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Beowulf the Legend

Beowulf's story takes place in 6th-century Scandinavia. Beowulf, a Geat, came from present-day Sweden. In
many ways, Beowulf was just an ordinary guy trying to live a noble life in an uncertain world. When
Beowulf learns that King Hrothgar in Denmark needs his help, he travels from his home in Sweden to
Denmark. After all, what choices did he really have? In the Anglo-Saxon world, it's important that a person
meet his fate with courage, dignity, and honor.

So, despite the risk to himself, Beowulf fulf1ills his duty to King Hrothgar and the Danes, and sets out to slay
the monster, Grendel, that has been gobbling up King Hrothgar's men at an alarming rate. Beowulf fights
Grendel, and brings home a trophy (Grendel's arm). Grendel's mother gets angry and seeks revenge on
Hrothgar's warriors, just like her son, and Beowulf is forced to fight and kill her, too. Later in life, Beowulf
encounters a nasty dragon. He exemplifies the maxim: ''Behavior that's admired is the path to power among
people everywhere.''

Good vs. Evil

The distinction between good and evil is clearly defined in Beowulf. Grendel, ''snarling and fierce'' with eyes
that ''gleamed in the darkness,'' is a force of evil. There is no attempt to psychoanalyze his childhood or
provide excuses. Grendel's mother is an unnamed swamp-creature and is less human than Grendel. The
dragon is an ancient and powerful serpent and hoarder of treasure.

In contrast, Beowulf is good, and so are characters like his second-in-command, Wiglaf, who sticks around to
help Beowulf fight the dragon when the other warriors take off. Beowulf and Wiglaf are leaders who behave
honorably even though they can't control their destiny. It's interesting that as humans, Beowulf and Wiglaf
seem to have the ability to choose between good or bad behavior, but the evil monsters are just bad and seem
to have no choice other than to be evil. In the end, Beowulf gains a massive treasure from the dragon's lair
and faces death bravely. Also interesting is that fate seems to have determined that Beowulf is deserving of
vast treasure.

Lesson Summary

According to Anglo-Saxon ideals, fate controls the events in the world. The legendary Anglo-Saxon
hero Beowulf embodies these ideals and performs good deeds in response to the role of fate. When life just
happens for no apparent reason, Beowulf does what the cowboys do: Get back up and carry on, and practice
good morals and proper behavior. Fate may be the explanation for events that happen, but in Beowulf, it is
also the reason for practicing good conduct.

Good vs. Evil


In the epic poem Beowulf, both good and evil are clearly defined. Beowulf himself embodies all that is good,
but it's often expressed through his super-human capabilities. The monsters, including Grendel, his mother,
and the dragon, all embody evil, and in fighting and defeating them, Beowulf is working to save not only the
monsters' victims but the whole of humanity.
Beowulf as Good
One of the most important things to note about Beowulf is that he doesn't fight men at any point in the poem.
The wars and clashes that happen between humans don't directly involve him. He sometimes argues with
humans, like he does with Unferth before the battle with Grendel, but Beowulf fights monsters. This shows
him as a defender of humanity and truly on the side of good.
Most people in Beowulf aren't portrayed as purely good or evil. Only Beowulf and Wiglaf are described as
good. And like goodness, only Beowulf and Wiglaf appear to be self-sacrificing. They are the only characters
who rush to help humanity or another character without concern for their own safety.

Grendel as Evil
If Beowulf is the force of good in this epic, Grendel is the embodiment of evil. Grendel is described as a
descendant of Cain. Cain, a son of Adam and Eve, killed his brother Able. For his crime, Cain and all his
descendants were forever banished from the company of God and of good.
Cain's descendants, according to the poem, became every sort of evil creature. One of these lines of
descendants led to Grendel. Throughout Beowulf, Grendel is described as mankind's enemy, and his attacks
are driven by the jealousy that humans are able to enjoy life in the light, and he is condemned to misery in the
darkness.
It's not just Grendel's ancestry that makes him evil; Grendel's actions are evil as well. He breaks into the
Herot and kills warriors as they sleep. He creeps around the moors, snatching and eating people one-by-one.
Grendel does not fight honorably, at least not until he is confronted by Beowulf. But Grendel's actions are
more than just evil. He, Grendel, rejects the core values of civilization. The poem recounts how Grendel is
offered wergild and land, but continues his acts regardless of the attempts to pacify him.
When Beowulf fights Grendel, he doesn't use weapons; he fights Grendel with his bare hands, honorably.
Grendel is unused to such a fight and is quickly defeated by Beowulf. He runs off to his lair, bleeding, rather
than staying and finishing the fight.

Grendel's Mother as Evil


Grendel's mother has more understandable motives than her son, but she also doesn't fight fair. She snatches
Hrothgar's friend in the dead of night, much as her son attacked. Then, she defiled his body by leaving his
decapitated head on the shore line. When Beowulf jumps into the water, she quickly grabs him and pulls him
under, making a fair fight impossible.
And yet, each time Beowulf faces a monster, he emerges triumphant. In both the battles with Grendel and
Grendel's mother, Beowulf is rewarded, but he doesn't do it for the gold. He fights for the glory of it, and to
rid Denmark of these evil creatures.

Battling the Dragon


In a lot of ways, the battle with the dragon is different than the battles with Grendel and his mother. For one
thing, Beowulf is fighting to defend his own land this time. The battle is more self-serving than self-
sacrificing. For another, Beowulf's motivation is more about greed than it has been in the past. When he is
wounded and about to die, Beowulf tells Wiglaf that he sold his life for treasure, and he 'sold it well.'
Also, in the battle with the dragon, Beowulf requires help. He is unable to defeat the creature on his own.
When Wiglaf rushes in to help him, Wiglaf is almost taking the place of Beowulf as the character
representing good in the story - just as he will take his place as king of the Geats.

Light vs. Dark


No discussion of the good and evil in Beowulf is complete without mentioning all the light and dark imagery
in the poem. In the beginning, Heorot is described as 'gold-shining,' while Grendel lives 'down in the
darkness.' The contrast between light and dark is made clear during the battle with Grendel's mother, as well.
When Beowulf defeats the water-witch, the hall they are in suddenly fills with light because Beowulf has
eradicated the evil from Denmark. This light and dark imagery comes back in the section with the dragon,
too. The dragon is hiding in the darkness - hiding the gold, which represents light, away from sight and from
use.

Lesson Summary
Beowulf is certainly an epic of good versus evil. The difference between them is striking, especially in the
beginning of the poem. On the side of good, we have the hero Beowulf and his loyal follower Wiglaf, and on
the side of evil, we have the monster Grendel, Grendel's mother, and the dragon. As Beowulf battles each of
these representations of evil in succession, the lines between good and evil get a bit blurred. In the end, good
has won despite the death of the hero and the uncertainty of the future!

Chivalry in Beowulf
Chivalry is the code of the medieval warrior, based on a set of rules that include honor, valor, courtesy, and,
at the center of it all, loyalty. The warrior was loyal to his king, his fellow warriors, and the ones he loved.
Beowulf is the definition of chivalry as we see in the epic poem, thought to have been written down around
1000 A.D.

Beowulf Exemplifies Loyalty


As leading characters go, you will not find one more loyal than Beowulf. Loyalty is at the root of each step
he takes throughout his life. It guides him in his decision making and is one of his most upstanding traits.
When Beowulf comes to the aid of Hrothgar, it is because he feels a great sense of loyalty to the king because
of his father. In their younger years, Beowulf's father, Ecgtheow, had needed assistance because of a feud,
and Hrothgar had come to his aid. This set the stage for the familial loyalty Beowulf feels and his desire to
help when Hrothgar is in need. Hrothgar remembers,
''Ecgtheow acknowledged me with oaths of allegiance.''
Beowulf is intending to do the same. It is important to him to do something to repay the debt he owes to
Hrothgar because of his father.
When he speaks to Wealhtheow, Beowulf explains that he will fight Grendel, and he intends to defeat him,
even if it means his own death. He is letting her know that he is loyal to the end. He says,
''And I shall fulfill that purpose, prove myself with a proud deed or meet my death here in the mead-hall.''
After the successful battle, during the feast to celebrate Beowulf's triumph and loyalty, Wealhtheow sits
between Hrothgar and Beowulf. She has a request of Beowulf. She says,
''Treat my sons with tender care, be strong and kind. Here each comrade is true to the other, loyal to lord,
loving in spirit.''
The importance of loyalty is critical in Anglo-Saxon society. It is one of the most important qualities a person
can have. Wealhtheow is asking Beowulf to take care of her sons, to protect them when she cannot.

Loyalty in Battle
Beowulf shows his loyalty to Hrothgar when he agrees to help him rid the castle of the monster, Grendel,
who has been terrorizing the mead hall for the past twelve years.
''For twelve winters, seasons of woe, the lord of the Shieldings suffered under his load of sorrow''
The misery caused by Grendel has caused warriors to leave the hall, but Beowulf is determined to show his
loyalty by killing the monster. He convinces his men to stay in the mead hall with him and await the monster.
His men remain with him out of a sense of loyalty. When in the heat of the battle with Grendel, Beowulf tells
his men to stay back. He tells them that he alone will fight the monster. He does this out of loyalty to
Hrothgar and to the safety of his men.

Grendel's Mother
When Grendel's mother attacks the hall in revenge for her son's death, Beowulf makes it known that he will
fight the monster. He then makes out what amounts to his last will and testament. He asks that his men, who
have been loyal and brave be taken care of if he is killed. He says,
''be guardian of my young retainers, my companions, if battle should take me.''
His final request is that all of his treasures be sent back to his home. He wants his king to know that he was
rewarded for his loyalty and bravery.

Beowulf's Last Act


After many years have passed, it is time for Beowulf to come to the rescue once again when a dragon
terrorizes his land. When it comes time to face this final test of his loyalty to his people, Beowulf does not
falter.
''I risked my life often when I was young.
Now I am old, but as king of the people
I shall pursue this fight for the glory of winning,
if the evil one will only abandon his earth-fort
and face me in the open.''
Beowulf is loyal, that is true, but he also has people who are loyal to him. Wiglaf, a young warrior in
Beowulf's service, shows his loyalty during this final battle. All of the other warriors who have come to fight
have run off, but Wiglaf alone remains. It is the ultimate show of loyalty to his friend. He encourages
Beowulf to keep fighting, to never give up. He tells him he will remain by his side.
''Your deeds are famous,
so stay resolute, my lord,
defend your life now with the whole of your strength.
I shall stand by you.''
While it is true that this final battle ended Beowulf's life, his sense of loyalty and bravery did not go
unnoticed. To the end, Wiglaf was loyal and devoted to Beowulf, refusing to leave him. Just as Beowulf
chose to fight Hrothgar's battles because he felt a sense of loyalty, Wiglaf's loyalty to Beowulf cannot be
denied.

Lesson Summary
The concept of chivalry in Anglo-Saxon life included traits such as honor, valor, and, most importantly,
loyalty. Beowulf is someone who embodies the concept of loyalty. He proves his loyalty to Hrothgar when he
takes on the task of ridding the mead hall of Grendel, the monster that had been tormenting the hall for
twelve years. His success only served to anger Grendel's Mother, and he showed his loyalty once again when
he headed off to do battle with her.
Beowulf, his men, and Wiglaf show us their idea of loyalty. The men are so loyal to Beowulf that they follow
him into battle against Grendel and his mother. Wiglaf stands by him when the battle with the dragon seems
insurmountable. Like a friend who stands by you through all of your difficult moments, who is always there
when you need them, who you can call on in a moment's notice, Beowulf proved his loyalty over and over
again, until he drew his last breath.

Examples of Kennings in Beowulf


Sail-road = the sea
To Scandinavian heroes, peoples, and cultures like Beowulf and the Danes, the sea was an important part of
their everyday lives. There were many names for the sea in Old English poetry. The poet uses the
kenning sail-road for sea because it was like a road that ships would sail on. The sea was also called the swan
road and the whale road in Old English poetry.
Battle-sark = armor
Sark is another word for a shirt, so in essence 'battle-shirt' was the kenning used for armor.
Because Beowulf is a poem that describes a lot of battles, fights between Beowulf and various monsters, war
words like 'armor' were used often. These war words were replaced by kennings, such as battle-sark for
armor.
Glory of kings = God, Wielder of glory = God, and Wielder of worship = God
The importance of religion in Beowulf is particularly evident in the many kennings for 'God'. Instead of
saying the word 'God', the poem uses glory of kings, wielder of glory, and wielder of worship. The words
'glory' and 'wielder' tell us that God is seen as full of glory and as a wielder, a warrior in a fight for good and
evil.
Shepherd of evil = Grendel and Monster of evil = Grendel
Grendel is the main villain in Beowulf and he is called by various names including shepherd of
evil and monster of evil.
Purpose of Kennings
You might ask, 'If a kenning just replaces a word, what is the point of a kenning? Why not just use the
original word?' Well, kennings add an extra layer of meaning. Kennings make the description and the story
richer. By saying 'sail-road' instead of 'the sea' the poem adds a description that tells the story of a people that
travel by boat often. Calling God a 'wielder of glory' gives some insight into how the people who told the
story of Beowulf might understand God.

Lesson Summary
The use of kennings in the Old English poem Beowulf replaces words with metaphorical phrases. The
purpose of a kenning is to add an extra layer of description, richness, and meaning. Beowulf has many
examples of kennings, including kennings to replace words about the sea, battle, God, and Grendel.

Beowulf and Christian Beliefs


Beowulf contains several biblical references. References to Cain and the flood are the most direct,
but Beowulfalso frequently references praying to God and a savior.
The creature Grendel had ''dwelt for a time in misery among the banished monsters, Cain's clan.'' To explain
where Grendel comes from, it is explained that ''Cain got no good from committing that murder because the
Almighty made him anathema and out of the curse of his exile there sprang ogres and elves and evil
phantoms and the giants too.''
Cain is the biblical son of Adam of Eve, the first people on the earth. Cain was jealous of his brother Abel, so
Cain killed him. When God discovered this, Cain was then cursed. The belief is that the descendants of Cain
are monsters and ''ill-favored creatures.''
When Hrothgar is presented a sword, he realizes that this sword came from the race of the giants. Hrothgar
points out that this race was killed by God in the great flood. Hrothgar ''examined the hilt, the relic of old
times. It was engraved all over and showed how war first came into the world and the flood destroyed the
tribe of giants. They suffered a terrible severance from the Lord; the Almighty made the waters rise, drowned
them in the deluge for retribution.''
The waters rising refers to the biblical story of the flood. This occurs when the people on the earth were
mostly wicked. God decided to punish them by sending a flood to cover the entire Earth, but saves Noah and
his family.
The giants are a race that was despised by God - when referring to the descendants of Cain, giants are among
the list - yet their handiwork is admired, and for this, the giants are honored. So although this contains a
biblical reference, the giants are still revered as they would have been in pagan culture. It was this sword that
was able to kill Grendel's mother while other swords failed.
When Beowulf goes to fight the final dragon, his companions need urging onward, so they're told that they
would have much to gain by going with their lord into battle. This same idea is used frequently in
Christianity: as Christians go with the Lord into battle against sin, they will be rewarded greatly.

Reconciling Pagan Beliefs


The most common Pagan concepts in Beowulf are that of fame and fate. Fate will frequently be mentioned
before going into a battle, such as saying that the outcome will be determined by fate or just after a battle that
the fates determined for them to win. Fame is mentioned as a reward for the bravery that was shown, or will
be shown, in battle.
When Beowulf wins a fight, the concepts of fate and the hand of God are reconciled by mentioning both as
being the reasons for the victory. The idea of fate is reconciled by adding that the battle was won through the
power of the Lord, or that God will reward as He has in times past, and that you must be in agreement with
the will of the Lord. In these ways the people can still hold on to their pagan belief in fate while being a
Christian.
Scyld, the first king mentioned in Beowulf, died ''at the hour that was fated,'' but he ''departed at the All-
Father's keeping.'' In a single sentence both fate and the Christian terminology for God (Father) were
referenced. Fame is reconciled by declaring that the true fame is the glory of God, and that we must be
thankful to God, for He is the true hero.
A specific example of the mixing of Pagan and Christian beliefs is when Grendel first comes to attack
Heorot. Beowulf explains how the people became so scared that they turned to any source of help that they
could, which is why they began praying to the idols instead of only serving God.

Lesson Summary
Beowulf was written during a time when people were trying to reconcile their old pagan beliefs with their
current Christian beliefs. Amidst the pagan setting of the story, there are many references to the Bible, such
as Cain and the flood. And there are many examples in Beowulf of pagan beliefs, such as fate and fame, that
are then explained by Christian beliefs such as trusting in God and His rewards.

Revenge Lesson Summary


Revenge and vengeance are the major recurring themes in Beowulf. We are introduced to characters who
must battle to right what they see as wrongs. Grendel terrorizes the mead hall because he can't stand the
singing and lute playing; there is too much joy. Grendel's mother is blinded by the loss of her son, and she
won't stop until she feels like she has avenged his death. We also see Beowulf fighting to make sure that the
pain caused by others does not go unpunished. What we learn is that revenge is a lonely task, and that
everyone suffers in the end. The pain caused by all is large and never ending.

Wyrd in Cultural Context


How much control do we have over our lives? Does everything happen for a reason? Early medieval people
were no less interested in these questions than we are, and these questions are prominent - sometimes
implicitly - in Beowulf. Some of the answers to these questions are suggested in the complex cultural concept
of wyrd, which appears throughout Old English literature. The Old Englishword 'wyrd' can be translated in a
variety of ways: fate, or doom, or destiny.
Susanne Weil has suggested that wyrd can be thought of as a shaping. Old English often used tactile imagery.
Thinking of wyrd as working with existing material, like a sculptor or a potter, may help us to understand the
complex ways in which wyrd works with the lives of the characters in Beowulf. As J.R.R. Tolkien noted,
wyrd has sometimes affected the reception of Beowulf, as wyrd was held to be less sophisticated
than hamartia, the concept of the fatal flaw that drives classical tragedy. Wyrd can be seen as present
in Beowulf even when it's not explicitly mentioned. One way of understanding wyrd is as a force deriving
from the cumulative power of past actions. This view provides a method of reconciling the importance of
wyrd as an apparently impersonal force in Beowulf, and the heroic values extolled by the poem.Wyrd and
Religion
Wyrd was a concept central to the pagan belief systems of the Germanic cultures in which Beowulf was first
transmitted. Scholars have debated the question of whether or not wyrd in Beowulf is essentially opposed to a
Christian worldview. After all, if wyrd is all-powerful, what role is left for the Christian God? Kevin J.
Wanner has noted that wyrd appears to have a variety of functions in Beowulf, and suggests that its influence
becomes less prominent in the sections most worked over by the poem's Christian scribe. Other scholars,
however, have noted that Beowulf need not represent a totally coherent set of beliefs. Even as early medieval
Europe became Christianized, deep cultural beliefs in the power of wyrd could persist.

Wyrd, Character, and Free Will in Beowulf


The words of Beowulf himself show us how complex the concept of wyrd was. In declaring his intent to fight
the monster Grendel, Beowulf says, '(Wyrd) always goes as it must!' In describing his successful battle with
Grendel, though, he suggests that individual character can influence wyrd: '(Wyrd) often saves an undoomed
man if his courage is good.' These remarks might also be read as reflecting Beowulf's character, or at least the
token modesty of a star athlete saying they were 'lucky' to win. When Grendel is approaching the mead hall,
bent on destruction, the poet predicts that the monster's wyrd is about to change because of Beowulf's actions.
Although this sequence suggestions that individual actions can alter wyrd, when Beowulf lies dying, he
laments that he, like his ancestors, has been swept away by its force.

Lesson Summary
Wyrd is a complex concept, present throughout Old English literature. It can be translated in a variety of
ways, but approximates the modern English 'fate.' In Beowulf, wyrd is connected both to the theme of
religion in the poem, and to the heroic values praised in it. Wyrd appears alongside references to Christianity,
a fact that has caused considerable debate among scholars. The role of wyrd in Beowulf is an ambiguous one.
In Beowulf's great conflict with Grendel, it is suggested that courage can influence destiny. As the warrior
lies dying, however, he accepts it as the work of wyrd.

The Epic Tale


So what happens in Beowulf? It's a lot of awesome adventuring. First we're introduced to the Danes who are
people who live in what's now Denmark. They're descendants of Scyld Scefing (that's kind of an awesome
name). He's dead, so we're really looking at one of his descendants, whose name is King Hrothgar, and his
wife Wealhtheow and all of his knights. (I think that Hrothgar would be the best cat name, but that's neither
here nor there.)
So Hrothgar and his people, they have a monster problem. There's this horrible beast named Grendel who's
terrorizing their mead hall, Heorot. Scholars kind of fight a little bit about what Grendel really looks like - it's
not totally clear from what they've translated. A lot of them think he's kind of human-like, but really big, and
maybe has scales. I like to think of him as an ancient-day Oscar the Grouch when I picture him. Sometimes I
also think of him on the cover of John Gardner's book called Grendel about the monster's point of view, and
on the cover of that he looks like a furry cat-monster. There's an animated movie (that I love the title of)
called Grendel, Grendel, Grendel where he's just a sad-looking green monster. Then there was a 2007 movie
with a whole bunch of CGI where he kind of looks gross, I don't know how to describe that gross person. But
however you picture him, he's ferocious and weird. He's supposed to be disconcerting and strange, and he
keeps killing the Danes (that's really the salient point), and they don't know what to do. He also lives in the
swamp - that's important. I think that also might be why I think of him as Oscar the Grouch, because it's kind
of like, trashcan, swamp...who can blame him for being upset about things.
So Beowulf comes in. He's sort of a professional good guy. He hears about this situation and he comes in to
help. He's a Geat, which means that he's from what is now Sweden (it doesn't mean that he opens and closes
to let you through). Hrothgar, a long time ago, had helped out Beowulf's dad, so he's sort of repaying the
favor a little bit, coming and helping out with this. So Beowulf gets there and they have a big feast. Some of
Hrothgar's warriors are a little skeptical of Beowulf's accomplishments. One of them named Unferth brings
up this embarrassing swimming contest that Beowulf had back in the day that he lost. Beowulf says that he
lost because he had to defeat a bunch of sea monsters on the way, which I think might be supposed to be true.
It's the kind of thing, you know, excuses, excuses...
They're having this big feast, and Hrothgar thinks he can do it, even if some of his warriors are a little
skeptical. And late at night, Grendel turns up, right on cue, to be fought. But late, kind of like that obnoxious
friend who turns up wasted right just when you're starting to clean and gets all upset that no one wants to play
Mario Kart with him... Grendel's kind of like that, turning up late at night. Beowulf has decided that he's not
going to use any weapons because Grendel isn't armed. That seems like dubious logic to me because people
don't have monster things like teeth and claws and all that stuff.
But Beowulf thinks he can handle it, and it turns out he totally can because he ends up beating Grendel. He
rips off his arm, which is really crazy. Grendel runs away to his swamp to die, and we think we've maybe
seen the last of him. The Danes are drinking and singing songs and all happy the next day having
celebrations. And then, Grendel's mom turns up. And this is kind of the origin of the mama bear concept; you
kill the baby, and then something even more horrible and big comes to get you because you killed its baby.
That's kind of what's going on with Grendel's mom.
She comes in, she kills one of Hrothgar's favorite warriors, and then it's on. Beowulf and a bunch of the
Danes run off to the swamp and they're going to go and take on Grendel's mom. Unferth, remember that
doubting guy who brought up the whole swimming contest thing, he's totally convinced now, because he saw
Beowulf rip off Grendel's arm, that Beowulf is a good guy, so he gives him a sword called Hrunting.
(Beowulf's just full of fantastic names.). So Beowulf takes Hrunting and he's going to go fight Grendel's
mom. Grendel's mom ends up pulling him underwater where they fight, which I guess was fine - if you're an
ancient-day person I guess you don't have to be able to breathe.
But Beowulf finds that Hrunting isn't really cutting the mustard and he can't really defeat Grendel's mom with
this sword. Things are not looking good for Beowulf for a while. It looks like he might lose this battle with
Grendel's mom, which is one of the interesting things about the epic in general. He doesn't seem invincible all
the time, which is kind of nice and interesting. Down underwater, he finds this other sword that is really
awesome and is actually able to kill Grendel's mom, and then yay, hooray, the Grendel part of this story is
done.

The Epilogue
So then we get a kind of epilogue-y thing, where 50 years later, Beowulf goes home. So now he's back among
the Geats, among the people in Sweden, and he's king. During his reign, some idiot guy goes and tries to steal
some treasure from a big treasure horde. It turns out to belong to a dragon. The dragon gets very upset and
goes around burning the peasants and burning the countryside. Beowulf has to go and deal with it. He's kind
of old now. So he goes to deal with the dragon, and he's really not doing well. A friend comes and helps him
out,. He ends up being able to take care of the dragon, but he also ends up being mortally wounded in the
process. The epic concludes with him dying a hero's death and being buried on the cliff side. So that's what
happens in Beowulf.

The Importance
Like I said, it's really, really old, so 'why do we care?' is an important question to ponder. One of the reasons
is just because it's old and big and significant-seeming, and so it's worth studying from that perspective. It's
an original thing and might have some influence on later literature. The other thing is that it's really attractive
to people who study this stuff because they don't know a lot about it. They don't even know who wrote it, and
there's a lot of scholarship that can be done figuring things out about it, which is really attractive to the kind
of people who do that.
It's interesting too because it's at a weird intersection between Paganism and Christianity. It was probably
written down by a Christian, but it's definitely about Pagan stuff, such as these Pagan kings, who are actually
probably sort of based on real people. Obviously Grendel and the dragons and stuff like that's probably not
real, but Hrothgar and Beowulf were probably based on real people. So there's an interesting intersection of
older stuff and then new Christian interpretations going on in this. Legend, myth, and history wrapped up into
one thing is interesting.
One of the reasons why we're so into it now is that J.R.R. Tolkien, of Lords of the Rings fame and The
Hobbit, was really, really into it. You actually might recognize the part where the idiot disturbs the dragon
horde, and then the dragon comes out - that kind of happens in the Hobbit. Bilbo is the thief and Smaug is the
dragon, so that plot ends up playing out. But what Tolkien did is he delivered this famous lecture about how
we really can't separate out the supernatural stuff from the history stuff, which is how people were
approaching it at the time. He said, no, this is really important that we look at this all together, and that has
influenced the way we think about it now. His work on it influenced the importance that we assign to it now.
And we definitely wouldn't have had the crazy CGI Beowulf adaptation if we left out the magic, though I'm
still not totally sure how Angelina Jolie as Grendel's mom fit into all that...

Lesson Summary
To sum it up, Beowulf is the mother monster of English literature. It's a gigantic early epic. Scholars try to
figure stuff out about it, that's really fun for them. It's pretty exciting - there's lot of stuff to inspire all sorts of
adaptations over the years. Beowulf swoops in to help Hrothgar deal with Grendel, then he deals with
Grendel's mom, then he goes home and deals with the dragon and dies a hero's death. A few more important
facts: written in Old English (not Middle English), alliterative verse, and with caesuras. So that is Beowulf.

Grendel the Murderous Monster


Grendel is a monster that seems to embody evil. He is given no definite shape and very little personality. He
seeks to destroy. He kills without mercy. He cannot be reasoned with. In a scene in which he kills thirty
sleeping men, Grendel is described as 'insensible to pain and human sorrow.' He is a 'God-cursed brute' (lines
119-121). Why would Grendel do all of this? There are a few possible reasons. Hrothgar, the king of Heorot
Hall, which is the place Grendel keeps attacking, believes that Grendel is just evil by nature. Grendel is called
a 'fiend out of hell' and a 'banished monster.' This is how most of the characters in the story understand
Grendel. Monsters are destructive - it's just what they do. But there is a more sympathetic way to understand
him.
Grendel has lived in the same place for a very, very long time. Hrothgar is new to the neighborhood. When
Hrothgar built his mead hall, which is like a castle, he brought a lot of very noisy people to the area. They
used the natural resources and disturbed Grendel, and so Grendel got mad (lines 86-90). Not only were the
neighbors too noisy, but they sang songs that reminded Grendel about his status as an outcast. He is a
'banished monster' who is 'cursed,' which means that God has rejected him. And all day and night, Hrothgar's
people sing about God (lines 90 - 114). One way to understand Grendel is as an outcast who feels harassed by
Hrothgar and his people. No matter how Grendel's motives are explained, he poses a threat to Hrothgar and
everyone else at Heorot Hall. They need a hero. In walks Beowulf!

Beowulf the Brave


When Beowulf comes onto the scene, he is described as a mighty and accomplished hero and is referred to as
'The man whose name was known for courage' (line 340). He has stood up to monsters more terrifying than
Grendel. In fact, we hear about several of these monster battles through Beowulf's boasts, which are speeches
meant to prove that he is up to the challenge. Beowulf's reputation for bravery precedes him and, while he
boasts, some even suggest that he is too brave, or foolishly brave. In short, Beowulf likes a good fight, and
everyone knows it. Because of this, he is quickly accepted by Hrothgar and his people which, unlike Grendel,
makes him an insider.
You don't have to guess at Beowulf's motivations. He has two, and they are very clear. First, Hrothgar once
did Beowulf's dad a huge solid and so Beowulf owes him. Defeating Grendel will settle that debt. Second,
Beowulf is something like a professional hero. The better he does in battle against various monsters, the more
famous he becomes. And fame means a lot to this guy! In fact, fame means almost everything to Beowulf
because he sees it as a way to gain immortality.

Beowulf & Grendel


Are Beowulf and Grendel two peas in a pod? Well, not exactly - but Beowulf and Grendel are not complete
opposites either. During his boasts, we learn that this isn't Beowulf's first monster rodeo. He tells a story
about a time that he went into an underwater den of monsters and had a killing fest. Why? Because they're
monsters and he's a hero, and heroes kill monsters. That reasoning isn't too far off from Grendel's reasons for
attacking Heorot Hall.
If Beowulf has a bit of monster in him, Grendel has some human in him, too. He has a mom that cares for
him very much. She's grief-stricken when he dies. She mourns him and then seeks revenge. It doesn't go so
well for her and she meets the same fate as her son, but it shows that the monsters are capable of caring
deeply about each other - much like humans. It also shows that, while Grendel was an outsider at Heorot
Hall, he was a member of another community.
When these two meet in battle, Beowulf refuses to use any weapons because he knows Grendel won't have
weapons. He wants them to fight on equal terms. The narrative dwells on the struggle and emphasizes the fact
that these two fighters are very similar in strength and technique.

Lesson Summary
Beowulf and Grendel are different in many ways. Beowulf is the hero of the story who comes to Heorot Hall
to save Hrothgar and his people from the monster, Grendel, who has killed many men. But they also have
some similarities. Both characters have some monster in them and, at times, kill without a lot of motivation.
But, they also both have some human characteristics - they have families and communities that they care
about.

Introduction
'Bam!' and 'Pow!' are common onomatopoeias--words that sound like their meaning. The pronunciation of
these words mimics the sounds they represent. Comic books are among the most recognized texts using
onomatopoeias. In a play, actions exist as stage commands such as 'Enter Juliet' or 'Stabs herself.' The
movements of the actors and delivery of the lines are open for interpretation. One Juliet may stab herself with
a dramatic sigh, while another may grunt. Consistency from one performance of Romeo and Juliet to the next
often depends on a script's dialogue and by extension, onomatopoeia.

Bringing the Play to Life

A Violent Beginning
Romeo and Juliet opens with an explosive fight between the Montagues and the Capulets--a fitting beginning
for a story about 'a pair of star-cross'd lovers' (I.Prologue.6). As the dust settles, Romeo's cousin, Benvolio is
asked to explain what happened to his aunt and uncle. He describes his enemy, Tybalt, as a foe who 'swung
about his head and cut the winds,/Who nothing hurt withal hiss'd him in scorn' (I.i.113-4). In the play,
Romeo's friend Mercutio calls Tybalt the 'Prince of Cats,' (II.iv.20) an insulting reference to Reynard Fox's
fable featuring a feline character of the same name. The hiss Benvolio earlier describes is an appropriately
cat-like noise. Both Mercutio's nickname and Benvolio's description evoke an image in the mind of the
audience. This is the purpose of onomatopoeia.

Romeo
After the Montagues' discussion of Tybalt, they turn their attention to the notably absent Romeo. His father
laments that his son has 'Many a morning hath he there been seen,/With tears augmenting the fresh morning's
dew,/Adding to clouds more clouds with his deep sighs' (I.i.134-6). Unlike Tybalt, Romeo is a thoughtful,
sensitive young man. Romeo's father paints an image of Romeo's melancholic sighs adding to the clouds in
the sky.

Juliet
The image ascribed to Juliet is one of a child, as she is only fourteen. As her mother and her nurse discuss her
maturity and potential for a marriage to Paris, Juliet says that such an event would be 'an honor that I dream
not of,' (I.iii.71) much to her mother's chagrin. Nurse says, 'An honor? Were not I thine only nurse,/I would
say thou hadst suck'd wisdom from thy/Teat' (I.iii.72-4). The image here is perhaps that of Juliet as a newborn
calf drinking from its mother. Nurse implies that Juliet received wisdom in addition to the milk. At the end of
the play, when Romeo sees Juliet's body laid out for viewing, he perceives 'death, that hath sucked the honey
of thy breath,/Hath had no power yet upon thy beauty' (V.iii.91-2). The image turns to death sucking that life
and wisdom back out of Juliet. 'Suck' is an onomatopoeic word in both cases.
Romeo and Juliet in Love
The love that Romeo and Juliet share is fraught with emotion and tension. Because they come from enemy
families, a union between them is destined to be unstable at best. Act II opens with the Chorus reminding the
audience that Romeo has found a new love in Juliet. Despite their families' feud, they have pledged their love
for one another, and 'That fair for which love groaned for and would die,/With tender Juliet matched, is now
not fair' (II.Prologue.3-4). The 'fair' spoken of is Romeo's previous love, Rosaline. Though his love is still a
groaning, sighing thing, as is common with young lovers, he has moved this attention from Rosaline to Juliet.
The theme of Romeo's groaning continues in Friar Laurence's words to him: 'The sun not yet thy sighs from
heaven clears,/Thy old groans yet ringing in my ancient ears' (II.iii.77-8). Mercutio uses similar language
soon afterward: 'Why, is not this better now than groaning/for love?' (II.iv.90-1). Both the Friar and Mercutio
talk of Romeo groaning about love. For Romeo, love is both something to groan about as well as something
that groans. The love between mortal enemies Romeo and Juliet is a love that groans because it is both
unnatural and unwelcome by their feuding families.

Lesson Summary
Shakespeare's onomatopoeias help bring Romeo and Juliet to life on the page as well as the stage. The
characters discussed in this lesson express a variety of sounds to help better convey meaning to the reader.
Reading about Tybalt hissing his displeasure at Benvolio is much more telling than dialogue that simply
explains that Tybalt is upset. The 'hiss' gives the reader the image of an angry cat and connects to Mercutio's
taunting nickname for Tybalt, 'Prince of Cats.' Each of the onomatopoeias serves the dual purpose of
describing and emoting to give the reader a better sense of Shakespeare's intent.
William Shakespeare breaks with tradition by choosing Romeo and Juliet as the subjects of his play. Most
tragic heroes in plays of the period would have been royalty, but Shakespeare's young lovers are not.
The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet emphasizes fate, which neither the lovers nor Friar Lawrence can change.
Romeo and Juliet, with Friar Lawrence's help, plan to marry secretly. The plan goes tragically awry, and the
young lovers die before they are able to wed. The same passions that cause Romeo and Juliet to fall in love
fuel the feud between their two families, the Montagues and the Capulets.

Act I
The Prologue that opens Romeo and Juliet is a sonnet, a formal type of poetry that has fourteen lines, with
ten syllables in each line. Shakespeare was very familiar with the form, having written more than 150 sonnets
in his lifetime. The idea of fate is so important in the play that it is mentioned in the Prologue in the first
scene of Romeo and Juliet. In the Prologue, lines 5 and 6 contain the first example of alliteration in Romeo
and Juliet. Alliteration is a type of figurative language involving the repetition of initial consonant sounds in a
passage of text. For example:
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life.
These lines, which also contain an overview of the play's plot, have repeated 'f' and 'l' sounds.

Act II
The first line of Act II contains alliteration. The 'd' sound occurs three times, when the Chorus says, 'Now old
desire doth in his death bed lie.' The 'd' sound is also repeated in line 6 when Friar Lawrence says, 'The day to
cheer and night's dank due to dry.' Another example of alliteration occurs in Scene 3, lines 77 and 78. Again,
Friar Lawrence uses repetitive consonant sounds saying, 'If e'er thou wast thyself and these woes thine/Thou
and these woes were all for Rosaline.' In these lines, Shakespeare repeats both the 'w' and 'th' sounds. Romeo
is in love with Rosaline at the beginning of the play, while Juliet is expected to marry Paris in two years, an
arrangement set up by her parents. These plans for love will fail once Romeo and Juliet meet and discover
real love.
There are numerous other examples of alliteration in Scene 3, including line 3 ('And fleckled darkness like a
drunkard reels'), line 26 ('Being tasted, stays all sense with the heart'), and line 32 ('What early tongue so
sweet saluteth me?'). In Scene 4, lines 15 and 16, Mercutio describes what has happened to Romeo since he's
fallen in love with Juliet. Mercutio believes Romeo has been shot with Cupid's arrow. He says, 'The very pin
of his heart cleft with the bow-boy's butt shaft.' The 'b' sound repeated in these lines is an example of
alliteration. These Act II alliterative examples help illustrate how strong the love between Romeo and Juliet
is.

Act III
Act III, Scene 2 opens with alliteration. Juliet, in lines 1 through 3, says, 'Gallop apace, you fiery-footed
steeds,/Toward Phoebus' lodging; such a waggoner/As Phaeton would whip you to the west.' In this example,
the 'w' sound occurs three times. In addition to the two words that begin with the letter 'f,' the 'f' sound is also
repeated in 'Phoebus' and 'Phaeton.' In this scene, Juliet anxiously awaits the onset of evening, when Romeo
will come to share her bed.

Act IV
Act IV, Scene 3 contains more alliteration with the letter 'f' as Juliet says, 'I have a faint cold fear thrills
through my veins,/That almost freezes up the heat of life' (lines 15 and 16). In this scene, Juliet contemplates
the potion, expressing fear that the plan for her to appear dead might not work. When the nurse goes to wake
Juliet, she believes that Juliet is dead. The musicians enter the scene and argue about whether or not music is
appropriate at such a time. In Scene 5, lines 126 and 127, Peter says that music is needed: 'When griping
griefs the heart doth wound,/And doleful dumps the mind oppress.' This line, with the repeating 'g' and 'd'
consonant sounds, is memorable because of its alliteration.

Act V
In Act V, Scene 3, Paris goes to Juliet's tomb. As Paris and his page enter the cemetery, Shakespeare
alliterates both the 'y' and 'h' sounds as Paris instructs the page: 'Under yon yew trees lay thee all
along;/Holding thine ear close to the hollow ground' (lines 3 and 4). Paris and Romeo fight, and Paris is
killed. Romeo sees Juliet, apparently dead, and kills himself. When Juliet wakes and realizes that Romeo is
dead, she kills herself with his dagger. A love that begins so quickly ends much the same way.

Lesson Summary
Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet abounds with alliteration, the repetition of initial consonant sounds within a
passage of text. Alliteration occurs in many of the memorable lines in Shakespeare's tale of 'star-cross'd
lovers,' from the prologue to the final act. Shakespeare uses figurative language techniques like alliteration to
draw readers into his story of love, fate, and tragedy.
Allusions in Romeo and Juliet

Cupid and Diana


Cupid was the god of love and attraction, often seen with a bow and arrow used to smite the intended person.
In this reference, Romeo is stating that Rosaline will not be 'hit' with Cupid's arrow, meaning she will not fall
in love with him.
Diana was the virgin goddess of childbirth and women, and one of three goddesses who vowed never to
marry. In this reference, Romeo is stating that Rosaline is like Diana in that she will remain a virgin and not
be convinced to marry.

Aurora
The Roman goddess, Aurora, had the unique job of going throughout the skies each day announcing the
arrival of the dawn. When Montague refers to her, he is acknowledging that Romeo prefers the darkness
because of his sadness and avoids the light of the dawn.

Venus and Cupid


In these lines, Mercutio is upset because Romeo cannot be found and is referring to both Venus and her son,
Cupid.
Venus was the Roman goddess of love and sex, and Cupid was said to be the son of Venus and Mars, the god
of war. In the story referred to by Mercutio, Cupid shot an arrow into a maid for King Cophetua, who
otherwise could not get anyone to marry him. In this allusion, Mercutio is claiming that Romeo can only be
summoned by appeals to his obsession with love and romance.

Jove
The Roman god, Jove (or Jupiter), was the head of the gods. He was partial to justice and oaths that were
pure, and he became angry at promises made with no intention to be honored. In this allusion, Juliet is
implying that if Romeo's profession of love for her is not true, Jove will be offended. In fact, she is claiming
that Jove has so often encountered professions of love that are not true, he actually laughs when they happen.

Echo
Echo was a Greek oread (or nymph) who lived on Earth. Zeus often visited her, angering his wife, Hera. Hera
cursed Echo because she tried to protect Zeus, only allowing her to repeat the last words spoken to her. In this
allusion, Juliet is saying that her voice would be more hoarse than Echo's by repeating Romeo's name all the
time.

Love and Beauty


Petrarch was a well-known Renaissance poet, and his poems about his unrequited love, Laura, would have
been familiar to Shakespeare's audience. Dido was the first queen of Carthage, known for her exquisite
beauty. Cleopatra was the alluring pharaoh of Egypt, known for using her womanly wiles to benefit her
country. Helen was the daughter of the greek god head, Zeus, and well-known for her beauty. Hero was the
beautiful priestess of Aphrodite who committed suicide after her beloved Leander died. Thisbe appeared in
Ovid's Metamorphosisand had an ill-fated love affair with Pyramus, similar to the love affair that would
occur between Romeo and Juliet.
In this allusion, Mercutio is using characters known for their beauty to say that none of them can compare to
Romeo's love. Compared to Romeo's true love, the beautiful Laura was a 'kitchen-wench,' Dido was a
'dowdy' old woman, Cleopatra looked like a common 'gypsy,' Helen was a hateful person, Hero was a 'harlot,'
and Thisbe had grey instead of blue eyes, making all of them less than perfect to Romeo. He is really
mocking Romeo's obsession with this one woman.

Lesson Summary
A writer uses allusion to quickly help the reader understand both character traits and plot development. In
Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, the author uses many mythological and literary allusions familiar to his
audience to help them make connections, understand character, and determine importance of events.

The Sun and the Moon


Curiously, Romeo chooses to compare Juliet to the sun, while Juliet compares Romeo to the moon. No doubt
a deliberate move on Shakespeare's part, the author is likely implying that the couple belongs together. The
relationship between the sun and the moon cannot be separated. Likewise, Romeo and Juliet choose to die
with one another, rather than be apart. In Romeo's famous soliloquy (a speech which a character delivers
alone onstage), he describes the light he can see through a window in the Capulet mansion. He says, 'It is the
east, and Juliet is the sun./Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,/Who is already sick and pale with
grief,/That thou her maid art far more fair than she' (II.ii.3-6).
The image here is of Juliet's beauty shining so brightly that she can only be compared to the sun. However,
Romeo takes that image a step further and turns it into a metaphor by saying that Juliet 'is' the sun, for no
other light can shine as brightly. This, he is saying, is a testament to her beauty. The moon, conversely,
Romeo describes as lesser and weaker, especially when compared with Juliet, the sun. The moon does not
shine nearly as bright as the sun, since it is merely reflecting light from the sun.
Juliet, however, sees no problems with the moon. She wishes for the night to bring Romeo back to her: '...and
when I shall die,/Take him and cut him out in little stars,/And he will make the face of heaven so fine/That all
the world will be in love with night/And pay no worship to the garish sun' (III.ii.23-7). It is during the cover
of night that Romeo comes to Juliet's bedroom both times in the play. Because they must keep their love
hidden, it is not possible for them to meet in daylight, especially where other Montagues or Capulets could
see them. Naturally, Juliet enjoys the protection that the night gives her and her lover.

Worms
With the number of deaths in this play, it comes as no surprise that worms are used more than once to conjure
up images of death and decay. The first occurs after Tybalt stabs Mercutio. Because he is not a Montague,
Mercutio should never have been involved in a fight with a Capulet, much less killed, despite his friendship
with Romeo. After the stabbing, he declares: 'A plague o' both your houses!/They have made worms' meat of
me/I have it, and soundly, too. Your houses!' (III.i.111-13). Mercutio rightfully announces that he has been
killed because of the feud between the Montagues and Capulets. The plague that he speaks of is not literal,
but rather a wish for ill-will upon both families. This is incidentally fulfilled in the deaths of Romeo and
Juliet. The phrase 'worms' meat' means that he is dying and will soon be food for the worms that will eat his
corpse. It is a gruesome image, but no less effective.
Similarly, Romeo references worms moments before his death, although his words are much less repugnant.
As he lies down next to Juliet's assumed dead body, he declares that he 'still will stay with thee;/And never
from this palace of dim night/Depart again. Here, here will I remain/With worms that are thy chamber-maids;
O, here/Will I set up my everlasting rest,/And shake the yoke of inauspicious stars/From this world-wearied
flesh!' (V.iii.106-12). The worms in this passage are described as 'chamber-maids,' which means that instead
of feasting on Romeo, they will reside next to his body in death.
The other image in this passage is the 'yoke of inauspicious stars,' which, curiously enough, references Juliet's
earlier statement about night, though Romeo was not present to hear her words. However, this phrase is more
likely a reference to the fate 'written in the stars,' as the saying goes. Romeo, like a bull tethered to a plow,
suffers under the yoke of his fate, and no matter how hard he tries, he cannot escape. Instead of living without
Juliet, as his life seems to proclaim the only option, he chooses to live among the worms forever and finally
throw off the tether of his fate.

Lesson Summary
The imagery in Romeo and Juliet is plentiful and varied. The passages above give a few examples of the
ways in which Shakespeare used images to paint scenes of which his characters spoke. From the dependent
relationship of the sun and the moon to the worms that come with death and burial, the characters in Romeo
and Juliet speak in vivid language to illustrate the emotions they feel.

Aspects of Blank Verse


Iambic pentameter is the most common meter Shakespeare uses in his plays, though there are some
deviations from this rhythm. It is also the poetic meter that most closely mimics real human speech. This
seems like a natural choice for writing plays in the form of poetry as Shakespeare did, knowing that all of his
words would be spoken rather than merely read. The main aspect of blank verse that distinguishes it is that it
is iambic pentameter that is always unrhymed.

Blank Verse in Romeo and Juliet


Before Shakespeare's time, drama and poetry were always rhymed. Blank verse was a relatively new
development in the late 16th century. As Shakespeare wrote more plays, he used rhyme more and more
sparingly in favor of blank verse. This reveals a growth in his writing over time and also makes his use of
rhyme more powerful when it is in such stark contrast to his more typical use of blank verse.
Much of Romeo and Juliet is written in blank verse, more so than in his earlier plays. There are also some
examples of prose, or writing that is not any kind of poetry at all, such as letters sent from one character to
another, or in the speech of lower class characters such as the nurse and servants. In Romeo and Juliet, blank
verse is sometimes juxtaposed with rhyming iambic pentameter and prose to emphasize differences in
characters and class. For example, nobility such as Juliet's parents and Romeo and Juliet themselves often
deliver lines in blank verse. In contrast, Juliet's nurse, a lower-class, vulgar character, speaks in prose or
rhyme.

Rhyme in Shakespeare
Rhyme in Shakespeare can work in several ways. It can show a character's social class or add humor. It may
also be used as a couplet for emphasis at the end of an act or speech. For example, the last two lines of the
play, ''For never was a story of more woe/Than this of Juliet and her Romeo'' have a greater lasting impact on
the ear than unrhymed words would. Rhyming can also make lines seem more like a magical spell or a
premonition.

Lesson Summary
To recap, blank verse is a type of meter of poetry that is unrhymed iambic pentameter. Iambic pentameter is a
type of poetry where each line contains ten syllables that alternate stressed and unstressed so that you have
five pairs of iambs, or feet. Shakespeare embraced this new style of writing and employed it more and more
as time went on. By the time he wrote Romeo and Juliet in 1597, the majority of the play was in blank verse.
Shakespeare used other types of writing, such as rhyming iambic pentameter and prose, to contrast characters'
personalities and social class. Blank verse often represented the higher or more noble in the contrast.

Intro: Romeo and Juliet


We're talking about Romeo and Juliet, which is probably one of the most famous (and also depressing) love
stories ever told. Pretty much everyone in high school has to read it and be newly depressed by it. It's been
adapted into everything; the musical called West Side Story is amazing (tonight, tonight, won't be just any
night), and lots of movies - including one with Leonardo DiCaprio before he got kind of fat and old-looking
(it's a quality film) - really, any kind of movie, book or TV show that involves people in love that shouldn't be
in love, like warring families, things like that. That's all coming from Romeo and Juliet.
There's this idea of star-crossed lovers , which is a big deal in this book. It basically means that fate has
ordained that this is not going to work out. Their stars are crossed, if stars were the way of reading the future,
which some people think it is.
If you don't know what happens, or if you've forgotten, you should pay attention because all these plot lines
will make a lot more sense if you lay it over Romeo and Juliet. You'll see what's going on.

Characters
So, who's in it? We've got our cast of characters:

 We have Romeo, obviously. He is a son of the Montague family, and he's always in and out of
love - a little fickle in that regard.

 We've got Juliet, of course. She's a daughter of the Capulet family, who don't like the
Montagues very much.

 We've got Mercutio, who's a friend of Romeo's.

 Then, Benvolio is another friend of Romeo's.

 There's Tybalt. He's Juliet's cousin. He's also a Capulet.

 Juliet's Nurse, who's kind of like her nanny and mother-figure.


 And Friar Lawrence, who's somewhat of a father-figure to Romeo, and gives him some advice.

And then there's some other people (family-type) that we'll also meet. The play starts with kind of a prologue
that basically outlines everything that's going to happen. Here it is:
'Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life…'
Did you hear it? That star-crossed lovers bit, that's where that comes from, that's right at the beginning!

Act I: Romeo Crashes Capulet Party


Then the action starts, as all good things should, with a big street fight. In West Side Story this is represented
with a dance battle. It quickly gets out of hand, this street fight, and the Prince of Verona has to step in and
stop it. It kind of seems like they have to do this all the time, that things get out of hand all the time, and it's
getting kind of tiresome for the people of Verona and the prince is pretty frustrated with it all.
In the mean time, with all of this, the Montagues have kind of lost track of Romeo. Then, they're able to find
him. It turns out he's been sort of moping around about being in love with someone called Rosaline (so, not
Juliet at the beginning - fun fact). Rosaline's decided that she's not going to love anyone (love, seemingly, in
the Biblical sense), that she is maybe going to be a nun or something. This is problematic for Romeo because
he is super horny, but she is not going to give in.
Despite her telling him this, and telling him she's not going to be with him, he's still determined to get into the
Capulet feast (essentially, they're having a big party tonight) because she's going to be there and he wants to
run into her. Luck has it, it's a masquerade party, and so they get to go with masks on.
So, they're kind of hanging around outside, and Romeo's getting a little antsy about whether this is a good
idea. He talks about a bad dream that he's had. Then, his buddy, Mercutio, gives kind of an awesome, big
speech about Queen Mab, who's the queen of the faeries:
He keeps going, and this gets to be a very agitated speech. It's a really good part for an actor.
Now, we're in the Capulet camp. Juliet has just found out from her mother that she's going to have to get
married, and that the dude she might have to marry is probably going to be at the party. She's not happy about
this because Juliet is 14 years old. Things were different back then! But, she's still not feeling that great.
When Romeo gets to the party, Juliet's there. He sees her and the world basically stops. There's a frozen
moment. They just walk up to each other and start making out. Juliet tells him, you kiss by the book, which
I'm not sure is really a compliment.
Needless to say, Romeo has totally forgotten about Rosaline at this point. He's totally in love with Juliet.
Nurse comes and shoos her away and informs Romeo that Juliet is a Capulet. Juliet finds out that Romeo is a
Montague and the plot is laid for that to be a problem.
Act II: Balcony Scene and Marriage
Now, we're in Act II and it's time for the famous balcony scene, which everyone should have seen parodied a
bazillion times in something. Romeo's loitering underneath Juliet's window. He's creeping around and she
comes to the window, and he cries out:
He overhears her moaning on about how Romeo is a Montague, and that's really unfortunate:
'O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name…'
She's basically asking, 'Why do you have to be called Romeo and, therefore, be a Montague? Why couldn't
you just be some other dude that I was allowed to love, and that I could actually date? Why is this so awful?'
And note, wherefore in 'wherefore art thou Romeo' doesn't mean where, it basically means why or for what
reason. This is a match question on OkCupid and you should get it right, or I will judge you. And also use
punctuation! Anyways, wherefore is why and not where. That's the point and it's a good thing to know for
life.
She goes on:
She's basically saying that a rose is still a rose even if it were called nobbin or boppin or something. It would
still smell the same; it would still be the same thing. So, her point is that if Romeo were called Ben, he'd still
be the same awesome guy and then she could date him.
Romeo overhears this and then he kind of starts to harass her. Then, they chat across the balcony, and Juliet
says:
They talk like this for a while longer; they're kind of flirting long distance over the balcony. Romeo tells her
that he really means it, that he's not going to be flighty in his love for her, which we should be suspicious of
because he was just in love with Rosaline two scenes ago. He was madly in love with her, and now he's
madly in love with Juliet. That's just the kind of guy he is.
Juliet says that, the next day, she will send someone to go talk to him about whether he really wants to marry
her. That's kind of what they're proposing now, which is strange because it's moving super fast! They literally
just met two hours ago, and now, they're talking about maybe getting married. It does skip the whole
anguished 'I-don't-want-to-put-a-label-on-things' phase that most of us go through in relationships. It also
seems a little terrifying, but they're in love, so that's what they're going to do.
The next morning Romeo goes to talk to his friend, Friar Lawrence, who I mentioned in the character list.
He's asking for advice and asking if Friar Lawrence can marry him and Juliet later in the day. Friar Lawrence
is understandably a little bit skeptical about this because he remembers the whole Rosaline thing. He knows
Romeo. But he agrees to do it.
Then, Mercutio and Benvolio, Romeo's friends, kind of rag on him for abandoning them; 'bros before hoes,
man,' that kind of thing. Then, the Nurse finds them. Juliet really does send the nurse out to find Romeo.
She's agreed to facilitate this whole crazy plan. Juliet basically learns that she's going to show up at Friar
Lawrence's place. She does, they both are there, and they get married.
This is in Act II; they're married! They've met the day before and now they're together.

Act III: Confrontation with Tybalt


Now, we're into Act III. Things seem to be going pretty really well, right? How is this a tragedy? What could
possibly go wrong?
Right here is where things start to go wrong. Romeo's riding the high of being in love. They've got this crazy
plan so they can spend their wedding night together. He's going to get laid, so he's really excited. He runs into
Tybalt who, remember, is Juliet's cousin. Tybalt wants to challenge him to a duel and Romeo is like, 'No, I'm
happy and the world is great. I don't want to fight.'
Tybalt's not having this at all; he still wants to have this fight. So, Mercutio, who's Romeo's friend, steps in
and is going to fight for him and he ends up getting killed. He delivers a famous line while dying: 'A plague o'
both your houses!' (Mercutio's really the best part, he has very few lines but they're all awesome.)
Romeo feels understandably guilty because he was supposed to be fighting Tybalt. So, he kills Tybalt after
Tybalt kills Mercutio. He dashes off and gives another famous line: 'O, I am fortune's fool!'
He runs away, aware of the fact that he has killed his new bride's cousin (that'd be his new bride as of two
hours ago). This kicks the family feud into really high gear. Juliet finds out that Romeo killed Tybalt, and
she's super conflicted. She's worrying that Romeo's not going to show up for their wedding night.
Romeo's freaking out at Friar Lawrence's house about the same thing. He's convinced Juliet's going to think
he's a monster, that she's not going to want him anymore because he killed her cousin (that might be a fair
assumption).
He finds out that he's been sentenced to be banished, which he thinks is worse than death because he'll be
alive but he can't be with Juliet. Things are not looking good for Romeo. Nurse shows up and says, 'No, you
come to the bedroom anyway. We're going to make this work out.'
So, he does and they have a great time on their wedding night. Juliet doesn't want him to go in the morning
because they had such a nice time. But, he has to or he'll risk arrest and potential death because he's not
supposed to be in the city anymore.
They're basically fighting about whether it's morning or night and what bird it is they're hearing. Juliet's
saying, 'No, it's the nightingale, it's nighttime still,' but Romeo is like, 'No, it's the lark, it's morning.'
Romeo is obviously correct, and so, he bounces just in time. Juliet's mother rolls in and says, 'Guess what?
You're going to get married on Thursday and it's going to be to this guy named Paris.' That's the end of Act III
- she has a great wedding night with Romeo and it turns out she has to get married, again, to somebody else,
soon.

Act IV: Juliet's Potion


This is bad. We're going to figure out a way to solve all this, and that's what they try to do. So, she goes to see
Friar Lawrence. He's kind of the go-to guy in all of this, it seems. He has a dastardly plan because he's a
smart guy.
He says, 'Juliet, say you're going to get married, but the night before you're supposed to get married, you'll
drink this potion and it's going to make you look like you're dead. You'll be asleep, you'll be fine, but it's just
going to look like you're dead. Then you'll get put in the Capulet tomb, we'll alert Romeo of what's going on,
he'll come and collect you, and then you can go live happily ever after… but not in Verona.'
Why they couldn't just run away together, I'll never fully understand. I guess this is so they won't go looking
for her. This seems to be the way that Friar Lawrence wants it to go down.
So they do this plan, it works; everyone thinks Juliet is dead and she gets put in the tomb. So far; so good.
That's the end of Act IV - she doesn't have to get married, and Paris is really upset, obviously, and her parents
are devastated. But, it looks like she's going to get to be with Romeo.

Act V: Romeo's Poison


The problem (in Act V) is that Romeo gets the message that she's dead, but he doesn't get the message that
she's actually faking it. So, he's freaking out. He goes and buys some poison so he can spend another night
with her (a.k.a. die with her).
He turns up at the tomb, and runs into Paris, who's there mourning her as well, because he was about to marry
her. They get in a fight, and Romeo actually kills him too! So, now there's quite the body count for something
that started out really nice and romantic.
Romeo goes in, and he kisses Juliet and then he takes the poison. Now, he's actually dead. She wakes up,
finds him dead and tries to drink the rest of the poison, but here isn't any left, so, she stabs herself and says:

Lesson Summary
You can see that it really starts off great and lighthearted, and then it makes a horrible turn for the depressing
about halfway through. It resonates throughout the age. I mentioned before that there are so many
adaptations; so many things are based on it. I think it really resonates because there's something just so awful
about people who want to be in love and they can't be in love.
It puts a lot of emphasis on this idea of fate. That's the whole star-crossed thing that we mentioned at the
beginning. It's the idea that they're pre-ordained to have problems. You might remember that after Romeo
kills Tybalt (and Tybalt killed Mercutio) that he cried out, 'I am fortune's fool!' What he's saying by that is
that he's sort of feeling tossed about by fate and fortune, so that he's forced to kill a relative of his beloved.
All throughout those early happy scenes, there is kind of a sense of foreboding and fate. Romeo's bad dream
before he goes to the party (that sets Mercutio off on the big, long speech) is about whether this will set off a
bad cascade of events. But, he goes anyway.
That's important - that in Romeo and Juliet, there's this idea that love is worth it anyway or is worth pursuing
even in the face of fate, even though Romeo was in love with Rosaline only two days before. So, maybe it
really worked out for the best, because if they stayed together, he would've just been fickle and gone off to
somebody else. But this way, they die forever immortalized together in their love. Their love is perfect and
crystallized and frozen in time, and is perpetuated throughout literature as it goes forward.
So, that's Romeo and Juliet. That's the summary and a little discussion of fate.

Envied Love
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, was written in 1595. Romeo and Juliet are the embodiment of
love. We are drawn to them like a moth to the flame, and we want what they have. We want someone who
will die for us, someone who will give their all for us, someone who will sacrifice everything for us. Romeo
and Juliet are timeless love.

Forceful Love and Violence


Throughout the play, love and violence go hand in hand. The love Romeo and Juliet share is shrouded
in deathand violence. While the love Romeo and Juliet feel for one another is exciting and energizing; it
brings death and chaos to them and those around them. This is felt even more intensely because Shakespeare
switches from comedy to tragedy to increase the tension. We are also witness to the forcefulness of their love.
We see it expressed in Shakespeare's words:
These violent delights have violent ends
Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms!
Romeo's life was threatened by Tybalt because of his love for Juliet, but Romeo refused to fight. Mercutio
was furious and stepped in to fight Tybalt himself. Romeo intervened, causing Mercutio's death. Before he
died, Mercutio said, 'A pox on both your houses.' Romeo and Juliet's forbidden love caused this violent death.

Individual vs. Society


Forbidden love puts Romeo and Juliet in conflict with society. This love, hidden from the world has made
them secretive, as they hide their acts from family and friends. They prefer the darkness of night to the light
of day. In the darkness they can express their love for one another, but when the day arrives they must speak
words of love that are cloaked in other sentiments. Juliet tries to convince Romeo that it is still night:
Wilt thou be gone? it is not yet near day:
It was the nightingale, and not the lark
In the dark of night Romeo and Juliet are free to love, free to be themselves regardless of their family names.
Each tries desperately to be other than they are. Juliet tries to forgo her public responsibilities, and Romeo
tries desperately to avoid fighting Tybalt. Juliet tries to take a stand when her father wants her to marry Paris,
even when her allies, her mother and the nurse, abandon her.

Fate is Inevitable
We know from the first lines of the play what the outcome will be. On this point there are no surprises.
Do with their death bury their parents' strife
Their fate is sealed from the moment they first lay eyes on each other. We see their determination as they
struggle against the inevitable, but in this struggle we see the fire of their passionate love for each other.
Shakespeare does an excellent job of foreshadowing things to come. We have glimpses of their fate from the
beginning of the play. When Juliet first sees Romeo, she laments that it will kill her if Romeo is already
married. As it turns out, she dies on her wedding night, making her comments even more powerful.
We witness fate throughout the timeless love story of Romeo and Juliet. The audience is privy to the double
meaning of the words and is therefore a partner in the play. We play a role from the first moment they see one
another. We are witness to their ill fated love.

Lesson Summary
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare is a story of fated love that is filled with a forcefulness that knows
few boundaries. This love causes men to behave violently, and the lovers to meet their end by their own
hands. As readers, we relate.
We see Romeo and Juliet as fighting against the tide of society. They go against the rules of the day to find a
way to be together, and in doing so, they choose to place themselves above the needs of their families and
society as a whole.
We know that their love is fated from the first moment, and as an audience we watch as each scene unfolds
and the premonitions are fulfilled. In many ways we become accomplices in the destiny of these star-crossed
lovers.

Light and Dark


In Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, the play is moved forward using elements to engage us and
keep us wanting more. The use of light and dark is meant to provide sensory contrast rather than an
explanation of good vs. evil. This imagery is most often referred to by comparing day to night.
We see the importance of light and dark in the opening scene of the play. After a street brawl, Montague and
Lady Montague stay behind to speak with Benvolio. Lady Montague is happy that her son did not take part in
the brawl, but she questions whether Benvolio has seen him. He says,'
Montague and Lady Montague worry that he is avoiding the sunlight because he is depressed because Romeo
has been seen walking deep in the woods.
Later, Romeo and Benvolio are at the Montague feast, and Romeo is pining over Rosaline. Benvolio tells
Romeo that he will show him ladies that will shine brighter than Romeo has ever seen. Benvolio says:
Benvolio will not be dissuaded from his attempt to lift Romeo's spirits. He says that at the Capulet feast he
will show Romeo maids that will shine so brightly that Romeo will forget all about Rosaline.
When Romeo first spies Juliet, he is dumbfounded. He can't believe his eyes. He tells us that she shines
brighter than any light he has ever seen:
His use of light and dark in describing his fair maiden helps us see her as he does. The use of dark in his
language makes her light shine even brighter. There are many examples of the juxtaposition between light
and dark, which is fitting considering the movement between comedy and tragedy, and the fated love of
Romeo and Juliet.

Opposing Points of View


In Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio is a voice that provides the audience with an alternate point of view on a
variety of subjects. When Romeo is blind with love, he feels as though Romeo is unable to see the reality of
the situation. When we are witness to Tybalt's sense of honor, it is Mercutio who reminds us that such single-
minded devotion renders a person both blind and stupid.
Mercutio is equally critical of the servants. He is vocal about his disdain when the musicians care about their
lost wages. We are shown the gulf between the nobility who thrive on duels and drama and the servants who
worry about realities such as poverty and disease.

Poison
The poison plays a larger role than just that of a tool used to bring about death. It is the embodiment of
Romeo's love for Juliet. When Romeo awakens to find Juliet apparently dead, he realizes he will not, cannot
live without her. He says as he prepares to drink the poison and join his beloved Juliet:
Here's to my love! O true apothecary!
Thy drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die
Juliet awakens from her sleep to find her Romeo dead in the tomb. She does not want to live without her
love, so she decides to try to take the poison from his lips. We hear her say:

Thumb-biting
This is a childish way to insult. The thumb is placed behind the front teeth and then flicked in the direction of
the person to be insulted. It is usually seen as annoying rather than a direct affront. The Capulet and the
Montague feud is silly and ridiculous. The violence that has ensued are a result of the feud is equally
unnecessary. Thumb-biting is intended to help us see that the feud and the violence are foolish and without
merit.

Lesson Summary
The motifs and symbols prevalent in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet' help the audience understand the
players and the issues of the time. We see themes such as the use of light and dark, and opposing points of
view. Symbols like the use of poison and thumb-biting add information that fills in the gaps of understanding.
The use of light and dark is intended to provide sensory contrast rather than a statement on the concept of
good and evil. The comparison of night to day is seen throughout the play.
We are aware of a number of opposing viewpoints. Mercutio is quite vocal when he tells Romeo that he has
been blinded by his love for Juliet, and as a result is not able to see the situation clearly. He also show the
differing thoughts when looking a life from the servants' points of view and the noble's viewpoint.
The use of poison is intended to amplify the intensity of Romeo's love for Juliet. He uses poison to kill
himself when he believes she is dead, and she in turn uses poison from his lips to kill herself when she
awakes and finds him dead. It represents the power of their love.
Thumb-biting is an annoying insult as opposed to calling someone out for a duel. The main idea behind the
use of this tool is to help the reader understand that the feud between the two families was silly and
ridiculous.

What Happens
The Canterbury Tales is a frame narrative, a story told around another story or stories. The frame of the story
opens with a gathering of people at the Tabard Inn in London who are preparing for their journey to the
shrine of St. Becket in Canterbury. This is a yearly occurrence and Chaucer is among the people preparing for
the journey. The Host of the inn suggests that they all take turns telling a tale as they travel. Whoever tells the
best tale, to be judged by the Host, will receive a free meal upon their return.
In total, there are 24 tales. It is possible that Chaucer never finished the work since the prologue lists people
who made the journey but did not tell a tale. The tales include lessons on morality, human struggles, and
more humorous fare. Many are tales of spite directed at the other individuals. It's no surprise that these tales
are the most vulgar and sexually explicit in nature and also the most well-known ones.
The Host of the Tabard acts as a moderator during the trip, calling upon various characters to share a tale. The
Host often becomes bored or overwhelmed with some of the tales, especially those that are emotionally
tormenting. In response, he demands that the characters tell more light-hearted tales which focus on love,
chivalry, or something else.
The cast of characters is eclectic, ranging from clergymen to working-class and from moralistic individuals to
those less scrupulous. This mix of characters is what makes the frame narrative so compelling during the
journey. While some of the tales highlight moralistic principles, especially those of the Knight and the Man of
Law, others are spiteful and vulgar in nature. Characters like the Miller and the Reeve, as well as the Friar
and the Summoner, tell tales that not only insult each other, but are also explicit in nature. Their tales include
sexual deviance, profanity and vulgar, low-brow humor, such as a hot fire poker being jabbed into someone's
rear end.

Morality and Human Nature


The Knight, the Man of Law, the Wife of Bath, the Clerk, the Franklin, the Prioress, the Nun's Priest, the
Parson, the Merchant and the Second Nun, all tell morality tales. These characters' stories emphasize their
moral values, or a struggle that each individual has endured. The Knight, for example, speaks at length on
matters of chivalry while the Wife of Bath speaks of the necessity of a submissive husband for a happy
marriage. The Pardoner shares a tales of morality concerning avarice, despite the acknowledgement of his
own greed. At the end of his tale, he offers the other travelers a chance to buy his wares, so that they may be
pardoned for their sins.
There is often interruption, too, especially by the Host whose preference seems to lie in the tales of morality.
Some tales, such as Chaucer's and the Cook are left unfinished. Chaucer does finish a tale, but not on his first
attempt because the Host does not enjoy Chaucer's use of poetic rhyme. So instead of finishing his tale about
Sir Topaz, Chaucer begrudgingly tells a tale in prose about Melibee. The Physician, the Monk, the Pardoner
and the Squire all tell tragic tales, which also upset the host.
The Parson initially turns down the Host's request to tell a tale, but as the group nears Canterbury, he delivers
a sermon instead of a tale. In this sermon, the Parson details how all of the other travelers are guilty of mortal
sins, including the Knight who is the most moral character on the journey.

Humor and Vulgarity


The humorous stories are typically vulgar in nature, and in most cases, target another member of the group.
Of all the tales in Chaucer's work, the vulgar and humorous tales remain the most popular. The first of these
is the Miller's tale. He drunkenly interrupts the Monk to tell a story of infidelity and a dim-witted carpenter.
This initiates a series of tales from other characters that are both insulting and vulgar. The Reeve is deeply
offended by the Miller's tale because he was once a carpenter and so he offers a rebuttal. His tale consists of a
Miller whose daughter and wife who both have sex with two different strangers in the same night.
Following the Miller and the Reeve, the Friar and the Summoner also tell their reflective tales of the other's
professions. The Summoner's tale is much more obscene, discussing an elderly man who plays a trick on a
friar. The old man tells the friar that he has hidden money between his butt cheeks, but when he reaches into
the man's rear to retrieve the money, the old man farts on his hand.
The Shipman offers a tale of sexual deviance and betrayal in an attempt to rile the Merchant. The Shipman's
tale is a twisted story about a rich merchant whose constant visitor is a monk. The monk borrows money from
the merchant, and while he is away at sea, the monk uses this money to pay the merchant's wife for sex.
When the merchant returns, the monk tells the merchant that he repaid the loan to his wife.

Lesson Summary
Chaucer's Canterbury Tales are a collection of various stories told within a frame narrative by different
characters who have joined together at the Tabard Inn in London. The Host of the inn decides to hold a
contest to see who can tell the best tale while they make their journey to Canterbury to pay homage to the
shrine of St. Becket. During the journey, each member of the group is given an opportunity to tell the best
tale they can think of, and the 24 tales told range from lessons on morality to obscene tales of mischief and
sexual deviance.

Allegory and Morality


Poetry and stories in Chaucer's time were often used as a form of moral instruction, and other early responses
centered on The Canterbury Tales as allegory, a kind of story in which characters and their actions represent
larger ideas or concepts.
From the 1500s onward, many of the responses involved interpretations of how particular virtues and vices
were illustrated by various pilgrims and their tales. It continued to be imitated and praised by English poets
into the 1600s for its language and its moral themes.
There was a shift in critical interest in the 1700s and 1800s, when scholars began trying to assemble the
fragments of the pilgrims' stories in the 'proper' order. Also, translations from Middle English to modern
English began to emerge. This resulted in multiple versions that continue to be discussed and debated.

Chaucer's Attitude Toward His Time


Critics in more recent times have come to focus on what the work can tell us about the times Chaucer lived in
and his attitude towards medieval institutions, particularly the Church. In the 1950s, Chaucer scholars often
interpreted him as a champion of the era's social norms and religious doctrine. Some focused on certain
stories that they thought represented Chaucer's derogatory opinions about his less noble characters.
Since then, others have suggested that Chaucer only created honorable characters to ridicule the ideals of
medieval society. They claim that The Canterbury Tales challenges the norms and doctrines of medieval
society.
Still others have suggested that the work is more complex and less moralistic. These scholars believe that it
portrays sophisticated characters with varied motives and personalities and that Chaucer does not clearly
identify with any character's point-of-view.

Lesson Summary
Since The Canterbury Tales has been around for more than 600 years, there have been many interpretations
and conclusions about it. All of these have become part of a larger conversation about its meaning.
 Early on, poets in his own time and focused on Chaucer's skill and praised his mastery of the
language and his stylistic innovations, including using vernacular (common) English.

 From about 1500 - 1700 the work was seen as an allegory, (characters and their actions
represent larger idea) and scholars interpreted how particular virtues and vices were illustrated.

 In the 1700s and 1800s attempts at putting the tales in order was in fashion, as well as
translations into modern English. The different versions are discussed and debated to this day.

 In the last century many have tried to glean Chaucer's attitude toward morality and the Church
from his characters. Some say he championed the social norms and religious doctrine of his time; some say
he mocked them; some think it's more complex than any one all-encompassing conclusion. What do you
think?

Background
Class, lies, and religion are prominent themes in Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, a fifteenth-century
English poem considered one of the most important books in English literature. The poem follows a narrator
and a group of pilgrims who tell stories on their journey to Canterbury, where they plan to pay their respects
to St. Thomas Becket. In this lesson, we will discuss some themes to gain a better understanding of the book.

Class
Chaucer writes heavily about class in The Canterbury Tales. Most often, class is explored by contrasting
characters who try to appear of a better class than they really are with characters who embrace their social
class. For example, Chaucer paints the Prioress (a nun) as a woman who attempts to keep up the appearance
of a well-to-do woman; however, because she is a member of the church, her social class is lower than she'd
like others to see her in. For example, the narrator says,
This quote on the Prioress comes from the General Prologue as the narrator first describes the Prioress's
countenance. Here, the narrator points out that she makes a point to show excellent manners to appear of a
different rank than her actual profession. To highlight issues with social class and ranking, Chaucer contrasts
the Prioress's behavior and appearance with that of the Parson, a clergyman who dresses and behaves
according to his profession and class.
Unlike the Prioress who tries to appear wealthy and refined despite her duty as a nun, the Parson fulfills his
duty as a member of the clergy by living a simple life with the goal of helping others.

Lies
Lies and deception are prominent themes in the poem. Many characters present a façade that doesn't speak to
the truth of their position. The revelation of these characters' true identities is done through the perspective of
the narrator. Not only do many of the characters lie about their position in society, but they use deception to
make a living.
First, the Merchant, much like the Prioress we met before, hides his true status from the others by pretending
to be a financially stable person, but as the narrator reveals, the Merchant is in debt. For example, in the
General Prologue, the narrator says,
'This worthy man ful wel his wit bisette:
Ther wiste no wight that he was in dette.'
The Merchant wants everyone to think that he is well-off by wearing a fancy coat and a 'Flemish beaver hat',
but according to the narrator, the Merchant is poor and has to continue borrowing from others in order to
maintain his way of life.
While the Prioress and the Merchant are lying to appear of a higher social ranking, some characters
in Canterbury Tales go beyond superficial deceit. For example, the Miller and the Pardoner commit crimes to
make a living. The Miller sells his flour at three times the cost of the market rate and he cuts the flour with
filler, so his customers aren't getting a genuine product.
Likewise, the Pardoner sells fake relics to folks he comes across. He tells his clients that the relics are
genuine and that they possess religious powers. For example, he claims to have stones touched by Jesus
Christ, but really, 'he hadde pigges bones.'
The Pardoner is committing punishable offenses, both socially and morally in order to make money off
people in religious strife. The entire group of pilgrims recognize the misdeeds of the unethical Pardoner. In
the General Prologue, the narrator points out,
The narrator is saying that the Pardoner makes the people and the parson his puppets by flattering them. You
could say that he pulls the wool over his victims' eyes.

Religion
Religion is at the center of The Canterbury Tales, as the journey the pilgrims take is to visit a religious
landmark. For example, in the General Prologue, the narrator says of the journey,
Making the pilgrimage to pray and even touch the body of St. Thomas Becket, the martyr who fought for
religious rights, is very important to the entire group. The physical journey is as important as the spiritual one
as well.
Moreover, religion is important as several of the pilgrims are religious figures, and some choose to live up to
the expectations of their position, while others come nowhere near fulfilling their religious oaths. For
example, the Parson is said to be, 'a good man was ther of religioun,/And was a povre persoun of a toun,/but
riche he was of holy thought and werk.' The Parson upholds his oath to his faith and lives per the laws set
down by the church. On the other hand, we see the Friar who uses his poor clergy status to get offerings from
whomever he can convince to help him, and the Prioress who dresses above her status and doesn't act as a
nun should under the rules of the church.
The main purpose of these contradictions is to show that religion and spirituality of the times weren't ideal;
members of the church weren't following their oaths and the use of religious artifacts were used to control
religious followers. In Chaucer's time, his work may have been read as a call to action among citizens to
reevaluate the corruption of the church due to its powerful position in society.

Lesson Summary
The themes of religion, lies, and class are important to The Canterbury Tales because they help develop
arguments that form the rhetoric and irony of the poem. Chaucer's use of contradictory religious figures,
deceit and class exposes possible conflicts in society surrounding the church, the separation between
everyday folks and the rich, as well as possible corruption within the church. How do you think these themes
link together in the poem?

Courtly Love in The Knight's Tale


One aspect of Medieval chivalry, a code of rules knights were required to follow, was the moral of courtly
love. Courtly love was the love of a knight for a woman of noble heritage, usually above the knight's own
social class. It was a ritualistic admiration of a lady of high birth, usually unrelated to marriage or sex.
'The Knight's Tale' tells of a courtly love triangle between two knights, Arcite and Palamon, both of whom
revere Lady Emily, the sister of Queen Hippolyta. Both Arcite and Palamon fall in love with Emily upon
seeing her for the first time. Their love is described as all-encompassing, and both Emily's presence and
absence cause the knights to experience emotional and physical pain. Arcite and Palamon spend years
yearning for Emily and scheming to defeat the other for her love. Ultimately, the two knights fight in a
bloody battle to win her hand. 'The Knight's Tale' highlights the characteristic features of courtly love: all-
encompassing, frustrated, jealous, and ritualistic.

The Rejection of Courtly Love in The Miller's Tale


By contrast, 'The Miller's Tale' is a baudy satire that ridicules courtly love, showing, in contrast, love,
romance, and marriage among the peasantry. In the tale, the wife of a carpenter is unfaithful to her much
older husband. The carpenter's wife is seduced by Nicholas, a clever scholar, who is described as skilled in
love. She is also wooed by a cleric, Absalom, who seeks to win her love by singing and offering her gifts, in
traditional courtly manner. The carpenter's wife rejects Absalom's manners of courtly love in a scene in which
Nicholas farts out a window on him. The carpenter's wife also schemes with Nicholas to embarrass and
shame the cuckold carpenter. Love in 'The Miller's Tale' is unfaithful, ribald, and tawdry, in stark contrast to
the high morals of courtly love.

Romance and Love in The Wife of Bath's Tale


The Wife of Bath and the 'Wife of Bath's Tale' provide another view of romance and marriage in the Middle
Ages: that of a woman. In the prologue to her tale, the Wife of Bath deems herself an 'expert' in marriage and
discusses her five marriages, emphasizing the roles men and women play in marriage. She tells the pilgrims
that three of her husbands were good, and two were bad. The three good husbands were rich and old. They
loved the Wife of Bath, and, in return, she exerted control over them. The fourth husband had a mistress, or
paramour. Out of anger and jealousy, the Wife of Bath was in turn unfaithful. She wed the fifth husband,
Jankin, the only husband given a name, out of love, not for money. But Jankin was mean and spent his free
time reading a book about vile and cunning women. The Wife of Bath became so jealous that she tore pages
out of his book while he was reading and hit him. Jankin, in turn, struck her in the head with such force that
she was nearly dead. Jankin begged for her forgiveness and promised never to strike her again. Jankin gave
her governance of the house, and she made him burn his book.
In the 'Wife of Bath's Tale,' a knight in the time of King Arthur rapes a young maiden. The King condemned
the knight to die, but the Queen and ladies of the court begged King Arthur to allow the Queen to choose the
knight's punishment, to which King Arthur agreed. The Queen told the knight his life would be spared if
within one year he could find an answer to the question, what is the one thing women desire most? The
knight searched throughout the kingdom, but found none who agreed on the answer. As the end of the year
approached and the knight feared his death sentence, he came upon an old woman. She promised to give him
the answer in return for his promise to do the first thing she asked him to do. Desperate to live, the knight so
pledged, and she revealed to him an answer. The knight returned to the Queen and her court and told them
that women most wanted sovereignty (or control) over their husbands. None in the court could disagree with
his answer, so the Queen granted his freedom. At that moment, the old lady appeared and told the court that
her first request was that the knight marry her. The knight, while disgusted by the ugly old woman, still kept
his promise, and took her for his wife. As they lay in bed on that first night of marriage, the old woman gave
him a choice: to have her old and ugly, but faithful, or young, beautiful, and unfaithful. The knight responded
that he would give her the sovereignty to make the choice. The knight kissed her and she turned into a
beautiful young woman who remained faithful to her husband.
Both the Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale show that the faithfulness of a wife depends on her being given the
freedom of choice or sovereignty. The question of what women want in marriage reflects the female
perspective of marriage, which is in vast contrast to the strict and limited role of women within the feudal
system in the Middle Ages. The tale further reveals the ways in which women were able to exert some control
within the rigid feudal system.

Lesson Summary
The Canterbury Tales provides the reader with much information about the social structure and behaviors of
the people who lived in the Middle Ages. 'The Knight's Tale' describes the moral of courtly love, which is a
knight's love for a woman of noble birth, characterized by ritual, rivalry, and obsession. Courtly love is
satirized in 'The Miller's Tale.' The carpenter's wife rejects Absalom who attempts to woo her with courtly
techniques. In 'The Wife of Bath's Tale' the reader learns that women sought to exert some control over their
lives within the strict feudal system.

Greed
In the series of tales, we hear from many characters that are revealed to be more than they seem. One of the
layman storytellers who stands out for her greed is the Wife of Bath.
During her prologue, the Wife of Bath reveals that she has been married five times. She candidly discusses
her greed and how she uses her body and mind to manipulate the men she is with into giving her all of the
gold and riches she desires. She has had no problem teasing her husbands or withholding sex until they buy
her all the clothes and other goods she wants.
The Wife of Bath is not above using guilt as a tool either. While she herself might not necessarily be entirely
faithful, she doesn't hesitate to accuse her husbands of infidelities to make them feel bad. If one questioned
her on her absence one night, she would turn the tables on him, insisting that because she is so in love with
him she was out making sure he wasn't cheating on her. Presumably, this would then make him feel loved and
sorry that he even suspected her, and then he would give her money, or go out and buy her something.
Another storyteller that is greedy and smart is the Reeve. He is essentially a manager of lands for a lord. He is
good at his job--in fact, he manages the lands so well that he has found ways to pilfer money from the lord
without his knowledge. He then uses this money to make sure he is well kept. He also even uses it to give
loans to the same lord, in exchange for favors down the road.

Corruption
Chaucer's portrayal of greed doesn't end there though. It actually shows its ugly face even more in the Church
figures, pointing to the even larger issue of corruption in the Church. The Monk, the Friar, the Prioress, and
the Pardoner are all Church figures who are more symbols of wealth than humility. The Monk who is pledged
to a life of poverty has made a fortune by providing forgiveness for money, as well as settling disputes for
coin. The Pardoner is also known for this and confesses to these sins quite easily. The Pardoner also sells
false relics for money (and he tries to sell them to the other pilgrims).
Even the Friar and the Prioress are not without fault; both wear clothing much too rich for their positions,
indicating that they have made money somehow from them. The Friar is also more in love with his horses
and hunting than he is in managing and caring for the monastery to which he is pledged. He spends very little
time there.
All of this focus on greed clearly shows that one of Chaucer's main concerns was the corruption of the
Church. In Chaucer's time, the Church had control over a lot of the day-to-day existence of most people. The
poor were required to work church lands for free one to two days a week, which meant they couldn't work
their own. Many pardoners, friars, and monks asked for money in exchange for forgiveness, which meant the
poor went without. The people meant to feed and clothe those in poverty ignored their roles and instead
focused on making money for themselves. Through his Tales, Chaucer shines a light on this corruption and
the dark motivating forces behind it that can be found in ordinary people.

Lesson Summary
The Canterbury Tales may be a fictional tale of a pilgrimage to Canterbury, but it also discusses
the corruptionof the institution of the Catholic Church that was prevalent during the 14th century. He also
uses the book to show greed in its many forms, whether seen in the agents of the Church or in a woman who
knows it is the only way to get ahead. Many of the pilgrims resort to manipulation to get what they want,
which shows the dark side of the people, as well as the Church.

Themes and Motifs in the Tales


While many enjoy The Canterbury Tales for its old-world charm and its powerful storytelling, there are
several linking themes and symbols within the text that make it such a timeless collection. While these
themes typically reveal the attitudes and historical context of life in the Middle Ages, they resonate with a
modern audience as well.

Women in Society
One of the major motifs in The Canterbury Tales is the role of women in Medieval society, or rather the
variety of viewpoints of different women in society. Perhaps the most influential tale regarding this theme is
the 'Wife of Bath's Tale.' In it, she argues that what women desire most is power in a marriage, and that by
giving it to them, men would be happier. She conveys this view by using the hag archetype, or symbol. A hag,
in many mythologies and folk tales, is a woman who can fluidly transition the boundary between youth and
old age and often symbolizes the aging process for women. In this tale, the hag uses her powers to give the
knight a choice between a woman who is young and beautiful but may be unfaithful, or a woman who is old
and ugly but true to him. When the knight tells her to make the decision for him, she is happy because she has
the power in the marriage, thus proving the Wife of Bath's point.
Religion
Given that the premise of the Tales was a religious pilgrimage, religion, specifically Christianity, factors
heavily into the themes of many of the stories. Much of the framing device and the characters themselves
refer to Christian symbolism. The characters are on a journey to a location of religious significance. Many of
the characters also introduce their tales by praying for the good to come out in their stories, and apologizing
for any mention of sinfulness.
Several tales touch on religious themes, and it's no surprise that the characters who tell them are members of
the clergy or have connections to the clergy. The Prioress is one of these characters. It is important to note
some peculiarities about her character in relation to religion. While she does have associations with the
clergy, it appears she does so for the sake of upward mobility in her social life, which was not uncommon at
this time. We see that while she considers herself very religious, some of her religious items, like her fancy
rosary, are more symbols of her wealth than her piety. There are also many secular aspects of her life. She
keeps pet dogs, which she sometimes treats better than people, symbolizing her distance from those she is
supposed to serve. Her tale is of a Christian boy who is murdered by Jews but later revived temporarily after
having a vision of Mary. While the tale uses many Christian references to saints and hymns, the main focus is
its contrast with the Jewish religion.
The Clerk, (a philosophy student), also tells a tale with religious symbolism, and it has several parallels to
other myths and folktales. In his story, a marquis marries a peasant woman on the condition that she obey his
every wish. For motivations of his own, he decides to test the loyalty of the woman. First, he takes her
children away. Then he claims he is going to leave her and marry another woman, and that she must help
prepare for this new wedding. He only reveals his ruse after she has agreed to it all. The story is meant to
symbolize the trials of Job, as it mimics how he was tested by God and Satan as they took away all his wealth
and family to test his faith.

The final tale, or what was believed to be the final one written, is that of the Parson, and his story focuses
solely on religious themes. Particularly, it focuses on penitence, or the process of repenting of all sins.
However, it is the Parson himself who is a peculiar symbol of religion. While Chaucer did make some
criticisms of the church through some of his other characters, such as the Prioress's secular lifestyle, or the
Pardoner's greed, the Parson is the only figure who is genuine and pure. He is sometimes considered the only
'good' character, in that his lifestyle and personality is not littered with contradictions.

Social Status
Medieval society and social status are heavily discussed in the tales, and are often satirized by either the
representation of the characters themselves, or within the tales they tell. The prologue, which introduces all
the characters, is perhaps the larger source for societal symbolism. Particularly, Chaucer pokes fun at the
various social classes and shows how each class fails to live up to its expectations. Originally, there were
three social classes in the early Middle Ages: the Church, the nobility, and the peasantry. However, by
Chaucer's time, this system was starting to fall apart, and two other middle classes began to emerge; the
merchantclass and the intellectuals. In the prologue, members from all five of these classes are present, and
almost all of them engage in actions that rather hypocritical in relation to their status. These satirical
representations are further perpetuated within many of the prologues to certain tales.

Lesson Summary
While there are many themes and symbols in The Canterbury Tales, several in particular are more common
and more heavily studied than others. The place of women in Medieval society is one that makes its way into
many stories and utilizes several symbols such as the hag or woman who embodies both old age and youth
simultaneously. Religion is at the forefront of the tales, as many religious figures and religious themes are
present, such as penitence, or the repenting of sins. Finally, social status, or rather, the making fun of it, was
one of Chaucer's purposes for the story. He shows how hypocritical people can be, no matter their social
class, and he includes the major five for his time: the Church, the nobility, the peasantry, the merchants,
and the intellectuals.

Imagery and Why it Matters


'This taco is good.' 'This field is pretty.' These two sentences are pretty lame, right? One of the reasons for this
lameness is that there are no details and there is no imagery. That's fine for general conversation, but what
about when you want to spice things up? If we added imagery to the first sentence, it might look something
like this; ''This crispy taco is slathered in sour cream, hot sauce and shredded cheese.'' The difference is that
this sentence helps us visualize the taco. If we worked on the second sentence and added imagery, it might
look something like this' ''The smell of grass wafted through the air as we stood together in front of the daisy-
paved field.'' If you compare that to the sentence ''The field is pretty'' you can see how helpful imagery
is. Imagery is when a writer provides details that appeal to our senses using descriptive language. Chaucer
knew the value of imagery and he used it often in The Canterbury Tales.

Character Descriptions
One example of imagery is when the narrator describes the Shipman. We learn that ''A daggere hangynge on a
laas hadde he / Aboute his nekke, under his arm adoun. /The hoote somer hadde maad his hewe al broun.''
This roughly translates into ''He wore a dagger that dangled from a cord around his neck. The sun had turned
his skin brown.'' The description of the dagger and especially the Shipman's tanned skin helps us picture what
he looked like.
Another example from the description of the travelers comes when he wrote about the Wife of Bath. We are
told ''Hir hosen weren of fyn scarlet reed, / Ful streite yteyd, and shoes ful moyste and newe.'' Have no idea
what that means? Don't worry, I got you covered. The narrator is telling us that her stockings were scarlet red,
laced up tight, and that her shoes looked soft and new.'' Because of this description, we can better picture the
Wife of Bath's bright red stockings and fancy shoes.

The Prioress's Tale


Another solid example of imagery comes from the Prioress's Tale. In her story, a young boy is killed by
having his neck cut. After he is killed, a series of events occur and he is able to speak and explain to his
mother who killed him. When she asks him how he can still speak, he mentions that 'My throte is kut unto my
nekke boon.'' In other words, his throat has been cut all the way through to his spine (at the back of his neck).
The imagery of this graphic and slightly gory detail helps us visualize the scene and it also makes the
violence of his murder more clear. He wasn't simply killed, his neck was hacked to the spine.

The Way Nicholas Smells


Imagery is versatile and does not always have to appeal to the sense of sight. The other senses can also be
involved. For example, in the Miller's Tale we get a description of a man named Nicholas. The Miller tells us
that Nicholas was '' as sweete as is the roote Of lycorys, or any cetewale.' To put it another way, Nicholas
smelled as sweet as licorice and other fragrant herbs. This use of imagery helps us imagine the way Nicholas
smelled.

Lesson Summary
Imagery is when a writer uses details that appeal to our senses. In The Canterbury Tales, there are many solid
examples of imagery. One example is when the characters are described. For example, the Shipman's face is
described as brown from the sun and The Wife of Bath's stockings are described as being scarlet red. We get
another example of imagery when the boy from the Prorioress's tale describes how his throat was cut all the
way to his spine. Finally, another example of imagery is when the Miller tells his listeners that Nicholas
smells like licorice. This example shows that imagery can appeal to any of the five senses and how using it in
a story can really make it stand out for us.

Pilgrimage as Allegory
The first and most important example of allegory, or a story that can be understood on both a literal and
symbolic level, is The Canterbury Tales itself, taken as a whole. This collection of tales is generally analyzed
according to individual stories, so it is easy to forget that the pilgrims are making a journey together from the
tavern to Canterbury. This trip can be considered an allegory for the journey from Earth to heaven. The
pilgrims meet in the tavern, which stands in the place of the sinful human life. They journey together,
discussing various stories and characters; their journey together can be viewed as life itself. Canterbury, their
destination, is an allegory for heaven.

Examples of Allegory in Individual Tales


While there are several plots within The Canterbury Tales that can be interpreted as allegory, this lesson
discusses three in some depth, which are generally considered to be intended as allegory.

The Nun's Priest's Tale


'The Nun's Priest's Tale' is an animal story that serves as an allegory for human behavior, much like Aesop's
fables. This tale focuses on a farm owned by a poor widow. On the farm lives an arrogant rooster, who is
overly proud of his physical appearance and his crowing. His pride distracts him, and he is taken by a fox.
The fox in turn is distracted by his need to taunt the animals who are chasing him, and he drops the fox out of
his mouth, thus losing his prey. The moral of this tale is that the modest, simple life (like that of the widow
who owns the farm) leads to greater happiness than pride. That the proud and immodest lives are depicted by
animals makes pride appear even more absurd, as though people who take pride in their lives are as silly as a
rooster who prances around feeling proud of his crowing.

The Pardoner's Tale


'The Pardoner's Tale' can also be understood as an allegory. In this tale, three men set out to
find Deathpersonified so that they can avenge the death of their friend. On their way to find Death, they meet
an Old Man, who tells them that they can find Death under an oak tree. When they reach the tree, they find
treasure. One friend leaves to find food and drink for the group, while the others stay to guard the treasure.
When the third friend returns, the two kill him; however, the third friend had poisoned the wine that he
returned with, which the other two friends proceed to drink, so all three end up dead by the end of the tale,
making the Old Man's prediction correct. The moral of this story is understood to be that greed leads to bad
ends. While there is some debate about what or whom the Old Man is an allegory for, it is generally agreed
that he stands in for Death or Death's messenger, since his directions to the men lead to their deaths.

The Physician's Tale


'The Physician's Tale' is another moral allegory, although not a terribly consistent one. In brief, this tale
focuses on Virginia, who is famous for her beauty and modesty. An evil judge decides he wants her for
himself, so he devises a trick that will cause Virginia to be handed over to him. Rather than allow herself to
be given to the judge for impure purposes, Virginia and her father decide that her father will behead her, and
then deliver her head to the judge. Ultimately, the judge is punished, and we are told that the moral of this
allegory is that the wages of sin are death. This is a difficult moral to accept, of course, since Virginia also
died, even though she had lived a blameless life. Nonetheless, 'The Physician's Tale' is generally understood
to be a moral allegory, with the evil judge standing in for impurity.

Lesson Summary
The Canterbury Tales is an allegory for the journey of life itself, and within it are several tales that serve as
more specific moral allegories. Interpretation of allegorical content is ultimately up to the reader, but 'The
Nun's Priest's Tale', 'The Physician's Tale', and 'The Pardoner's Tale' are generally understood to have been
intended by Chaucer to be understood, at least in part, as allegories.

The Wife of Bath's Prologue


One example of alliteration from The Canterbury Tales ia in 'The Wife of Bath's Prologue'. She talks to the
group about how some men are cruel to women. She tells a story about a man who says that it is better to live
a with a dangerous beast than a nagging wife. He had tons of stories about how evil women can be. The Wife
of Bath asks ''Who wolde wene, or who wolde suppose / the wo that in myn herte was, and pyne?'' In other
words, she is asking who can imagine how much pain there was in her heart when she heard such stories and
insults. The ''W'' sound is repeated throughout the sentence and is a solid example of alliteration.

The Prioress's Tale


Another example of alliteration comes in 'The Prioress's Tale'. Her story is about a boy who is murdered for
being a Christian. After he is killed, his mother finds his body and is shocked to find that he is able to talk.
When the boy is asked how he can still talk, he explains that the Virgin Mary placed a seed one his tongue
and that he would be able to speak ''Til fro my tonge of taken is the greyn.'' In this alliterative sentence, the
boy explains that he will be able to speak until someone takes the grain (the seed) from his tongue. The
repetition of the 'T' sound is alliteration and gives the sentence a more poetic and rhythmic feel.

The Miller's Tale


In 'The Miller's Tale' we see another example of alliteration. 'The Miller's Tale' is about a woman who cheats
on her husband. She odes this by having her lover convince him that the world is about to be flooded. In the
conversation, we get the line ''Whan that our Lord had warned him biforn / That al the world with water
sholde be lorn?' In this line, Nicholoas (the unfaithful wife's lover) is asking the unsuspecting husband if he
remembers hearing of how Noah was saved from the flood in the Bible because of God's warning. The
alliteration comes with the repeating 'W' sound.
Summary
Alliteration is a literary device where words in a sentence have the same beginning sound. For example 'we
listened to the last lonely laser' repeats the 'L' sound. In The Canterbury Tales there are many examples of
alliteration. One example comes in 'The Wife of Bath's Prologue.' She repeats the 'W' sound when she asks
''Who wolde wene, or who wolde suppose / the wo that in myn herte was, and pyne?''
Another example is in the Prioress's tale, when the young boy explains that he will be able to speak ''Til fro
my tonge of taken is the greyn.' The ''T'' sound is repeated in this example.
Finally, in the Miller's tale the ''W'' sound is repeated when Nicholas asks ''Whan that our Lord had warned
him biforn / That al the world with water sholde be lorn?''

Prologue
In the prologue, the narrator provides a description of each of the characters on the journey. In the description
of the Monk, the narrator says, ''He cared not for that text a clean plucked hen Which holds that hunters are
not holy men; Nor that a monk, when he is cloisterless, Is like unto a fish that's waterless; That is to say, a
monk out of his cloister.'' In other words, when the monk is not in the monastery, he is like a fish out of water
in that they are both out of place. This is an example of a simile because the word 'like' is used when
comparing the monk to the fish.
In his description of the Miller, the narrator says, ''His mouth was like a furnace door for size.'' In other
words, the Miller has a big mouth. In other words, the man is a vulgar, loud-mouth. Once again, this is a
simile because 'like' is used when comparing the Miller's mouth to a furnace door.

The Miller's Tale


'The Miller's Tale' is about a man named John who marries a young woman named Alisoun. When they take
in a boarder, Nicholas, Alisoun, and Nicholas have an affair. When describing her, the narrator frequently
compares Alisoun to animals to play on her animalistic, sexual instincts.
When the narrator says, ''Fair was this youthful wife, and therewithal As weasel's was her body slim and
small.'' This is a simile because the word 'as' is used when comparing Alisoun's body to a weasel.
''And songs came shrilling from her pretty head As from a swallow's sitting on a shed'' is a simile comparing
her voice to a swallow's song using 'as' when making the comparison.
Another simile is used to describe her dancing, 'Therewith she'd dance too, and could play and sham Like any
kid or calf about its dam.' Imagine a calf dancing. Do you think this is a compliment?

The Wife of Bath Tale


The Wife of Bath has been married five times and is looking for her next husband. Her story is intended to
justify why a man would benefit from being with an older, experienced woman.
The Wife of Bath uses metaphor when she says, ''I bear no malice to virginity; Let such be bread of purest
white wheat?seed, And let us wives be called but barley bread; And yet with barley bread (if Mark you scan)
Jesus Our Lord refreshed full many a man.'' She compares a virgin to white wheat bread and a wife to barley
bread. Both provide sustenance.
When explaining how each of her husbands reacted to her strong disposition, she says, ''I governed them so
well, by my own law, That each of them was happy as a daw, And fain to bring me fine things from the fair.''
This is a simile that compares her husbands' happiness to a jackdaw, which is a type of crow.

Lesson Summary
Similes compare two things that are generally thought to be dissimilar using 'like' or 'as.' For example, the
narrator uses similes when describing the Monk's awkwardness at being outside of a religious building as
being like a fish out of water. Similes are also used to describe the loudmouth Miller, by saying he has a big
mouth like a furnace door. Several similes are present in 'The Miller's Tale' as he compares John's cheating
wife, Alisoun, to animals. Metaphors are direct comparisons between things that are not alike. For example,
in 'The Wife of Bath's Tale,' she compares virginity to white wheat bread and a wife to barley bread. Despite
their differences in texture, they both provide nutrition.