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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 Merchantís Tale recounts how old January marries a young maiden named May and is deceived by Damian. January suddenly loses his vision and becomes intensely jealous and possessive of his young wife. He is unaware of his wifeís affair with Damian. One day January and May go for a walk in the garden and May asks him to help her up into a pear tree to pick pears to satisfy her intense craving. Damian is hiding in the tree and they make love. Pluto who disapproves of womenís fickleness restores at this point Januaryís sight. However Prosperina, Plutoís wife, gives May the ability to convince January that she was only struggling with Damian and had done so only because she had been led to believe that it would restore Januaryís sight.

The Squireís Tale is an unfinished fragment. King Cambyuskan receives a magic horse, sword, mirror and ring as gifts from the king of Araby and India. The horse has the ability to transport a man anywhere he wants to go in a flash. The sword could magically cut through the thickest armor and even heal wounds. The mirror can reveal future misfortunes and tragedies and the ring imparts to its wearer the power to understand the speech of birds. The kingís daughter wears the ring and hears a falcon miserably lamenting her betrayal by her fickle lover. She takes the poor falcon to court and nurses its self-inflicted wounds.

The Franklinís Tale recounts the story of Dorigen who is courted by Aurelius during her husband, Arveragusí, absence. She rejects his love and kiddingly says that he can have her if he can make all the rocks from the coastline vanish and thus make her husbandís return safe. In the meanwhile Arveragus returns from his trip and Dorigen is happily reunited with her husband. But Aurelius who still pines for her enlists the help of a magician and makes the rocks disappear. Dorigen is distraught when her condition has been met. Her husband insists that she must honor her promise. Arveragusís nobility and Dorigenís commitment to her husband move Aurelius. He releases Dorigen from her promise. Aurelius discovers that he does not have money to pay the magician and requests for more time. Upon learning the entire story the magician foregoes his fees and the tale ends with the Franklinís appeal to the pilgrims to judge who is the most generous character.


The Physicianís Tale describes a tragic tale of a beautiful and chaste maiden named Virginia. A corrupt judge named Apius lusts after her and invents a charge of kidnapping to force her father to relinquish the young girl to the scoundrel Claudius who is in league with the judge. However the father beheads Virginia in order to protect her honor and virginity and gives the head to Apius. In the meanwhile the town folk discover the fraudulent charge and throw Apius into prison where he kills himself. The rascal Claudius is exiled.

The Pardonerís Tale relates how three drunken men set out in search of death after their friend has been killed by the plague. On their way they encounter an extremely old man who directs them to an oak tree at the end of the lane and tells them that he had last seen death there. The men hurry to the spot and instead find eight bushels of gold. They decide to keep the treasure for themselves. However they grow greedy and kill themselves through trickery.

The Sea captainís Tale recounts how a Monk deceived a Merchant. The Merchantís wife borrows a hundred francs from the Monk and agrees to sleep with him in exchange of his favor. The Monk in turn has borrowed the money from the Merchant. When the Merchant returns from his trip the Monk tells him that he had returned the money to his wife while he was away. The Merchant asks his wife about the money who informs him that she spent it on clothes.

The Prioressís Tale is a dedication to the Virgin and describes how the Jews murdered a Christian boy. The Virgin gives the dead boy the power of speech. He is thus able to reveal his whereabouts and avenge his death.

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