The Canterbury Tales

The Canterbury Tales is a collection of stories set within a framing story

of a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral, the shrine of Saint Thomas à Becket.

The poet joins a band of pilgrims, vividly described in the General Prologue, who

assemble at the Tabard Inn outside London for the journey to Canterbury.

Ranging in status from a Knight to a humble Plowman, they are a microcosm of

14th- century English society.

The Host proposes a storytelling contest to pass the time; each of the 30

or so pilgrims (the exact number is unclear) is to tell four tales on the round trip.

Chaucer completed less than a quarter of this plan. The work contains 22 verse

tales (two unfinished) and two long prose tales; a few are thought to be pieces

written earlier by Chaucer. The Canterbury Tales, composed of more than 18,000

lines of poetry, is made up of separate blocks of one or more tales with links

introducing and joining stories within a block.

The tales represent nearly every variety of medieval story at its best. The

special genius of Chaucer\'s work, however, lies in the dramatic interaction between

the tales and the framing story. After the Knight\'s courtly and philosophical

romance about noble love, the Miller interrupts with a deliciously bawdy story of

seduction aimed at the Reeve (an officer or steward of a manor); the Reeve takes

revenge with a tale about the seduction of a miller\'s wife and daughter. Thus, the

tales develop the personalities, quarrels, and diverse opinions of their tellers.

After the Knight\'s tale, the Miller, who was so drunk that he could barely

sit on his horse, began screaming," I know a tale that can cap the Knight\'s tale

off!" "But first, said the Miller, "I admit that I am drunk; I know it by the my

voice. And therefore if I speak as I shouldn\'t, blame it on the beer, I beg you;

for I will tell a life and legend of a Carpenter and his wife, and how a clerk

manipulated them."

Here the Tale Begins

In Oxford there was a rich peasant, who was a Carpenter, who took guests

aboard. There was a poor scholar, who had studied liberal arts, but all his

delight was turned to astrology. He knew how to work out certain problems; for

instance, if men asked him at certain celestial hours when there should be a

drought or rain he could answer them correctly. This clerk was named Nicholas.

He had a chamber to himself in that lodging-house, without any company, and

he was very sweet.

The Carpenter had a newly wedded wife, who was eighteen years old, who

he loved more than his own soul. He was jealous and he kept her close to him.

The woman was fair skinned and her body was slim. She wore a stripped silken

girdle. Her eyebrows were arched , black, and partly plucked to make them

narrow. The womans singing was loud and lively.

It so chanced that this gentle Nicholas fell in love with this young wife,

while her husband was away, and suddenly he caught hold of her and

said, "Unless you will love me, sweetheart, I will die." And he held her tight

around the waist. she jumped back and wiggled away. She replied," I will not

kiss you Nicholas! If you don\'t let me go I will scream out Help!" But Nicholas

began to beg and made offers to her that at last she granted him her love and

swore by St. Thomas that she would leave the Carpenter when she had a chance.

She told him how jealous he was.

Then it fell on a holy day that this goodwife took her to the church to

work on Christ\'s own works. At the church there was a clerk named Absalom.

He had curly hair, rosy cheeks, and his eyes were gray. Absalom, who was so

pretty and fine, went on this holy day with a censor, trying to get the goodwives

of the city. He then noticed the carpenter\'s wife and he thought she was so neat

and sweet. That night the moon was shining and Absalom went to the carpenter\'s

house and sang in the window. The carpenter woke up and asked the