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Free Study Guide-The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer-Free BookNotes
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CHARACTER ANALYSIS

Chaucer

Chaucer is the author of "The Canterbury Tales" and also appears as one of the pilgrims throughout the entire book. He functions as the naïve narrator and the readerís guide on the way to Canterbury and his ironic comments as the poet reveals the true color of this assorted group. Chaucerís cheeky presence as one of the pilgrims lends an air of realism and immediacy to the book and the reader feels that he is reading an eyewitness account. He tells the tales of Sir Topas and Melibee during the course of the journey. He finally identifies himself as the poet at the end in "Retracciouns". The reader first meets him in the "General Prologue" where he describes the pilgrims that he encounters at the Tabard inn. He poses as a naïve first person narrator and claims to be objective in his appraisal of the pilgrimsí appearance but it is seen that he seems to possess the knowledge of an omniscient narrator. The reader thus learns not only about the pilgrimsí physical appearance but also details about their personal lives and careers. Chaucer, the observer and recorder of events as one of the pilgrims, frequently pronounces his judgement as the poet. He openly condemns the corrupt Summoner and the evil Pardoner. This intrusion of the poetís voice does not effect the narrative. Rather it helps the story to achieve immediacy.

The Host

The Host, named Harry Bailey, is not included among the twenty-nine pilgrims who gathered at the Tabard Inn. He is introduced at the end of the "General Prologue". The character of the Host is not fully developed. He appears to be a friendly, agreeable and sensible man. His genial warmth is his most outstanding characteristic. Chaucer comments that the Host is the fairest burgess in the whole of Cheapside and is fit to serve as a marshal in a lordís house. He is frank and forthright in his speech.


The Host proposes the story telling competition for the long journey to Canterbury and says that each pilgrim is to tell two tales on the way to Canterbury and two tales on the way back. The others will reward the pilgrim who tells the best tale by a supper at the Tabard Inn. The Host then proposes to join the group of pilgrims himself. The pilgrims immediately accept him as the guide, judge, manager and reporter. Thus thirty people set off towards the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket in Canterbury the next evening. The Host frequently provides the link between the various stories and decides the order in which the pilgrims narrate their tales. After each tale the Host provides his opinions and comments which reveal his intelligence. The Host for instance stops Chaucerís Tale of Sir Topas in the middle because he senses that it is mindless rhyming. Critics believe that the Host was modeled on a certain Harry Bailly who actually lived in Southwark in Chaucerís time.

The Guildsmen

The guildsmen are sketchily portrayed in the "General Prologue". The reader learns very little about them apart from the fact that they are wearing fine clothes and are financially well off. Chaucer ironically says that they are able men and worthy to serve as aldermen. They are members of a guild, and wear the distinctive dresses of their occupations. The Guildsmen include a haberdasher, a dyer, a carpenter, a weaver, and a tapestry-maker. Their trade appears to have been randomly chosen by Chaucer and do not have any significance. The guildsmen are treated as a group and no individual importance is given to them. Chaucerís intention seems to be to satirize the self-importance of the guildsmen and their wives who are addressed as Ďmadamí and have their trails carried behind them just as the royalty.

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