The Townspeople's World

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Chaucer & His World
The Aristocratic World
The Churl's World
The Clerk's World
The Townsperson's World
A Woman's World
Discussion Points
Theory & Genre
How to Guide
To listen to the characters and read the medieval text (with modern translation) - requires Flash Player 6 , and either a set of headphones or speakers.


Introduction - Townsperson's World

This is the first of two pages. This page contains descriptions of each character, and a plot summary of the tales associated with each one (if they exist). If you click on the notepad symbol, you will hear Chaucer's description, as given in the General Prologue of The Canterbury Tales (in a modern translation) a transcript of the reading is also provided as well as the original medieval text for comparison.

The second page contains background information about the churl's world as well as a collection of associated images.


The Merchant - The Franklin - The Guildsmen - The Host - Geoffrey

The Merchant

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The Merchant has a forked beard, wears multi-coloured clothing, a Flemish beaver hat, and neatly-clasped boots. He sits high up on his horse and talks about making money - all the time. He is concerned with the keeping of the seas, and is good at making business deals; although he owes money, this does not show.

The Merchant's Tale

In The Merchant’s Tale, an ageing knight named January, who has spent his life in debauchery and licence, marries a young girl, May, in order to give him an heir and to assuage his passions legally. May finds January repulsive, and is wooed by his squire, Damian. January has a locked garden where he takes May in order to indulge his more exotic sexual desires, and this becomes the location of Damian and May’s plans, made easier when January goes blind. May makes an impression of the garden’s key, which she copies and gives to Damian, who hides in a pear tree. January takes May to the garden, where she expresses her desire for a pear, implying that she might be pregnant. January helps her to climb into the tree, where they have sex. At the same time, the god Pluto and his wife Proserpine have been arguing about whether men are fair to women, or not. They see the trio in the garden, and Pluto decides that he will give January back his sight, so that he can see the adultery taking place in the tree. Proserpine replies by giving May a pert reply to January’s accusations. She claims that she had been told to wrestle with the man in the tree in order to get her husband back his sight – and had it not worked?

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Theory and Genre

Personal piety: the donors of the fifteenth-century screen at Southwold are captured as wood carvings, kneeling at prayer-desks.

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The Franklin

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The Franklin has a flushed, red complexion and a white beard. He carries a double-edged dagger and a silk purse, which hangs from his white girdle. He is a knight of the shire and a judge in the county court, and has been a sheriff and an auditor. The Franklin liked bread and wine in the morning, as he was an epicure, who held that true happiness was to live according to the dictates of pleasure. His table was always full, his cook always ready, and his hospitality was famous throughout his neighbourhood.

The Franklin's Tale

The Franklin’s Tale concerns a Breton lady, Dorigen, who marries a knight of lower status, named Arveragus. They agree that, although their marriage will appear ‘normal’ on the surface (with the woman obeying the man), in reality it will be a partnership of equals. When Arveragus goes abroad in search of honour and military adventures, Dorigen is distraught. She is cheered up by her friends, who take her to a dance, where she is engaged in conversation by a neighbour, Aurelius. Unknown to Dorigen, he has desired her for some time, but she rejects his advances. She tells him that she will only accept him as a lover when the black rocks disappear from the Breton coast. Aurelius, with the help of his brother, engages a clerk to perform magical arts, in order to make the rocks seem to disappear. This is done, although Arveragus has returned, and Aurelius claims his prize. Dorigen tells Arveragus about the ‘challenge’, and he says that she must keep her word. Dorigen goes to meet Aurelius in the garden he has specified for their meeting, but he takes pity on her, and will not demand his reward. Having promised a thousand pounds to the clerk, Aurelius is in despair, but the clerk forgives him the debt. Everything is resolved but, the Franklin asks, who was the more generous?

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Theory and Genre - 1 | 2

The Larder at Gainsborough Hall

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The Guildsmen

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haberdasher, carpenter , weaver, dyer, carpetmaker)

These were all members of an important parish guild. Their knives, girdles and pouches were mounted with silver, instead of brass, and each of them thought themselves worthy to be an alderman - and so did their wives. These ladies would not allow anyone to go before them to the offertory in church. Their aspirations were based on their wealth, in cattle and in rents.

The guildsmen do not tell a tale.


A Pedlar

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The Host

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Harry Bailly, host and landlord of the Tabard Inn, is a large man with bright eyes, bold in speech, wise and well-taught, not lacking anything in manhood. He is a merry man, and after supper he amuses all. Harry offers to go to Canterbury with the pilgrims as a kind of 'master-of-ceremonies-cum-tour-guide'.

The host does not tell a tale.


A pub typical of those in Medieval times - London

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We are not told where Geoffrey comes from, who is he or what he does for a living, only that he is on a pilgrimage of his own, to Canterbury. He is obviously not the author Geoffrey Chaucer, but fulfils the roles of Chaucer's 'alter ego' and the naive narrator.
He tells two tales, Sir Thopas and The Tale of Melibee. The first is a ballad-like rhyming tale, which does not get far before the other pilgrims shout him down for being 'drasty' and old-fashioned.

Melibee is a treatise on Prudence. A wealthy lord named Melibee wants to revenge himself on some neighbours, who have broken into his house and severely wounded his daughter, Sophie (wisdom). His wife, Dame Prudence, dissuades him, in a treatise which reveals the true nature of lordship.

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Go to Theory and Genre Theory and Genre - Sir Thopas - 1 | 2
Go to Theory and Genre Theory and Genre - Melibee

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On to the next page

The Aristocratic World
The Churl's World
The Clerk's World
The Townspeople's world
A Woman's World
Chaucer and his world