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Literature 12

Learning Guide 2: Chaucer and the Canterbury Tales

“There’s never a new fashion but it’s old.”

~ Geoffrey Chaucer


Chaucer is known as the “Father of English Literature”,

mainly because he was the first author to write in
English. However, he wrote in Middle English, and
most people need to take a few classes to make
sense of his poetry! This was remarkable at a time
when French and Latin were considered the only real
languages of the cultured man. Chaucer was a
diplomat who had seen a lot of the world and
developed a great understanding and compassion for
people of all stations of life. He is best remembered
for his unfinished frame story, The Canterbury Tales.

Activity 2.1 Short Answer Questions for LG 2................................................... 5 marks
Activity 2.2 Flashcards for LG 2 ........................................................................ 5 marks
Please hand in your flashcards in the same order that they are presented in this Learning Guide

Activity 2.3 Chaucer’s Pilgrim’s Chart ............................................................. 10 marks

Activity 2.4 Additional Tale.............................................................................. 50 marks
Activity 2.5 Chaucer Paragraph ...................................................................... 50 marks

character frame story protagonist
dynamic character heroic couplet proverb
antagonist indirect presentation rhyme scheme
caricature infer round character
direct presentation legend satire
enjambment motivation simile
epilogue narrative static character
fable paradox stereotype
first person point of view pentameter stock characters
flat character prologue

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Literature 12

Focus 1: Introduction to the Medieval Period

Activity 1: Reading
Read the introduction to the medieval period on pages 43 – 54 of Adventures in
Literature. Questions
Answer questions 1-1 to 1-13 in the Short Answer at the end of this Learning Guide.

Focus 2: The Prologue

Read “The Prologue to The Canterbury Tales” in Adventures in Literature, with particular
attention to the introduction and to the characters of the
ƒ Knight
ƒ Squire
ƒ Nun
ƒ Monk
ƒ Friar
ƒ Oxford Cleric
ƒ Wife of Bath
ƒ Parson
ƒ Miller
ƒ Summoner
ƒ Pardoner
ƒ and the conclusion to the Prologue.
There is frequently a question on the provincial exam which asks you to identify one of
Chaucer’s pilgrims based on a quote. The self-test for this learning guide will give you a
little bit of practice with this!
We will discuss the following ideas in class, but you should read through these notes
before answering the questions below:
Form: In literature, “form” means how a text is organized. For example, some
poems have a very strict “form” consisting of a set number of lines and a
particular rhythm.
Canterbury Tales is a narrative poem in iambic pentameter with rhyming couplets
(heroic couplets). It is also a frame story.
Style and Tone: Canterbury Tales varies widely in style, so that each Tale seems
natural in tone and mood to its supposed speaker. It is part of Chaucer’s
genius that the Knight’s Tale seems very refined and cerebral, while the
Miller’s Tale is bawdy and rude. In general, the tone of the Tales is
realistic, humorous, satirical, easy, and informal. The narrator seems
honest and objective, describing each pilgrim with tolerant, personal
Chaucer uses a great deal of detail, particularly in the Prologue, and includes physical
appearance, dress, accoutrements and the manners of each pilgrim. He uses many
comparisons and similes, many of them relating to the natural world.
Content: The pretext for the stories is that a group of people of varies occupations
and stations in life have joined together to make a springtime pilgrimage
to Canterbury. In order to help the time pass more quickly, they agree to

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tell each other stories. The result is a realistic first-hand panorama of life
in fourteenth century England.
Note that many of the characters are representative of the feudal system that prevailed
in medieval England, including the Knight, the Squire, and the Miller. These people are
largely involved with country life.
Other characters are part of the Church, and are called ecclesiastical characters.
These include the Parson, the Monk, the Friar, the Summoner, and the Oxford Cleric.
Note that many of these characters are satirically criticized by the narrator.
Finally, we have the urban characters, who relate to town and to trade. The Wife of
Bath represents this new and growing class.

Activity 1 (continued): Questions

Answer questions 2-1 to 2-19 at the end of this Learning Guide.

Activity 2: Flashcards
o Create a flashcard on each of the following terms with a definition and an
example (where possible).
dynamic character
direct presentation
indirect presentation
first person point of view
flat character
frame story
heroic couplet

The Wife of Bath

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Activity 3: Chaucer’s Pilgrims Chart
It is important that you know each of the following pilgrims in detail. On this page, write brief descriptive notes to remind you of the following
pilgrims. Make sure you have a quote which is important to that pilgrim. Classify each pilgrim according to the area of life each represents
(Clerical, Urban or Feudal).

Role or
Pilgrim Description Quotation
area of life
urban middle
Knight class

urban middle
Squire class

urban middle
Nun class

urban middle
Friar class

urban middle
Oxford Cleric class

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Wife of Bath urban middle

Parson urban middle

Miller urban middle

Reeve urban middle

Summoner urban middle

Pardoner urban middle

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Name: ______________________________

Activity 4: Additional Tale

In groups of up to four people, select an additional tale by Chaucer and read it in
Your group should be prepared to make an interesting presentation to the rest of the
class on the tale. You should be prepared to:
a) summarize the story
b) choose a selection to read (about 100 words) that shows the style of the passage
c) tell what kind of story your Tale represents (fablieaux, romance, farce, parable,
d) explain what your group thought of the story, or why it is noteworthy. What
aspects surprised you? What was confusing or unclear? What would you like
more information about? In short, what do you think are the most important
things that others in the class should know about the tale?

Activity 5: Chaucer Paragraph(s)

Write a paragraph on ONE OF the following topics. Your answer should be about 150
words. All of these questions are taken from previous exams.
a) With specific references to characters described in “The Prologue” to The
Canterbury Tales, show two character flaws that Chaucer satirizes. (Jan. ’95)
b) How does Chaucer use irony in his description of the Prioress?
c) Give three reasons why Chaucer considers the Parson to be the model priest.
(June ’06)
d) By specific reference to The Prologue to The Canterbury Tales, show that
Chaucer reveals that TWO pilgrims are not what they appear to be. (June 94)
e) Show that an element of ridicule is present in “The Prologue” to The
Canterbury Tales (Jan. 96)
f) Show that Chaucer deals with important issues of his time, such as the
corruption of the church and/or the growing power of the middle class. (Jan. 02)

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Short Answer Questions for Learning Guide 2: Chaucer
and the Canterbury Tales
Focus 1: Introduction to the Medieval Period
1-1: When did the Battle of Hastings take place? What is its significance?

1-2: What happened to the Norman and Anglo-Saxon cultures in England?

1-3: What was the feudal system, and how was it introduced into England?

1-4: What role did the Medieval Church play in increasing the homogeneity of
medieval society?

1-5: Define the following terms, and explain how they relate to English law:
a) Common law

b) Law of primogeniture

c) Ordeals

d) Magna Carta

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1-6: Name several ways in which the Crusades benefited medieval England.

1-7: What did “romance” mean to the Anglo-Normans?

1-8: What makes Geoffrey Chaucer unique in this period?

1-9: What was the source of the ballads that were so popular during the medieval

1-10: What sorts of dramas were popular during the earlier portion of the medieval
period? During the later years?

Focus 2: The Prologue

2-1: How many people are in the group the narrator encounters?

2-2: What is the purpose of their journey to Canterbury?

2-3: In what month did the English traditionally make this journey?

2-4: List three pilgrims that Chaucer seems to be highly critical of.

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2-5: What does the Host suggest that they do to occupy their time on the trip?

2-6: What was Chaucer’s family background and education?

2-7: In what ways did Chaucer serve his country as a man of affairs?

2-8: Who was Chaucer’s patron, and why was his patronage important?

2-9: Why was Chaucer’s use of English in his writing important?

2-10: Why did Chaucer use the frame story of a pilgrimage for Canterbury Tales?

2-11: What does Chaucer reveal about himself through his unfinished work, The
Canterbury Tales?

2-12: In what sense are The Canterbury Tales stories, and in what sense are they

2-13: Identify the setting for the Prologue.

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2-14: Chaucer seems to admire only three pilgrims wholeheartedly. Name these three
pilgrims, and explain what qualities he admires in each.



2-15: How does the description of the Prioress contrast what she is with what she
ought to be?

2-16: Satire is the critical treatment, humorous or witty, of subject matter in literature,
usually with the aim of pointing out the faults of society. Explain how Chaucer
satirizes the following three characters:
a) Squire

b) Friar

c) Wife of Bath

2-17: What method does the Doctor use to diagnose and treat his patients?

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2-18: The Miller is characterized almost entirely by physical description. List some
descriptive details that reveal his animalism.

2-19: In what way is the pardoner depraved? How does his outward appearance
reveal this depravity?

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