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Free Study Guide-The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer-Free BookNotes
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SHORT PLOT SUMMARY (Synopsis) (continued)

The Sergeant at Law’s Tale relates the tragic story of Constance who gets married to a Syrian Sultan after he converts to Christianity. However the Sultan’s evil mother is outraged at his renunciation of the Muslim faith and plots to kill all the Christians in Syria along with the Sultan. She then sets the widowed Constance adrift in a boat. Constance finally lands in Northumberland and starts living with the governor and his wife. She converts her heathen hosts to Christianity and miraculously cures a blind man. Satan makes a young Knight fall in love with her but she rejects him. Seething with the desire to take revenge the Knight murders the governor’s wife and hides the blood stained knife in Constance’s bed to implicate her. Constance is produced in court before King Alla and a mysterious voice condemns the Knight when he falsely testifies against Constance. The Knight is killed and Constance marries the king. She gives birth to a baby boy while the king is away on a Scottish expedition. However Donegild, the King’s malicious mother interferes with the messages with the result that Constance is once again set adrift along with her newly born son. When the king returns and realizes the truth he kills his mother. Constance eventually arrives with her son in Rome and lives with a senator and his wife. She is finally reunited with King Alla when the latter comes on a pilgrimage to Rome.

The Wife of Bath’s Tale is preceded by a Prologue in which she gives an account of her colorful life with five husbands. Her tale continues the theme of women’s desire for mastery over men. A young Knight rapes a country maiden while returning home. As a punishment for his heinous act he has to discover within a year what women most desire. The Knight unsuccessfully wanders in the entire country in search of the answer. Eventually he promises to grant a wish to an ugly old hag in return for the right answer. When he has given the answer in court and secured his liberty, the old croon jumps up and demands that he marry her. The Knight begs her to reconsider and wish for something else but the old hag stubbornly refuses. The Knight marries her secretly. At night as they lie in bed, the Knight keeps on tossing and turning restlessly. The old hag asks him if he would prefer her ugly and faithful or beautiful and faithless. The Knight allows her to decide. The old woman is delighted to have won ‘maistrie’ over her husband and rewards him by becoming faithful and beautiful all the time.


The who enters into a partnership with a fiend disguised as a bailiff and agrees to work with him even Friar’s Tale is targeted against the Summoner. It relates the story of a corrupt Summoner after learning his true identity. They see a farmer whose cart is stuck in the mud cursing that the devil takes his horses along with the cart. However the fiend refuses to take them because the curse is insincere. The Summoner then tries to cheat an old woman by levying false charges against her. The poor woman then sincerely wishes that the Summoner is damned and the fiend carts him off to hell.

The Summoner’s Tale repays the Friar for his tale about the corrupt Summoner. The Summoner relates a story about a corrupt mendicant Friar. One day the Friar asks a dissatisfied and angry parishioner for more donations. The Friar then preaches against anger. The parishioner then slyly agrees to donate something if the Friar promised to divide it equally among all the twelve members of his chapter and tricks him into accepting a fart. The angry Friar wends his way to a landlord’s house and describes his predicament. The lord’s Squire, Jankin, explains that the fart nay indeed be divided among the members of the chapter by seating the twelve Friars around a cartwheel with their noses at the end of a spoke and letting off the fart from the center. Everybody except the Friar applauds the solution and Jankin is rewarded with a new coat.

The Clerk’s Tale is a rendition of the patient and long-suffering Griselda folk - tale. Griselda’s husband inhumanly subjects her to various cruelties simply to test the extent of her patience and love. These cruelties include the pretended murder of her children and his intended divorce and remarriage. Griselda silently bears one ordeal after another till her husband can bear the deception no longer and reveals everything. Her children are finally united with her and her husband once again accepts her as his wife.

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