Brother Anthony's Notes on the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tale

These notes are based on those found in the Riverside Chaucer, to which reference should be made for fuller information.

1 -18  This single sentence begins with an evocation of the revival of natural life in springtime (reverdie) and then passes to the religious pilgrimage, which is explained as a sign of gratitude for life restored after sickness. There may be an ironic parallel between the amorous activity of the birds and the act of pilgrimage, which the rime links. One major source for the first lines is the opening of Guido delle Colonne's Historia destructionis Troiae (it mentions springtime, Aries, Zephyr, plants sprouting, crops, meadows, trees, birds). Certain 'dream visions', including Le Roman de la Rose and Piers Plowman, have similar openings.

4  Chaucer delights in scientific explanations. The sap rising in plants has the inherent power (vertu) required to bring flowers into being.

8   The sun was in the zodiac sign of the Ram (Aries) 12 March to 11 April. The sun is 'young' because the new year began on the vernal equinox (March 12 in Chaucer's time). It is not clear exactly what date Chaucer means to indicate. Later the text refers to 18 or 28 April (IntroMLT 5). Such astronomical periphrasis or chronographia, using technical descriptions of the position of the sun in the heavens to indicate a date, is found several times in the Tales; Dante as well as Boccaccio used it.

13 - 14  Palmers were pilgrims who carried a palm-branch as a sign they had been to the Holy Land. Some pilgrims were even paid to visit and pray for their benefactors at the tombs (shrines) of great saints (halwes) which were mainly found abroad: Saints Peter and Paul in Rome, Saint James (Santiago) in Spain being the greatest. Such shrines drew pilgrims from many lands.

17   Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, was assassinated in Canterbury cathedral on 29 December 1170 during a conflict with Henry II about the relative power of church and state. He was declared a martyr and canonized in 1173; his shrine was famed as a place where sick people were miraculously healed.

20  Southwark lies across the Thames from London, at the south end of London Bridge. The Tabard Inn existed until the 17th century. Its name comes from its sign, made in the shape of the sleeveless tunic embroidered with a coat of arms, known as a 'tabard'. The pilgrimage route to Canterbury began in Southwark.

38 - 41  The portraits which follow are partly inspired by works known as 'estates satire'; the opening section of a version of Piers Plowman was particularly influential. In addition to the fundamental division of society between nobles (including gentlemen) and commoners, a distinction was also made between three 'estates': those who fight (the Knight), those who pray (the Parson), and those who labour (the Plowman). Chaucer's portraits often focus on the way each pilgrim satisfies or fails to satisfy a certain ideal social stereotype. Yet there are also many elements which distinguish the pilgrims as individual 'characters'.

The Knight
    Until quite recently there was a critical consensus that the Knight was represented as a model of chivalry. Terry Jones, a young English writer provoked controversy in the 1980s in a book suggesting that the Knight should be seen as a negative model, a professional fighter only happy when killing, and ready to fight on any side if the pay was right. This alternative reading, too strongly marked by modern anti-war attitudes to be quite credible, helps see that it is not easy to be sure of the 'right' way of reading any of the General Prologue's portraits.

45 - 6  Each word represents a prized knightly quality: chivalrie denotes prowess or martial skill; trouthe indicates faithfulness; honour is high reputation; fredom suggests generosity of heart; curteisie includes all the refined manners and attitudes expected of those associated with the royal court.

51  Alexandria in Egypt was captured on 10 October 1365 by the crusading (anti- Islamic) forces including English troops, led by Peter I of Cyprus; it was plundered and its inhabitants massacred in the following week, after which it was abandoned. The French poet Guillaume de Machaut (1300-77) wrote a long narrative poem on this expedition, Prise d'Alexandrie, which Chaucer may have known. It also describes the capture of Lyeys and Satalye (line 58).

53  Pruce (modern Prussia) was the north-eastern frontier of western (Roman) christendom and from it the Teutonic Order of Knights launched raids on Orthodox Lithuania and Russia. Many Englishmen participated in these adventures but England banned all travel to the area 1385-8. This may be the region from where the Knight has just returned. The Teutonic Knights held regular feasts where they would honour the bravest knights by setting them at the head of the table ('bord'). In such international gatherings, whether of knights or of students, people often identified themselves by their region of origin ('nation').

54 - 67  Lettow and Ruce may not quite correspond to today's Lithuania and Russia but the general direction is clear. The Moorish kingdom of Gernade (Granada) in southern Spain had a port today known as Algeciras (Algezir) which was captured by the christian army of Castile in 1344. Chaucer seems unaware  that Belmarye is not a place but the name of the Berber dynasty (Belmarin or Banu Merin) ruling Morocco, and controlling Granada until 1344. Lyeys, now Ayash, a port in Lesser Armenia, was captured by Peter of Cyprus (see above) in 1367. Satalye, a territory in Anatolia (Turkey) was taken by Peter of Cyprus in 1361. Tramyssene is the city of Tlemcen (Algeria) while Palatye is an emirate in Turkey. Neither were attacked by christian armies at this time and it seems that the Knight may have been serving as a mercenary in Arab service. The formal duel between individual champions of opposing armies was a recognized form of combat.

68 - 78  Critics debate the precise implications of the Knight's reported attitude and dress. He seems to many, but not all, to exemplify the ideal christian model of knighthood, humble and modest. The fact that he has not changed his clothes stresses his desire to go to Canterbury without delay; presumably he headed for Soutwark directly after landing from his ship near London Bridge.

The Squire
    Squier is a general term indicating a young military 'trainee' who might or might not become a full knight. Young Chaucer was probably termed a 'squire' when he went to fight in France but he was never knighted. A bacheler was a knight who had not yet gained enough experience to receive the rights of a banneret, who could lead a company of other knights under his own banner.
     The Squire's description derives partly from the Roman de la Rose's descriptions of Mirth and Love as well as its list of courtly qualities (lines 820-35, 890-910, 2310-30). He resembles a conventional figure often found in illustrations of the month of May. Critics debate how positively his activities would have been viewed. For some he represents worldly vanity and lechery; others see in him a more modern form of courtly knighthood than the professional militarism of his father.

86  The mention of Flanders suggests that Chaucer is thinking of an unsuccessful 'crusade' led by the bishop of Norwich in 1383, rather than some campaign linked directly with the 100 Years' War.

95  Unlike the list found in the Roman de la Rose, Chaucer's list of courtly skills includes endite: the Squire composes poetry. It seems unnecessary to suppose that Chaucer is making reference to himself here; we should rather recall the many French courtiers and aristocrats of the time who were famed for their poetic skills.

96  The ability to portraye will be verbal rather than pictorial. The art of drawing and painting was not valued or cultivated among the men of the upper classes in the Middle Ages, when "painting pictures with words" was esteemed more highly than any pictorial artist's work.

98  In May nightingales sing almost constantly, day and night, but at night they have no competition so their song is clearly heard. Love is seen as one activity among many for a young courtier, no more serious than jousting or dancing.

100  Meals were eaten in the hall, the lord sitting at the table farthest from the doors. A large piece of cooked meat would be brought in from the kitchens to be carved and served out. It was counted an honor for a son to carve the meat for his father in such a setting.

The Yeoman
    A yeoman was a free commoner of the highest rank. This yeoman serves the Knight by caring for his estates. He is a forster (forester or game-keeper) in charge of the game (birds and deer etc.) in the Knight's woods. He is skilled in wodecraft which covers all the ritual of the hunt. His cote and hood of grene are the proper dress of a huntsman. This portrait lacks any personal details, everything mentioned is connected with the Yeoman's work, although many have wondered why the Yeoman needs bow and arrows, sword, shield, and dagger on the journey to Canterbury. It is not clear whether he has come back from the wars with the Knight or whether he and the Squire have joined him on his arrival.

104 -7  The wing feathers of the peacock are particularly stiff and are still highly prized for the making of good arrows. If the feathers were lowe (of poor quality?) the arrow would not fly straight but drop quickly.

115  It was generally believed that pictures of St. Christopher gave protection from the dangers of travel. St. Christopher is shown carrying the child Jesus across a river on his shoulders, from the legend which explains his name.

The Prioress
    No portrait has been more discussed. The first three portraits seem to be straight portrayals of people who are models of their kind, with no obvious hint of irony (although some modern readings are strongly ironic). The Prioress's portrait is much more problematic, partly because of the importance given to worldly elements as opposed to religious ones, and partly because of modern critical unhappiness with the anti-semitic bigotry of her Tale. The narratorial tone does not change, here or in any other portrait, yet the attentive reader must surely  become increasingly aware of  problematic points.
     We have only limited information about what was expected or acceptable in a prioress of Chaucer's time, so that the "correct" evaluation of the details of the Prioress's portrait is very uncertain. Virtually every detail in the Prioress's portrait has been viewed by some critics as indicating an ideal figure, and by others as being the sign of false values. The modern picture of the religious life does not necessarily help establish proper criteria. Queen Philippa's own sister Elizabeth had been a nun at St. Leonard's nunnery near Stratford-at-Bow and the nuns in such communities were often the daughters of rich merchants or noblemen. Their life-styles were not necessarily utterly ascetic. The Church issued many documents forbidding prioresses to go on pilgrimages, a fact suggesting that they often did go, and ignored the regulations.

120  St. Loy  is today known as St Eligio. There is no obvious explanation for this detail, but in comparison to the fearsome oaths of the three riotors in the Pardoner's tale ('By Christ's bones') this is obviously a very mild oath. But why does she need an oath at all?

121  The fact that her name is not that of a saint but one frequently given to heroines in romances is of uncertain significance.

122  Today nasal singing seems ugly but there are indications that it was commonly used to enable nuns to sing long services without exhaustion. It is possible that we are meant to hear indirect reported speech in this and what follows, as in the Monk's portrait.

124 - 5  Much has been written about the implied quality of her French, without any clear conclusion.

127 - 141  The description of the Prioress's table manners seems odd, since we hear much more about her food than about her religious activities. Her manners are modelled on those described by Ovid in the Ars amatoris and quoted by La Vieille in the Roman de la Rose 13408-32, where she advises a young woman how to attract men. This would suggest irony, only the same manners are seriously recommended to high-class ladies in courtesy books. Certainly there are features that seem over- fastidious, and the Prioress's interest in courtesy might be better suited to a court lady, which is what she seems to want to be taken for.

143 - 150  Her attitude toward animals, too, has been much discussed. Sentimental pity for mice may suggest a lack of concern for human suffering but that is not certain; pet dogs were common among high class ladies but were not normally permitted in nunneries. We need not assume that the dogs accompanied her on the pilgrimage.

155  The degree of admiration implied in the portrait is uncertain; the breadth of her forehead certainly  suggests a very large woman, a contrast with the size of the mice and dogs she pities.

158 - 162  These beads are intended for use in prayer (rosary) but served commonly as an ornament too. Between sets of ten smaller beads is a larger bead ('gaud') on which the Lord's Prayer is said when praying. Some critics think coral beads are too luxurious for a Prioress. Amor vincit omnia is a secular epigram from Virgil's Tenth Eclogue but was often quoted in religious works. The entire description is full of possible ambiguity.

164  The Nun serves the Prioress as a kind of sercretary; the Hengwrt and Ellesmere MSS both call her 'Nonne Chapelayne' in a marginal note. The words 'and pressestes thre' have caused much debate since line 24 says that twenty-nine pilgrims arrived at the Tabard. That is only true if the Prioress is accompanied by one priest, not three. Only one 'Nun's Priest' is found in the rest of the tales.

The Monk
    Some readers believe that the Monk is depicted with sympathy, others see his portrait as a strongly ironic satirical attack on corruption. Much seems to depend on what a reader considers acceptable or unacceptable in a monk. Hare hunting was a favorite activity of William de Clowne, the pious Abbot of Leicester from 1345 - 78, and he held an annual hare hunt attended by Edward III, John of Gaunt, and Peter of Cyprus. Much of the portrait consists of indirect reported speech in which the Monk defends himself against charges of irregularity; the reporting Chaucer expresses his support for the Monk's position. The Monk has a strong interest in food, while the praises of the narrator stress other aspects which are not usually associated with devout ascetics.

166 An outridere was a monk permitted to be away from his monastery on business but the immediate mention of venerie suggests that this is his main occupation.

167  Critics disagree on the implications of manly and on why Chaucer sees this as a qualification for being an abbot. Similarly, the tone of what follows is not established; a monk living in poverty should not have ful many a deyntee hors and there is a fairly obvious ironic parallel between the bells on his bridle that everyone hears and his chapel bell, that he cannot hear. Bells on bridles were popular, especially among Canterbury pilgrims ('Canterbury bells' is still a British flower-name).

173  This line is not part of a complete sentence, but serves to introduce what follows, as in a question-and-answer dialogue. Most medieval monks followed the Rule of St. Benedict (Beneit; lived 480-550) which was said to have been brought from Italy to France by his disciple St. Maurus.

176  the space seems to be an almost meaningless formulaic 'line- filler'. The Monk's awareness of there being a permissive 'new world' preferable to the old rigid one makes him a surprisingly 'modern' figure.

177  Expressions such as 'not worth a hen' are common in Chaucer and elsewhere. The text in question is not clearly identified; perhaps it is Gratian's Decretum: 'Esau was a hunter; therefore he was a sinner...' The image of the fish out of water is a very common one in texts about monks. The word recchelees is in some MSS replaced by cloisterlees; both words are unusual here.

187  Austyn is St. Augustine of Hippo, supposed to have written the Rule that was followed by colleges of (Augustinian) canons whose life was less rigidly 'monastic' than that of Benedicitine or Cistercian monks. The Monk's rhetorical question about serving the world may be seen as irony; in Chaucer's time and later public offices were often held by churchmen. Gower and Wyclif both expressed disapproval of the practice.

194 - 7  Religious were expressly forbidden to wear grys, the expensive fur of gray squirrels. Equally there are many texts protesting at churchmen who wear jewelry, suggesting that the Monk's brooch  is not exceptional.

202  It seems that the Monk's head steams with energy and this is compared to a fire under a (leaden) cauldron.

The Friar
    Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries were mostly located in rural areas and supported themselves by farming the vast estates they had inherited. Early in the 13th century the rise of urban culture coincided with the foundation of the four 'mendicant orders'. Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinian Friars, and Carmelites arose at this time and established their houses in the towns. Their founders had intended that they should have no estates but live entirely on the gifts people gave them (mendicant means 'begging').
    By Chaucer's time this program had given rise to deep corruption; at the same time, there was intense competition between the orders and the 'secular' clergy (such as the Parson) who ran the parish churches. This often centered on the license given to friars to hear confessions, which allowed people to avoid confessing to their parish priest; a consequence of this was that money went to the friars that would otherwise have been given to the parish. The word 'friar' originally meant 'brother', a word favored by St. Francis, who was not a priest, but very soon  it was common for friars to be ordained.
    There seems something rather innocent about the human weaknesses of Prioress and Monk, while the Friar's portrait suggests a much deeper level of moral failure, despite the narrator's efforts to maintain a positive attitude. By Chaucer's time there was a considerable body of writings attacking the corruptions of the friars, so-called 'antifraternal satire', Piers Plowman being only the most obvious 'literary' example. Parts of the Friar's portrait derive from the portrait of Faux Semblant (False appearance) in Le Roman de la Rose (6082-76960).

208 - 11  The word wantowne (wanton) could simply mean 'jovial' and daliaunce might indicate agreeable sociability but there is a gradual accumulation of indications that the Friar is too familiar with women (part of the conventional antifraternal satire) which encourages readers to give these words the sexual implications that they now have. A lymytour is a friar licensed to beg within a limited neighborhood to prevent competition with friars from other houses.

212 - 3  These lines are often felt to suggest that the young women in question needed a husband quickly thanks to the Friar's attentions. However, providing a dowry to enable girls from poor families to find a husband was recognized and encouraged as a form of charity. Chaucer deliberately leaves both readings open.

219 - 20  There were sins which a simple parish priest was not permitted to absolve without the bishop's permission. Friars often had wider powers. This Friar is licenciat, authorized to hear confessions and give absolution. The lines which follow suggest the depth of the ensuing corruption. Instead of reforming people's lives by demanding true repentance, and imposing severe punishments (penance), the Friar treats them gently in return for donations.

232  The wealth of the orders was well-known. Giving alms to the poor was a work of charity but by adding the final 'freres' the text again suggests the perversion of the Gospel by the orders in their corporate greed.

233  Wyclif refers to friars who carry such trinkets to tempt women.

238  A white neck was said to be a sign of lecherousness.

240 - 55  These lines include clear echoes of the Friar's own  words (indirect reported speech). The contrast between his social options and those of Christ and St. Francis is obvious to the reader yet the narrator seems quite unconscious of it, making the satire the more effective by his praise of the Friar's virtue (251). His skill at getting money from the very poor is similar to skills boasted of in the Pardoner's Prologue.

256  This line probably means that he got far more than he would have done if he had only used officially approved methods.

257 - 8  The sequence of details is startling. Chaucer is slowly fragmenting the composition of his portraits, to heighten their impact. Love-days were special days when people who had disputes were encouraged to settle them peacefully outside the law-courts, but it is not clear why the Friar had a role, or why his romping and expensive clothes had any special impact then. The comparison with the pope only adds to the contradictions.

269  It is not clear why Chaucer gives the Friar a name. Apart from the Prioress, no other pilgrim is named in the GP.

The Merchant
    In Chaucer's time, merchants were already beginning to become powerful magnates. They were involved in the import and export of luxury goods, especially wool, wine, leather and cloth. Chaucer's own father was a merchant and in his work at the Customs, Chaucer surely met many. Some of them were already involved in high finance, lending money to the king. The portrait is largely conventional in its satire of the Merchant's dishonesty. Critics discuss how hostile Chaucer meant the picture to be.

270 - 1  The forked beard, cut into a double point, was fashionable. Chaucer is shown with such a beard in the portraits. Later, only clowns are associated with 'motley' but here it probably means that the Merchant is wearing the livery (uniform) of his guild, which was frequently made of such cloth.

276 - 7  Middelburgh is a port in the Netherlands, opposite Orwell in England. Middelburgh was a major port for the export of English wool to Europe. Piracy was a constant threat.

278  sheeldes is the English for écu, the name of a fictional unit of Flemish currency used in changing money . The Merchant may be involved in dubious financiel speculations.

280 - 3  Reports that merchants always concealed their debts behind a prosperous facade form part of conventional satire. His bargaynes are the activity of buying and selling; a chevyssaunce seems to refer to loans, perhaps involving some form of interest, that was forbidden. By this time readers are becoming aware of the narrator's over-frequent use of the word 'worthy' (this is the tenth use of the word).

The Clerk
    Most critics agree that the Clerk's portrait is entirely positive, perhaps serving to stress the satirical implications of the other portraits by contrast. The word clerk denotes any educated man able to read and write; by extension, it especially referred to  people with a position in the church. University study in Oxford or Cambridge was designed to prepare young men for church offices although many went into other forms of employment.

286  Logic was part of the undergraduate syllabus (Trivium) together with grammar and rhetoric. This usually lasted four years; the force of the long time stressed by the narrator is not clear. University studies began when the students were about fifteen years old.

287 - 92  The Clerk and his horse constrast strikingly with the well fed, well dressed people we have so far seen. His poverty is not shown in an idealizing way, unlike that of the Parson; he is poor because he has not yet received a benefice or an 'office' - a (part- time) job, which may show a lack of social skills. A 'benefice' could refer to a full-time position in the church, but there were also academic benefices which coresponded to a kind of scholarship for students.

294  This should be read as an exaggerated boast in indirect reported speech: "I would rather have...". It would be unthinkable for a young man like the Clerk to own twenty books, each of which might cost the equivalent of two or three years' income! In the Prologue to the Legend of Good Women (G 273) Chaucer says that (late in life) he owns sixty books, which was a very considerable library.

296  If Chaucer had already written the Miller's Tale, he may be making a deliberate contrast with the belongings and life-style of the Oxford student Nicolas.

297 - 8  Philosophy covered not only such skills as logic, it also included such  sciences as alchemy and astrology. The alchemists' quest for the secret of changing base metal into gold underlies the narrator's joke here.

299  A 'friend' was usually an older benefactor who helped a younger person get started in life. In the middle ages there was an understanding that in return for such help, the beneficiary would offer prayers for the benefactor.

The Sergeant of the Law
    The sergeants were the highest ranking lawyers, equal in social dignity with knights. There were very few of them, only twenty-two segeants were appointed during Richard II's reign. Most critics find ironic satire in the stress laid on the wealth the Segeant has acquired, and the fact that money seems to be the only reason for his practice of law. The portrait is full of technical legal vocabulary, but offers little specific human interest.

310  The Parvys was the porch of St. Paul's Cathedral in the City of London. Sergeants often met clients there.

313  The precise value of semed is unclear; is the narrator suggesting that he only seemed so, but in fact was not? This is not the kind of subtle technique the narrator normally uses. Perhaps he rather means that his wise words made it very obvious that he was indeed discreet.

314 - 5  Justice is another word for judge; only sergeants could hold this position in the assize courts. There was usually one assize court in each county, where all kinds of cases were tried during the assizes held several times each year. This Sergeant is appointed by the king's patente and holds full powers (commissioun) to hear every kind of case.

317  Royal servants were paid in money and in sets of clothing.

318 - 20  The sergeants were involved in purchases of land where the property in question was protected from sale by legal conditions that had to be lifted. Fee symple was the ideal solution; it was the term for a writ allowing the free sale of a property. The passage does not necessarily mean that the Sergeant bought land for himself (though it might). He was expert in this form of law, he could always obtain fee simple, and no one could invalidate (infect) his writs.

322  It is not clear why the narrator says that the Sergeant  seems busier than he is.

323 - 4  The termes were reports of cases tried in the Court of Common Pleas each year, arranged according to the different terms into which the academic and legal year was (and still is) divided. Michaelmas Term is in the autumn, for example. English law was/is largely based on precedent, lawyers have to know how similar cases and judgements were settled in the past. The records of previous years did not extend back to King William (1066- 1087) but only to Edward I (1272).

325 - 6  A thing was a legal document; the Sergeant could draft (endite) and draw up (make) such writs so skillfully that no lawyer could ever find any mistake allowing him to have the writ dismissed (pynche at). Some critics believe that pynche is a pun on the name of Thomas Pynchbek, a segeant very similar to this portrait, who in 1388 signed a writ for the arrest of Chaucer in a case of debt.

327  Sergeants were experts in the written laws (statut) as well as case law.

328 - 9  Normally a sergeant would always wear a white coif (tight hat) and it is not clear why Chaucer omits this detail.

The Franklin
    The inner person of the Franklin is completely hidden in the portrait. Instead we have an evocation of the food available in his hall and an outline of the public offices he has held. This has puzzled critics eager to find a single pattern underlying all the portraits, whether satirical or not. There is no obvious satire here, unless it be of a lifestyle that stresses the pleasures of the table. The Franklin is a country gentleman, of the kind known later as a 'squire' from the social rank they often held. Like Penshurst House in Ben Jonson's poem, the Franklin's house and table are open to all callers at all hours. The Franklin holds the kind of offices as justice and Member of Parliament that Chaucer also held. Some critics have tried to identify the Franklin with this or that wealthy householder who was a  friend of Thomas Pynchbeck, assuming that he is the model for the Sergeant.

336  Epicurus has long been identified with pleasure-seeking, usually considered a selfish and anti-socialway of life, contrary to Christian asceticism. This all derives eventually from his Socratic reflections on the way the Good can best be recognized by the happiness that accompanies it.

340  St. Julian the Hospitaller was a very popular but entirely legendary saint. He was said to have been a nobleman who killed his parents by mistake. In penance he set up a hostel where he generously gave food and lodging to very poor people.

347  The changing seasons brought changing weather, which demanded a variety of food if the body was to remain healthy. The variety is not for gastronomic delight but for a healthy diet.

349 - 50  Naturally his table would require a regular supply of fish and meat which could only be assured by keeping fish and fowl alive in ponds and cages until required.

352  Spiced sauces were a very important part of almost every dish.

353  A table dormant was a table that remained permanently in its place. Most tables in a hall were trestle tables, that were set up only when needed.

355  The sessiouns may be of the assize courts  but they are more likely to be local feudal courts held in his hall.

357  A dagger and silk purse were conventional signs of a gentleman.

359  A sherriff was the main representative of the Crown in a shire; a contour oversaw the collection of taxes in a shire.

The Five Guildsmen
    In Chaucer's London there was fierce political competition between the different  craft guilds, which may be why Chaucer makes these five into a harmonious group. The fraternitee that unites them so harmoniously  in a single livery, despite their civic ambitions, is not a craft guild but a parish guild, designed to encourage its members to help one another in difficulty, or undertake charitable works. The odd thing is that while the narrator reckons they are all of them worthy to become aldermen (city councillors), people of these trades were not accepted as aldermen in London until a century later. The brevity of the passage and the fact that none has been given a tale leave critics at a loss. Those looking for social satire note the silver on their knives and the pushiness of the guildsmen's wives.

370  The guildhall is what is now called a town hall, the place where the town's leading citizens met. The aldermen and other high ranking officials sat on the platform of honor (deys).

371 - 4  An alderman was supposed to be wise, rich, honest and free.

377  The vigil of a festival is the day preceding it. The evening prayer (Vespers) and night prayer (Vigils)  celebrate the next day's festival. In addition to prayers, there were neighborhood parties during vigils at which drink was served.

The Cook
    Like the Guildsmen who have employed him to cook for them, the Cook has no individual personality. His 'portrait' is almost entirely a list of ways of preparing food. The ulcer on his shin is an unexpected detail that has made many readers feel that Chaucer had a particular person in mind, possibly a certain Roger Knight de Ware, Cook, found in various contemporary documents. In his prologue, the Cook calls himself 'Hogge' which is a nickname for Roger.

382  London ale was stronger and more expensive than others. The Cook is an expert 'beer-taster'.

The Shipman
 Again, many critics have tried to find a real person in the shipman, partly because estates satire is usually not very interested in seafarers, of whom not much seems to have been expected. Dartmouth was famous for pirates. While the Cook was simply depicted as an expert cook, the Shipman is shown to be a real scoundrel as well as a good navigator, although the narratorial tone does not reflect any judgement. The portrait contains many details that the narrator can only have learned from the Seaman himself.

395 - 7  There is an ironic touch in the passage from the good fellow to the wine-thief. Bordeaux was a major port for the export of wine from France.

400  He threw the crew into the sea and told them to swim home. This is the origin of 'walking the plank'. There are indications that it was quite common for medieval pirates to drown the people on board ships they captured. The positive interpretation of this line is that the Seaman's ship had defeated pirates and punished them in this way; it is also possible to take it as an indication that the Seaman was himself a pirate.

404  Hull is in northern England, Carthage is probably Cartagena in Spain.

408  Gootland seems to be Gotland, an island close to Sweden;  Fynystere is probably Cape Finisterre in northern Spain, although there is a cape with the same name in Britany.

410  A barge was a quite simple boat about eighty feet long, with a single mast, that could also be rowed.

The Doctor of Physic
    Almost every aspect of the Doctor's portrait has been seen as positive praise and as sharp satire by different critics. His love of gold was a proverbial characteristic of doctors, and there is nothing very personal in the portrait. His title of Doctor means that he has completed the full course of university study, which might last fifteen years. He is very highly qualified, as opposed to the more common medical practitioner known as leche.

414 - 6  A knowledge of astrology was needed by doctors on account of the idea that each organ of the body and each hour of the day was influenced by the stars; letting blood at the wrong hour would be harmful. Chaucer knew the Kalendarium of Nicholas of Lynne, which contained charts giving such information. Such aspects of medecine were considered suspect by some, but the magical aspect was seen as 'natural' and not identified with 'black magic' which depended on the intervention of (evil) spirits.

417 - 8  Once the position of the planets (ascendent) has been calculated, the doctor could make a talisman (ymage) portraying the 'lord of the ascendent' and this would be given to the patient as part of the treatment.

420 - 2   The great medical works of Galen (lived A.D. 129 - 99) were the basis of medieval medicine. Drawing on the traditional Greek cosmology of Aristotle and Hippocrates, he taught a correspondance between the qualities of the four elements (air, water, fire, earth) and the four bodily humors (blood, phlegm, choler and melancholy), air like blood being hot and moist, water like plegm being cold and moist, fire like choler hot and dry, earth like melancholy cold and dry. The divisions of the heavens in the Zodiac, and the seasons of the year, had similar qualities. Illness resulted from an imbalance of humors. The doctor tried to bring about a proper balance, after determining where the imbalance lay, by presecribing herbs and other materials that had the needed qualities.

425 - 8  Doctors and pharmacists have long been suspected of working together for a common profit

429 - 34 This list contains the names of the authors of the books that formed the basic medical library in the Middle Ages. Some are from Greece and Egypt, some are Islamic writers of the earlier Middle Ages. The last two are English.

438  Critics discuss whether the Doctor's lack of interest in biblical study is normal or a sign of diminished faith.

443 - 4  The profit doctors make from treating the sick is an almost universal topic of humor. Chaucer's narrator seems to be reporting the Doctor's own wry joke at his own expense: gold was much valued in medicine for its power over the heart (cordial) and therefore the Doctor naturally loves gold.

The Wife of Bath
    Although the Wife of Bath is probably the most widely discussed of all the pilgrims in modern times, her portrait in the General  Prologue is less significant than the expansion of its details in her Prologue. She is the only secular woman on the pilgrimage. Critics debate whether the fully developed image of the Wife found in her Prologue was already in Chaucer's mind when he wrote this portrait, and if so whether he wrote that Prologue befroe the General Prologue. The comment after the mention of her five husbands, 'But therof nedeth nat to speke as nowthe' (line 462) seems to suggest a clear intention to speak about them later.

445  The parish of St. Michael outside the north gate of Bath was noted for cloth-making and even had a large number of women called Alison among its inhabitants. Chaucer may or may not have known this.

446  The cause of the Wife's deafness is explained in her Prologue.

448  The cities of Ypres and Ghent in Flanders were famous for fine cloth and critics doubt whether the Wife could really have matched them.

449 - 52  The faithful at Sunday Mass went forward one by one to give their offerings. The order in which they advanced was determined by social standing and quarrels were frequent. This detail is presumably in indirect reported speech. Charity, in its original sense of 'love', is the major Christian virtue, while fighting about social standing is obviously a matter of pride, the greatest of sins.

453 - 8  The Wife's clothes during Mass at home are described here; she was obviously concerned to make an impression. 'Scarlet' was the name of a kind of cloth that was not necessarily of that color.

460  The first part of the marriage ceremony was held at the door of the church; the second part was a Mass inside the church. During the first part the legally binding pledges were made, that included the husband's undertaking to leave her ambly endowered if he should die before her. This was the origin of the Wife's wealth, which remained her property after she remarried, although legally a wife's property came under the husband's control.

461  This can mean that she had no lovers before her first marriage, or it can mean that the narrator is not including such lovers in his count of five.

463 - 6  The theme of wild wives going on pilgrimages for reasons of pleasure, not devotion, was commonplace in estates satire. Certainly the Wife is not shown as a very devout woman. However, she could have been obliged to go on such pilgrimages in expiation for grave sins; the journey to Jerusalem was especially dangerous and hardly seems the most favorable opportunity for seductions. The pilgrimage to the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul in Rome was popular, naturally. Boulogne-sur-Mer on the French coast opposite Dover possessed a statue of Our Lady that was considered miraculous. The tomb of St. James (Santiago) in Compostela in the north Spanish province of Galicia was one of the main medieval pilgrimages. St. James had been the first Bishop of Jerusalem and his body was believed to have been brought to Spain by a miracle. A pilgrimage to Compostela could usually replace that to Jerusalem. In Cologne, in Germany, pilgrims venerated the shrines of the Three Wise Men (Magi) and of St. Ursula who was said to have been martyred together with 11,000 Virgins.

468  Like the red of her face, the gaps between her teeth are signs of a passionate nature about which we learn much more in her Prologue.

469  An amblere (pacing horse) was trained to pace, not trot,  raising both feet on one side together and so offfering a smoother ride.

475 - 6  These lines point forward to the subject of her Prologue. There may be echoes of the titles of two famous works by Ovid, Remedia amoris and Ars amatoria. The term the olde daunce derives from the Romance of the Rose (line 4289) and covers all the skills a would-be lover needs.

The Parson
    In contrast to almost all the portraits, except perhaps for the Knight and the Clerk, this is generally accepted to be satire by idealisation. This Parson lives as every such man ought to, and very few do. Perhaps because he is an ideal figure, he is given none of the distinctively 'human' features found in other portraits. A parson was the priest in charge of a parish. He did not belong to a religious order, but was in what is now called the diocesan clergy. Once a parson was installed in a parish, it was almost impossible to remove him unless he wanted to go. As parson, he was entitled to the income from his benefice, lands owned by the parish, and to the tithes (taxes paid by the faithful in money or kind).

486  From quite early times, the Church made public declarations of people who were to be considered anathema (excommunicated) for heresy or immoral conduct. These 'curses' might be in general terms, or against named individuals. One recognized category among the anathemas was those people who had not paid their tithes. The Parson understands the poverty of many of his parishoners and is reluctant to threaten them with the anathemas, which many parsons did, to force people to pay.

489  The Parson has rights over the money paid for the celebration of masses (offryng), as well as a regular income from the benefice (substaunce). Secular (diocesan) priests do not take a vow of poverty, as members of religious orders (friars and monks) do; the Parson's attitude is an entirely  personal choice.

498  Matthew 5:19

500  This proverbial expression was commonplace, first used of priestly living by Gregory the Great but based on Lam. 4:1. In what follows the imagery changes into the familiar one of shepherd and sheep (John 10).

507 - 11  Absenteeism was frequent. Unscrupulous parsons left their parish in the hands of a poor priest to whom they paid almost nothing, continuing to receive the regular income from their benefice, while they took a paid position in London or another major city. A chaunterie for soules was a sinecure in which the priest would receive payment to celebrate  masses for the repose of the dead. In London's St. Paul's Cathedral, as in other large churches, there were many small 'chantry chapels' for such masses, often attached to the tomb of some potentate. Some chantries involved celebrating masses for all the deceased members of a guild. Similar problems are mentioned in Piers Plowman (C-text) Prologue lines 81 - 4.

513 - 4  The wolf and the mercenary derive from John 10:12.

The Plowman
    If the Parson is an exemplary churchman, the Plowman (his 'brother') is equally an ideal lay Christian. Critics note the parallel with Piers Plowman and speculate on how well (if at all) Chaucer knew Langland and the various versions of his work. Reformation editions of Chaucer included  a strongly Wycliffite Plowman's Tale which seemed to confirm Chaucer's sympathy with the reformist movement begun by Wycliff. The Plowman is no mere landless farm-laborer; he is a free skilled laborer who may even own land (catel). After the death of so many in the Black Death, such men were valuable and could demand high wages which drove up the price of food. This portrait may contain a covert attack on such attitudes. Parson and Plowman both share generously with the poor and work very hard without thinking of themselves.

534  The expression though him gamed or smerte is a formulaic expression meaning much the same as at alle times.

536  dyke and delve is a formulaic expression meaning 'work hard'.

The Miller
    In the final group of portraits, the refusal of the narratorial voice to mark any attitude of disapproving judgement becomes increasingly strained in the light of the two idealized portraits immediately preceding them. Millers were proverbially thought to be dishonest but the physical presence and animal-like ugliness of this Miller are remarkable. Again, critics have looked for some individual living model without success. In Chaucer's time the mill was vital; people's stocks of grain had to be ground into flour before bread could be made. A miller would be paid in money but he was also entitled to take a 'toll', a certain proportion of the grain brought to be milled. People commonly assumed that millers were dishonest in this; the miller Simkin in the Reeve's Tale conforms to the stereotype.

548  A ram was usually the first prize at wrestling matches.

551  The ability to break down a door with one's head has long been boasted of by a certain kind of thickhead or numbskull.

552  The animal imagery is characteristic of this portrait, and contrasts with the very different animal imagery used in describing Alison in the Miller's Tale.

559  As in the portrait of the Wife of Bath, Chaucer follows traditional notions of physiognomy by which certain physical traits correspond to a person's character. A large mouth indicated that a person was greedy and bold.

562  Tollen thries: this Miller took three times more in toll than he was supposed to.

563  It is not clear what Chaucer implies by 'a thumb of gold'. There is a proverb found rather later, 'An honest miller has a thumb of gold' which implies that there are no honest millers because no one has a thumb of gold, but this may derive from Chaucer's text.

565  The bagpipe was a popular instrument among the ordinary people. Some critics stress the association with gluttony, where the human body becomes a bagpipe, full of air that emerges with a loud noise, but this is not necessary. In modern times the bagpipe is mainly associated with Scotland but that is a recent development.

The Manciple
    The Manciple is employed by one of the 'temples' or Inns of Court (law colleges) of which there are several in London, including the Inner Temple and the Middle Temple. It is sometimes said that Chaucer studied in one of them and that the Manciple is the portrait of someone he knew there. His main job is to buy the provisions needed for the daily life of the college, and the portrait pays tribute to the skill with which he does his job. Yet the last line is usually understood to mean that he is cheating them. This portrait contrasts with those that precede and follow in not describing the Manciple's physical appearance.

579  Masters of Law were often employed in the administration of great estates, the highest such position being that of stywarde (steward or seneschal) who was the manager of the entire estate in place of the (often absent) lord.

586  The expression sette hir aller cappe is found only in Chaucer (here, in the Miller's Prologue line 3143, and the Reeve's Prologue line 3911) and obviously means 'make someone look foolish' by tilting their cap. Critics seem often to sugest that theManciple is cheating the masters, but the text only says that he is a more skillful administrator than they could ever be, although he has not studied.

The Reeve
    A reeve was in charge of the daily care of an estate, more involved in physical details than a steward. He also had to collect what was due to the lord and present accounts. Reeves were commonly thought to steal from their masters. Chaucer gives the Reeve many of the physical characteristics associated with the choleric personality (see note to line 420). This portrait anticipates the Reeve's fury at the end of the Miller's Tale about a carpernter, which he takes as a personal insult. In many ways he seems to be good at his job, critics stress the delicate ambiguity of the indications that he is much richer than he ought to be. The many details given about the location of his house, and about his physical appearance, have been seen an an indication that Chaucer had a precise model in mind. Yet, as a skilled writer of fiction, Chaucer would have been quite capable of creating life-like fictional characters.

590  It is not quite clear why the Reeve's portrait begins and ends with details stressing similarities to a priest and to a friar in his appearance. Is the Reeve trying to enhance his social status by giving himself clerkly airs?

594  Reeves had to submit accounts that were carefully checked by the estate's auditors. This Reeve is never caught out.

604  The Reeve is an expert in other people's dishonesty.

606 - 12  The portrait contains intriguing hints of many unexplored areas. There is no clear information about the relationship of Reeve and lord, or about what is involved in the transactions where the lord's goods become the Reeve's, while the lord feels grateful and rewards him. The 'coat and hood' were a customary part of the earnings reeves received.

622  Some critics think that the Reeve rides last because he dislikes the Miller who goes first; some believe that he simply dislikes company; some believe that he likes to keep an eye on everybody in case he can find some way of benefitting from his knowledge.

The Summoner
    Many moral offenses were judged in church (ecclesiastical) courts since they were governed by Canon Law. The ordinary church court was presided by the local Archdeacon, a senior priest with jurisdiction over one section of a diocese. The Summoner is a minor employee of such a court, a layman who 'summons' people to appear before the court and acts as usher during sessions. It is generally thought that the skin disease he is suffering from is a form of leprosy called alopicia in Latin, although some associate it with syphilis. There is a clear suggestion that it is the result of a debauched life.

625 - 33  Chaucer lists conventional symptoms of alopicia: red skin, pimples thought to be caused by excess of salty phlegm (saucefleem), swollen eyelids, inflamed sexual desire, diseased eyebrows and falling hair.  There is no explanation for Chaucer's linking of red with cherubim, unless he is confusing them with seraphim; medieval art uses blue for the former, red for the latter. Sparrows have been a popular image of hot sexuality since classical times. The list of chemicals includes the poisonous products usually employed to treat such skin diseases. Quyk-silver is mercury, lytarge is lead monoxide, brymstoon is sulfur, ceruce is white lead oxide, oynement was a paste rich in arsenic.

634 - 5  According to medieval medicine, these were all things that the Summoner ought not to eat with his disease; too much wine was also thought to produce similar symptoms.

640  Rather unexpectedly, the narrator stresses in hostile terms the Summoner's brutish ignorance. His drunken Latin is no sign of culture, but is compared to the words a tame bird can be taught  to imitate.

646  The Latin phrase means 'It is a question of which particular law applies here' and would arise in arguments between lawyers during a trial.

648  The structure of this portrait is strange. After stressing the ease with which the Summoner's ignorance can be discovered, the narrator makes a very positive comment (647 - 8) that seems to be based on the report of the Summoner's readiness to condone adultery for a gift of wine that follows. Yet a little later he is raising strong objections to the Summoner's attitude (659 - 62).

652  To 'pull a finch' is usually thought to mean 'enjoy illicit sex' but some critics interpret it to mean 'play a clever trick'.

656 -7 The usual punishment in the archdeacon's court would be a fine (taken from a person's purse) but if this was not paid the result was 'excommunication', the anathema (see note to line 486). The narrator suddenly reacts (659 - 61) in a way that critics have found hard to evaluate, stressing the serious consequences for the soul of  not being absolved of sin, and for the body of a significavit, the legal document by which a person who had not made reparation within forty days of an archdeacon's curse being pronounced was imprisoned by the civil authorities (the church itself had no powers of physical punishment).

663 - 5  Critics cannot agree on what these lines refer to. The girles in question may be young men or young women or both. Obviously there is a suggestion of serious moral danger.

667  Ale-houses usually indicated themselves by hanging a garland on a horizontal pole projecting into the street above the door. The garland on the Summoner's head, and the flat loaf of bread (cake) which he pretends is a shield, seem rather grotesque decorations for such a person, but the narrator offers no indication of his feelings about them them.

The Pardoner
    To understand the role of a pardoner, it is necessary to know the Catholic Church's doctrine of the 'treasury of merit' as well as the system of sacramental confession. After 1215, all the faithful had to confess their sins to God before a priest at least once a year before Easter. The priest could then absolve the person of guilt, if they expressed true sorrow (contritition). The penitent had to perform penance, a symbolic expression of regret for sin, but there was still the question of the punishment that the sin demanded. This was usually thought to be reserved for the period after death when a soul, even if saved from Hell, might have to undergo a long period of punishment and purification (purgation) in Purgatory before gaining admittance to Paradise.
    The Church claimed to be able to draw on an accumulation of surplus merit, thanks to the exceptional lives of great saints and martyrs. This merit could be applied to shortening or abolishing the period of punishment less perfect believers normally had to endure, if they showed true repentance and had received absolution from a priest or bishop.
    Out of this grew the commerce of pardons (indulgences) which later scandalized Martin Luther and  helped spark the Reformation. Giving alms was a sign of penitence; the Church needed funds; soon it became customary to award 'pardons' in exchange for money, as though Heaven could be bought. The main aim was to satisfy the need of the Church for money by cashing in on the need of the faithful for consolation.
    The seller of pardons would normally be a kind of clerk but not a priest. This Pardoner is revealed in his Prologue and Tale to be an expert salesman. The portrait concentrates mainly on his strange physical appearance, which is not at all referred to in his Prologue and Tale. Pardoners were not popular, certainly, but Chaucer's Pardoner is exceptionally fully developed for the period. In addition, the collection of false relics with which he earns extra money for himself on the side is very unusual. This has suggested to some critics that Chaucer has a particular person in mind. The close relationship between Summoner and Pardoner is indicated but not developed. They are obviously an unpleasant pair.

670  Near Charing Cross, outside the City of London in the direction of Westminster, there was the Hospital of St. Mary Rouncesval which depended on the Augustinian Hospital of Our Lady of Rouncesvalles in the pass through the Pyrenees which led from France toward Compostela. The London hospital was notoriously very active in selling indulgences. The Pardoner is employed by this  institution.

671  The 'plenary indulgences' which offered complete remission of Purgatory could only be obtained directly from the Pope. During the Great Schism from 1378 - 1417 there were two popes, one in Rome and one in Avignon, but England was loyal to Pope Urban in Rome.

684  Such eyes were said to indicate a liking for sensual excess. Hares were supposed to sleep with open eyes and also to be hermaphroditic.

685  A vernycle (Veronica) is a painting depicting the face of Jesus on a cloth, in imitation of the relic preserved in Rome of a cloth with which a certain Veronica was said to have wiped the face of Jesus on his way to Calvary, only to find that the image of his face had become printed on it.

688 - 91  Critics in search of topics dealing with varieties of transgressive sexual identity and eager to apply queer theory have made much of these lines. The physical features (high voice, no body hair) are those associated with the eunuch, although the goat was always associated with lechery. A gelding is a castrated stallion (horse) while a mare is a female horse. Many modern critics deduce from this that the Pardoner is homosexual in the contemporary sense, and probably the sexual partner of the Summoner. Nothing in the text supports this. A fifteenth century writer tried to attach his Tale of Beryn to the Canterbury Tales by a Prologue in which he shows the lecherous Pardoner eagerly trying to seduce a barmaid. In the Canterbury Tales this aspect of the Pardoner's portrait is never alluded to again.

692  Berwick is in the far north, Ware in the south of England; the expression means "throughout the land".

694 - 704  The Pardoner's use of false relics is quite different from his trade in pardons, but the connection lies in the love of money (cupiditas) which he reveals as his ruling passion in his own Prologue. In satirical texts, however, the theme of false relics is common. In the Pardoner's Prologue we learn in detail how these 'relics' were used to make money. The way the narrator here describes clearly the false nature of the relics reflects the frankness with which the Pardoner tells the Pilgrims about his tricks later.

707 - 8  After what has just been said, the sudden affirmation that 'truly' he was a 'noble' churchman is breath-taking. It introduces the culminating picture of the Pardoner singing merrily in church, inspired by his greed for gain.

709 -10  A lessoun was usually a passage from the Bible; a storie would be  usually be an extract from a saint's life. An offertorie is a liturgical song during the Mass, during which people would make their offerings. Here it seems that the Pardoner would preach after the offertory song but before the offerings, in order to urge the faithful to give generously.

The Host
    In the Cook's Prologue (line 4358) the Host's name is given as Herry Bailly. Records show that there was a certain Henri Bayliff, an innkeeper, living in Southwark at this time. He was a public figure, a member of Parliament. There is nothing linking him directly with the Tabard, but critics mostly accept the identifcation. The Host becomes the main leader in the pilgrimage and not only proposes the tale-telling contest but sets himself up as the ultimate judge of literary and moral quality.

725 - 46  This lengthy disclaimer is highly ingenuous. It serves to reduce the narrating Chaucer to the role of simple and honest reporter, diminishing his authorial role and laying the ground for the Host's assumption of authority over the Tales. This passage must be seen in conjunction with the Retraction at the end of the Parson's Tale. Together, they firmly confront the reader with the question of the ultimate value of tales, the relationship between word and deed, between story and morality. The true reporter's role is faithful reporting, the reader is free to make value judgements. Chaucer's role as narrator and reporter of other people's tales is descriptive, not prescriptive.

739  The reference to Christ's plain speaking in the Gospels establishes them as the ultimate model of true telling. Chaucer is always particularly careful in translating his quotations from the Scriptures.  The reference to Plato is not clearly identified; Chaucer may be thinking of a phrase attributed to Plato in Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy 3:12.

752  During formal feasts there was considerable ceremony as guests were seated and the courses brought in. There would be a marshall in charge of directing the protocol and controlling the service.

754  Cheapside was the part of the City of London where the most prosperous shops were.

759 etc. The repeated use of the word myrthe by and about the Host introduces one of the major thematic keys to the whole Canterbury Tales, culminating in the duo of sentence and solas. Mirth is a noun and 'merry' the related adjective.

791 - 801  The contest that the Host proposes means that there would be thirty tales on the outward journey and thirty more on the way back. While it is perhaps possible that Chaucer once intended to make such a large collection of tales, with such a structure, it seems unlikely.  Even Boccaccio's Decameron only contains a hundred tales, and becomes rather repetitive. There is no sign of any of Chaucer's pilgrims anticipating having to tell more than one tale.
   Above all, the admittedly fragmentary Tales have a significant alternative structure. The Parson's Tale is introduced by the Host himself as being the last of all (Parson's Prologue line 16) and everything suggests that they are about to arrive in Canterbury, not back in Southwark. In the General Prologue, the Host as secular mind sees life as a tale of mirth, a circular pilgrimage repeating itself for ever, while the truth of the matter is that life's pilgrimage is a one-way journey ending in death, which lands us at the gates to celestial Jerusalem, or the other place. The reward for the best life-tale is Paradise, not supper at the Tabard.

798  A tale with sentence is one that instructs and makes the hearers wiser; a tale of solas amuses and entertains. The Host is, characteristically, unable to decide which is of greater value in evaluating a tale. This is perhaps one of the main themes of the entire work, the question of the relative value of pleasure and virtue, in literature as in life.

822  The last lines of the General Prologue serve as the Introduction to the Knight's Tale.

826  This was the name given to a place where there was a stream, a little way along the road leading into Kent, where the horses could drink.

835  Usually a series of straws was held out, one end being hidden in the hand; one straw was cut shorter than the others. Each person drew one straw, the lot falling on the one who chose the short straw.

844  The line plays with the various common explanations for why things happen as they do: aventure corresponds to 'chance' while sort and cas both suggest some kind of established destiny. The line looks forward to important themes of the Knight's Tale. At the same time, every one is relieved because the Knight, as the highest ranking person among them, ought to begin.

855  The practical problem of how so many people could hear a tale while riding along on horseback is not debated because of the unreal nature of the entire enterprise, which only takes place in the pages of a book.