Fact file

Canterbury Tales: Fact file

29 pilgrims are shown to be travelling to the holy shrine of Thomas Beckett (thought to be able to cure diseases) at Canterbury. Each of the 29 pilgrims is supposed to tell two tales on way to Canterbury and two more on way back. So there should have been 29 x 4 = 116 tales in all, but the unfinished work contains only 24 tales told by 23 pilgrims (Chaucer himself as a pilgrim narrates two). The winner is to be decided by the host of Tabard Inn, Harry Bailey; the winner is to be treated to dinner ‘at oure aller cost’ and whoever opposes his judgment will reimburse the expenses of all pilgrims. Later, they are joined by two more, the Canon and his Yeoman; therefore, there are 29 + 2 = 31 pilgrims in all. But it has been suggested that the Prioress' three priests might be an error, because only one is mentioned later.

Pilgrims at Tabard Inn
The Tales

The Knight's Tale is the story of Palamon and Arcite, a courtly romance, based on Boccaccio's Teseida. Both Palamon and Arcite compete for the love of Emelye, sister of Hippolyta. queen of the Amazons, who has married Theseus, King of Athens. Palamon is defeated in the tournament but Arcite is thrown off his horse at the moment of triumph and dies. Palamon and Emelye are united after a prolonged mourning for Arcite.

The Miller's Tale is a rollicking story of a credulous carpenter and his pretty wife, who cuckolded him with an ingenious and personable young clerk. It has been said to be a parody of a courtly love story.

The Reeve's Tale: The Miller's tale enrages the Reeve, whose duties included carpentry. He tells a fabliau of two Cambridge students who take their meal to him to be ground. The miller robs them, and they avenge themselves by sleeping with both his wife and his daughter.

The Cook's Tale: The Reeve's tale sends the cook, Roger of Ware, into gales of laughter. He too begins a fabliau of Perkyn Revelour. of which only about 60 lines are extant.

The Man of Law's Tale is a symbolic story in rhyme royal, of the various misfortunes of Constance, daughter of a Roman Emperor, who married the Sultan of Turkey on condition that he embrace Christianity, but faces the jealous plots of the Sultan's mother. The tale lacks the complexity of the earlier stories.

The Wife of Bath's Tale seems rather unusual and flat for such a vivid character. It is the story of the loathly lady' who turns out to be beautiful young woman when her husband (whom she had acquired by doing him service and making him promise any payment in return) submits to her wise governance. The tale carries on the concept of `rnaistrye' and ‘experience' and combines shrewd realism with romantic delicacy. The actual tale is preceded by a long prologue, where the Wife, Alisoun, describes in candid detail her life with and her tactics to procure her five husbands. Much of it is drawn from the antifeminist literature of the day, from  Jean de Meun, St Paul, Jerome and Jovinian.

The Friar's Tale is about a greedy summoner. They come upon a carter cursing his horse to the devil. but the devil cannot take the horse because the curse was not from the heart. Later they meet an old lady and the summoner tries to rob her of some money and then she curses him to the Devil. The Devil promptly carries the summoner to hell, because this curse came from the heart.

The Summoner's Tale: The summoner takes offence at the Friar's tale and interrupts  with a tale of a greedy Friar whose covetousness lands him in a comically humiliating position, when he visits a sick man to offer him superficial words of comfort and divide a deathbed legacy.

 The Clerk's Tale: This is the story of the patient wife Griselda and her trials by her husband, the Marquis Walter. It is told in rhyme royal and carries wifely meekness and obedience to an extreme and is interrupted by Chaucer himself. This is thought to be repose to the wife of Bath's tale and part of the 'marriage group' of tales triggered by Dame Alisoun's narrative.

The Merchant's Tale: This is provoked by the Clerk's Tale. This is a tale of January. the old husband and Mary his young wife. January married young May against much advice from Justinus, and when he goes blind, she makes love to Damyan in a pear-tree. Pluto mischievously restores January's sight at this moment. but Proserpine inspires May to explain that her activities had been responsible for his restored vision and that she was only performing her wifely duties.

The Squire's Tale: This is an unfinished tale of Cambuscan, King of Tartary, who receives gifts on his birthday. Those from the king of Arabia include a ring for his daughter Canacee, which makes her understand the language of birds. The tale is incomplete.

The Franklin's Talc: It continues marriage debate with tale of Dorigin, wife of Aradragus. She will agree to the demands of her suitor Aurelius provided he perform an impossible task - remove all the rocks on the coast of Brittany. But her ploy to get rid of her suitor fails when the condition is fulfilled with the help of magic. However, Aurelius himself releases her of her promise in a burst of generosity and remorse.

The Physician's Tale: a morbid story of Virginia whose request to be killed to escape the amorous designs oldie judge Apius, is fulfilled by her father.

The Pardoner's Tale: like the wife of Bath, the Pardoner's tale follows a similarly candid and self-expository prologue where he confesses proudly to his own covetousness, a theme that takes up to impress his audience and persuade them to take his pardons. In the tale, three drunkard rioters set out to find Death and an old man directs them to a tree. There they find a heap of gold, cheat each other in order to posses all of it, and all are killed.

The Shipman's Tale: The wife of a miserly merchant asks for money from a priest to buy finery. The priest borrows the sum from the merchant himself, gives it to the wife, and receives her favours. When the merchant returns and asks the priest for his money, he says he has repaid it to his wife, who cannot deny receive the sum.

The Prioress' Tale: This rather bland tale narrates of the murder of a child by the Jews because he was singing a Marian hymn, and the discovery of the body later on because of its continued singing.

Chaucer's Tale of Sir Thopas: This is a brilliant parody of the conventional metrical romance. There is a steady meter, mechanical listing of physical attributes and other details, of the objects Sir Thopas carries, and so on. After about 30 stanzas of his deliberate burlesque, he is shut up by the host, when he offers to narrate 'a liter thing in prose'- the tale of Melible. Sir Thopas was in a six line stanza form with a trail —rhyme, where a pair of rhyming lines is followed by a single line of different length and this three-line pattern is repeated to make up a six- or a twelve-line stanza.

Chaucer's Tale of Melibee: This heavy prose homily is the other extreme of Sir Thopas. It is a long tedious tale of the impetuous Melibeus and his wise wife Prudence.

The Monk's Tale: These are series of tragedies, all about a reversal of fortune from high to low. In eight-line stanzas, it tells of the falls of Lucifer, Adam, Samson, Hercules, Nero, Holofernes, Alexander, and Julius Caesar and so on, before he is interrupted by the knight who can no longer bear these dreary stories.

The Nun's Priest's Tale: This is related to the French cycle of Renart the fox. The quiet realistic account is of Chanticleer, the cock and Pertelote, the hen, both belonging to a poor widow. Chanticleer is duped into the fox's trap by the praise of his father's singing, but was in turn tricked out of his prey by making him boast of his victory. The mock-heroic story is full of medieval sciences — medicine, astrology and psychology beast epic and rhetoric and wit.

The Second Nun's Tale: This is an account in rhyme royal of the life and martyrdom of St. Cecilia and her husband Valerian.

The Canon's Yeoman's   Tale:   The   Canon   and his Yeoman are the last of pilgrims   to join the entourage. The Yeoman tells at some length of the tricks used by his master in his practice of alchemy to dupe people. This shames his master so   much   that he rides   away. His tale proper is about a canon who practices alchemy as well as (though he insists that is not his master) who tricks a priest out of forty pound by pretending to teach him the art of making precious metals.

The Manciple's Tale: This fable of the tell-tale crow has many sources, including Ovid and the orient. Phebus has a crow which is white and capable of speech. The crow, tells Phebus of his wife's infidelity, and he kills her in a fit of rage. When remorse strikes, he plucks out the white feathers, depriving the crow of its speech and throwing it to the devil and this is why crows today are black.

The Parson's Tale: This prose sermon was intended to end the Canterbury Tales, even if it is incomplete, for the Parson mentions clearly that his tale will knit up and end this festivity. It is a long treatise on penitence and the seven deadly sins.

The Parson's tale is followed by Chaucer 's closing .Retracciouns' where he takes leave of his book.

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