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Free Study Guide-The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer-Free BookNotes
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THE TALES: SUMMARIES/CHARACTERS AND NOTES

The General Prologue (continued)

The Merchant

The Merchant had a forked beard, was dressed in motley and rode a high horse. He wore a Flemish beaver hat and his boots were clasped elegantly. He gave his opinions on English policy very pompously and these opinions were always dictated by his idea of what would be good for trade and lead to an increase of his own profits. He firmly believed that the sea between Middleburgh and Orwell should be guarded at all costs. He profitably sold French crowns called "sheeldes" that he received in exchange for his goods. He was very dignified in the management of his affairs and nobody knew about his debts. Although he was a worthy man Chaucer doesn’t know his name.

The Clerk

There was also a serious Clerk of Oxford who had devoted himself to the study of logic. His horse was as thin as a rake. The Clerk was a very thin man. He wore a threadbare upper coat since he didn’t have any source of income. He spent all that he got from friends on books and learning and prayed earnestly for the souls of those who gave him the means to study. He was very studious and didn’t speak more than what was required. The little the he spoke was full of moral meaning. He would gladly learn and also teach gladly.

Notes

The Clerk is among Chaucer’s idealized portraits. There is no irony in his description. Chaucer has deep admiration for the Clerk’s serious devotion to his study of philosophy.


The Sergeant at Law

The Sergeant at Law was a careful and wise lawyer. On many occasions he had been appointed directly by the king to serve as a judge. His skill and wide reputation had earned him huge fees and lavish presents. He always sought unentailed ownership of land. He seemed busier than he actually was. He remembers all the cases and decisions which had occurred since King William’s time. He had the skill to draw up a legal document with the perfect phrasing. He could recite every statute by heart.

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 King’s 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 one’s mantle carried like a queen’s. 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.

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