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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 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.

The Manciple

This worthy Manciple (steward) of an Inn of Court might have served as an example to the other stewards in the matter of buying provisions. He even managed to outwit his masters who were learned lawyers and made money on his purchase of food articles.

The Reeve

The Reeve was a slender, choleric man with a close shaven beard. His hair was cut round by the ears and the top was tonsured like a priestís. He had long lean stick-like legs. He was efficient in managing a granary and a storage-bin. There was no accountant who could hoodwink him. He could foretell the expected yield by taking drought and rainfall into consideration. He had managed his lordís estate since his lord was 20 years old. He knew the petty secrets of every bailiff, shepherd and laborer and was hence feared among them. His house was ideally located on a hearth and shadowed by green trees. He had more spending power than his lord did because of the wealth that he had privately accumulated. In his youth he had learned carpentry. He rode upon a sturdy horse named Scot. He was from Norfolk, near Bawdswell. He always rode last among the pilgrims.


The Summoner

The Summoner had a fiery-red, cherubic face, pimples, narrow eyes, black scabbed eyebrows and a scraggy beard. He was as lecherous as a sparrow. It was hardly surprising that children were afraid of his looks. He loved to eat garlic, onions, leeks and to drink strong red wine. He would speak only a few phrases of Latin, which he used to impress people. Chaucer says that the Summoner was a friendly rascal and would allow a lecher to have his mistress for a year for a bottle of wine. He would console sinners and teach them to be unafraid of being excommunicated by the archdeacon since money could buy absolution. He controlled the youth in his diocese and was their sole adviser and confidante. He wore a garland on his head that was large enough to decorate a pub signpost and carried a shield of cake.

Notes

The Summonerís gruesome and fearsome appearance is aptly suited to his character. The Summonerís vocation was to summon or bring sinners to justice before the ecclesiastical courts. This allowed great leeway for corruption and bribery. His terrible outward appearance reflects the condition of his soul. It is ironical that the Summoner who has no spiritual values is entrusted with the task of bringing sinners to justice.

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