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Free Study Guide for The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

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The General Prologue (continued)

The Franklin

The Franklin accompanied the lawyer. His beard was as white as a daisy. He loved to eat bread dipped in wine in the morning. He was a true Epicurean and a big landowner. His bread and ale were of the finest quality and his cellar was always well - stocked. His menus varied in accordance with the seasons of the year. It snowed food and drink in his house. His coop was filled with fat birds and his fishpond was populated with breams and pikes. He presided over the sessions of the Justices of the Peace and was a Member of Parliament for his county. He had served as the Kingís administrative officer and auditor for his county. A short dagger and a silken pouch hung from his milk white belt.

The Haberdasher, Dyer, Carpenter, Weaver, and Tapestry-maker

All of them are dressed in the uniform of their guild. Their equipment was new and lavishly decorated. Their knives were mounted with silver and not cheap brass. Each of them was worthy to sit as a burgess on a dais in the guildhall. They were eligible to serve as aldermen since they were knowledgeable. Even their wives would agree that they earned enough income and owned large properties since it is very pleasant to be addressed as "madam" and have oneís mantle carried like a queenís. The guilds men had a cook with them.

The Cook

The Cook accompanying the guildsmen was the best judge of London ale. He was an expert in his trade. He could roast and boil, broil, fry, make stew and bake proper pies. It was a shame that he had an open sore on his shin since he could make the best chicken pie.

The Sea captain

The Sea captain was probably from Dartmouth. He could not ride a horse well. He wore a coarse knee length gown and carried a dagger that dangled from a cord around his neck. He had been tanned heavily by the summer sun. He tapped the wine casks that the wine merchant had brought from Bordeaux while the latter slept. He had no scruples. He knew all about tides and stream currents, and also about the harbors in Spain and Britain. Nobody could surpass his navigational skill from Hull to Carthage. The ship he captained was called "Magdalen".

The Physician

There was no match for the Physician in the entire world where medicine or surgery was concerned. He was trained in astrology and was able to cure his patients by placing their waxen figures in accordance with when a beneficent planet was ascendant. He knew the cause of every disease - whether it was hot or cold or moist or dry - and also which humor was responsible for it. But it was common knowledge that he was in league with the apothecaries and each worked to increase the otherís profits. While he was well read in all the medical texts he devoted little time to read the Bible. His diet was moderate. He had made a considerable amount of money during the plague and was extremely reluctant to part with it. Since he prescribed gold in his medicines it can be assumed that he was especially fond of this metal.

The Wife of Bath

It was a pity that the good Wife of Bath was somewhat deaf but she was an excellent weaver. There was no woman in her entire parish who could precede her to the offertory. Her handkerchiefs were of the finest weave and weighed over ten pounds. She wore fine scarlet stockings and her shoes were supple and new. She had a bold and handsome face. Chaucer expresses his irony when he describes her as a respectable woman who had been married five times and has had numerous affairs in her youth. She knows a lot about journeys since she had been on pilgrimages to Jerusalem, Rome, Bologna, St. Jamesí shrine in Galicia, and Cologne. She was gap-toothed and rode on her gentle ambling horse easily. She wore a fine hat as broad as a shield, a riding skirt around her large hips and a pair of sharp spurs on her heels. She knew how to laugh and joke in company but her special skill lay in her knowledge of all the cures for love.

The Parson

The Parson was very needy man who was rich in saintly thoughts and works. He was a learned man who devotedly preached Christís gospel to his parishioners. He was kind, wonderfully diligent and patient in times of adversity. He did not like to excommunicate anybody for non-payment of tithes but would rather give his own money to the poor parishioners. His parish was wide and the houses were far apart but even poor weather couldnít stop him from visiting the rich and the poor. He set a good example to his parish by practicing the good deeds that he preached. He didnít hire out his parish and leave his poor parishioners in difficulty, to run off to St. Paulís in London to look for an endowment by singing masses for the dead. Instead he stayed at home and guarded his parish against evil. Even though he was holy and virtuous, he wasnít contemptuous of the sinners. Rather he was discreet and kind in his teaching. He taught the Christian lore but first followed it himself.


The Parson ranks among Chaucerís idealized characters. He is a truly holy man unlike the lecherous Friar, the gay Monk, the evil Pardoner, and the corrupt Summoner. His humility, virtuousness and punctiliousness (being precise and ceremonious) earn Chaucerís unconcealed admiration. He does not share any of the vices of the clergymen of the medieval age. He sets a good example to his parishioners and religiously guards his flock against all evil. The Plowman, his brother, is an honest laborer and a true Christian.

The Plowman

The Plowman was the Parsonís brother. He was a good and faithful laborer and lived in peace and perfect charity. Chaucer describes him as someone who loved God with all his heart and at all times and loved his neighbor as himself. According to Chaucer he would willingly thresh, dig and ditch, free of charge out of Christian neighborliness. He paid his tithes honestly and promptly. He wore a laborerís smock and rode upon a mare.

The Miller

The Miller was a big burly fellow who always won the prize in wrestling. He was barrel-chested, rugged and stocky. He could break any door by ramming it with his head. His beard was red and broad as a spade. Moreover he had an ugly wart on his nose from which a tuft of red hairs protruded and wide black nostrils. His mouth was as big as a furnace and he was a loudmouth and jested about scurrilous and sinful tales. He was well versed in stealing grain and charged thrice the amount, yet he was reasonably honest. He wore a white coat and a blue hood. He could play the bagpipes well and led the pilgrims out of town to its music.

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