The Canterbury Tales
By geoffrey chaucer, the canterbury tales essay questions.
The Prioress wears "a brooch of gold ful sheene / On which ther was first write a crowned A, / And after Amor vincit omnia" (General Prologue, l.159-162). Might "Love Conquers All" be the moral of the Tales?
This question asks you to consider the Tales as a whole work, and to trace the theme of love conquering all throughout the work. Remember that with a question like this, it is just as possible to disagree as to agree: just make sure you justify your answer with examples from the text.
Useful tales to look at might include The Miller's Tale, The Merchant's Tale, The Prioress' Tale, The Manciple's Tale, The Wife of Bath's Tale .
Choose one word (and its variants), and use it as a key to the interpretation of any one Tale.
This question asks you to follow the fortunes of a single word through any tale, and structure your argument around the repeated uses of this single word. You should start by highlighting all the moments in the tale that the single word appears, and talk about how its meaning changes or deepens as the tale progresses.
Useful tales to look at might include The Miller's Tale (suggested word: "pryvetee"), The Wife of Bath's Tale (suggested word: "clooth"), The Franklin's Tale (suggested word: "trouthe"), The Shipman's Tale (suggested word: "tail") or The Merchant's Tale (suggested word: "corage").
What do women most desire in the Tales?
This question asks you to look at the characterization and presentation of the female characters in the Tales (which could include characters within tales as well as female pilgrims). Remember to begin by examining the Tale from which the question comes.
Useful tales to look at might include: The Wife of Bath's Tale, The Miller's Tale, The Merchant's Tale, The Shipman's Tale, Melibee .
"The Wife of Bath is Chaucer's most completely drawn character." Do you agree?
This question asks you to compare the characterization of the Wife of Bath to any of the other characterizations in the Tales. Do you think the Wife is completely drawn? If so, why? If not, why not - and which character is better fleshed out?
Useful tales to look at must include The Wife of Bath's Tale .
"Men in the Tales are largely depicted as idiots, blindly and foolishy adhering to outdated, impractical codes of chivalry and honour." Do you agree?
This question asks you to consider the presentation of men in the Tales. Look at examples which support the quotation's argument, but also remember that Chaucer includes a variety of presentations - and that there is certainly justification in the text for taking the opposing view to the quotation.
Useful tales to look at might include The Knight's Tale, The Merchant's Tale, The Physician's Tale, Sir Thopas, The Franklin's Tale .
"Chaucer writes the Tales in pairs". Do you agree?
This question asks you to consider the structure of the Tales, and consider whether each Tale has a pair. It would be a good idea to examine some tales which do fall naturally into pairs, but also to consider some that do not - or perhaps, even fall into threes.
Useful tales to look at might include The Miller's Tale with The Knight's Tale or The Reeve's Tale , The Friar's Tale with The Summoner's Tale , The Shipman's Tale with The Wife of Bath's Tale and The Manciple's Tale with The Nun's Priest's Tale .
"It is no wonder that Chaucer retracts the Tales at the end of the work. They are quite simply blasphemous." Can we read the Tales as a religious work?
This question asks you to consider the theme of religion in the Tales. It is a difficult subject to precisely consider, and would be helped by some knowledge of the religious context of the later 1300s when Chaucer was writing. Don't forget to define "blasphemy".
Useful tales to look at might include: The Miller's Tale, The Wife of Bath's Tale, The Summoner's Tale, The Prioress' Tale, The Second Nun's Tale, The Parson's Tale .
"Women in Chaucer are idealized objects of desire." Write an essay about the presentation of women in the Tales.
This question asks you to consider the presentation of women across the Tales as a whole. Remember to include contradictory facets: there is nothing to say that Chaucer's writings are consistent from tale to tale. It might be best to choose two entirely contradictory examples (say, Cecilia in the Second Nun's Tale, and the Wife of Bath) and try and find some points of similarity.
Useful tales to look at might include The Wife of Bath's Tale, The Prioress' Tale, The Miller's Tale, The Reeve's Tale .
At what point does a joke become cruel? Write an essay about one Tale of your choice.
This question asks you to look at the comedy of the Tales and to decide whether you find it funny or cruel (or a combination of the two). Consider whether physical harm is funny, whether cruelty and comedy depend on events depicted or on presentation, and on how dissimilar tales are which you find very funny, and very cruel.
Useful tales to look at might include The Miller's Tale, The Reeve's Tale, The Summoner's Tale, The Manciple's Tale, The Physician's Tale, The Wife of Bath's Tale and The Merchant's Tale .
"Chaucer, though he features himself in the Tales, is adept at vanishing completely." Write an essay about the persona(e) of Chaucer.
This question asks you to focus on what you learn about Chaucer himself: remember that there are two Chaucers, one a character, one the author.
Useful tales to look at might include Sir Thopas, Melibee, The Man of Law's Tale, The General Prologue, the Retraction .
"What nedeth wordes mo?" Is language worthless in the Canterbury Tales?
This question asks you to write an essay about language in the Tales, and analyse whether or not you think it is presented as having value, as being worthless, or - more likely - that it is some combination of the two.
Useful tales to look at might include The Reeve's Tale, The Manciple's Tale, The Nun's Priest's Tale, The Knight's Tale, Chaucer's Retraction .
The Canterbury Tales Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Canterbury Tales is a great resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Order the sequence of these events in "The Pardoner's Tale":
Which option explains why the Knight will be the first to tell his tale?
• The pilgrims drew lots and he drew the shortest straw
Chaucer is one of the forerunners of English novel- do you agree?
Chaucer is regarded as the "father of English poetry" and a symbol of the middle ages. One of the reasons he is so important is that he wrote in English.... not French. He was, in fact, the first to write in the vernacular. As a result, the...
Study Guide for The Canterbury Tales
The Canterbury Tales is the last of Geoffrey Chaucer's works, and he only finished 24 of an initially planned 100 tales. The Canterbury Tales study guide contains a biography of Geoffrey Chaucer, literature essays, a complete e-text, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.
- About The Canterbury Tales
- The Canterbury Tales Summary
- The Canterbury Tales General Prologue Video
- Character List
Essays for The Canterbury Tales
The Canterbury Tales is considered one of the greatest works produced in Middle English. The Canterbury Tales essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.
- "Love" in the Courtly Tradition
- On Cuckoldry: Women, Silence, and Subjectivity in the Merchant's Tale and the Manciple's Tale
- Vision, Truth, and Genre in the Merchant's Tale
- In Private: the Promise in The Franklin's Tale
- Feminism or Anti-Feminism: Images of Women in Chaucer's "The Wife of Bath"
Lesson Plan for The Canterbury Tales
- About the Author
- Study Objectives
- Common Core Standards
- Introduction to The Canterbury Tales
- Relationship to Other Books
- Bringing in Technology
- Notes to the Teacher
- Related Links
- The Canterbury Tales Bibliography
E-Text of The Canterbury Tales
The Canterbury Tales e-text contains the full text of The Canterbury Tales written by Geoffrey Chaucer.
- Life of Geoffrey Chaucer
- The Knight's Tale
- The Miller's Tale
Wikipedia Entries for The Canterbury Tales
- Genre and structure
- My Preferences
- My Reading List
- The Canterbury Tales
- Literature Notes
- About The Canterbury Tales
- Character List
- Summary and Analysis
- The Prologue
- The Knight's Tale
- The Miller's Prologue and Tale
- The Reeve's Prologue and Tale
- The Cook's Prologue and Tale
- The Man of Law's Prologue and Tale
- The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale
- The Friar's Prologue and Tale
- The Summoner's Prologue and Tale
- The Clerk's Prologue and Tale
- The Merchant's Prologue and Tale
- The Squire's Prologue and Tale
- The Franklin's Prologue and Tale
- The Physician's Tale
- The Pardoner's Prologue and Tale
- The Shipman's Tale
- The Prioress' Prologue And Tale
- Chaucer's Tale of Sir Topas
- The Tale of Melibee
- The Monk's Tale
- The Nun's Priest's Tale
- The Second Nun's Prologue and Tale
- The Canon's Yeoman's Prologue and Tale
- The Manciple's Prologue and Tale
- The Parson's Prologue and Tale
- Chaucer's Retraction
- Character Analysis
- Harry Bailey, the Host
- The Wife of Bath
- The Pardoner
- Character Map
- Geoffrey Chaucer Biography
- Critical Essays
- The Sovereignty of Marriage versus the Wife's Obedience
- The Old Man and the Young Wife
- The Trickster Tricked
- Full Glossary for The Canterbury Tales
- Essay Questions
- Practice Projects
- Cite this Literature Note
In April, with the beginning of spring, people of varying social classes come from all over England to gather at the Tabard Inn in preparation for a pilgrimage to Canterbury to receive the blessings of St. Thomas à Becket, the English martyr. Chaucer himself is one of the pilgrims. That evening, the Host of the Tabard Inn suggests that each member of the group tell tales on the way to and from Canterbury in order to make the time pass more pleasantly. The person who tells the best story will be awarded an elegant dinner at the end of the trip. The Host decides to accompany the party on its pilgrimage and appoints himself as the judge of the best tale.
Shortly after their departure the day, the pilgrims draw straws. The Knight, who draws the shortest straw, agrees to tell the first story — a noble story about knights and honor and love. When the Knight finishes his story, the Host calls upon the Monk. The drunken Miller, however, insists that it is his turn, and he proceeds to tell a story about a stupid carpenter. At the end of his story, everyone roars with laughter — except the Reeve, who had once been a carpenter. To get back at the Miller, the Reeve tells a lowbrow story about a cheating miller. At the end of The Reeve's Tale, the Cook, Roger, promises to tell a true story, but he doesn't complete his tale.
By now, the first day is rapidly passing, and the Host hurries the pilgrims to get on with their tales. Using the best legalese that he knows, he calls upon the Man of Law for the next tale. The Man of Law proceeds to tell the tale of Constancy. The Host is very pleased with the tale and asks the Parson to relate another one just as good. The Parson declines, however, and rebukes the Host for swearing and ridiculing him (the Parson). The Shipman breaks in and tells a lively story to make up for so much moralizing.
The Wife of Bath is the next to tell a story, and she begins by claiming that happy marriages occur only when a wife has sovereignty over her husband. When the Wife of Bath finishes her story, the Friar offers his own tale about a summoner. The Host, however, always the peacekeeper, admonishes the Friar to let the Summoner alone. The Summoner interrupts and says the Friar can do as he likes and will be repaid with a tale about a friar. Nevertheless, the Friar's tale about a summoner makes the Summoner so angry that he tells an obscene story about the fate of all friars and then continues with an obscene tale about one friar in particular.
After the Friar and Summoner finish their insulting stories about each other, the Host turns to the Clerk and asks for a lively tale. The Clerk tells a story about Griselda and her patience — a story that depicts the exact opposite of The Wife of Bath's Tale. The Merchant comments that he has no wife as patient and sweet as Griselda and tells of tale of a young wife who cheats on her old husband. After the Merchant's tale, the Host requests another tale about love and turns to the Squire, who begins a tale of supernatural events. He does not finish, however, because the Franklin interrupts him to compliment the Squire on his eloquence and gentility. The Host, interested only get in getting the next story told, commands the Franklin to begin his tale, which he does. The Franklin tells of a happy marriage.
Then the Physician offers his tale of the tragic woe of a father and daughter — a story that upsets the Host so much that he requests a merry tale from the Pardoner. The Pardoner tells a tale in which he proves that, even though he is not a moral man, he can tell a moral tale. At the end of the tale, the Pardoner invites the pilgrims to buy relics and pardons from him and suggests that the Host should begin because he is the most sinful. This comment infuriates the Host; the Knight intercedes between the Host and the Pardoner and restores peace.
The pilgrims then hear a story by the Prioress about a young martyr. After the seriousness of this tale, the Host turns to Chaucer and asks him for something to liven up the group. Chaucer begins a story about Sir Topas but is soon interrupted by the Host, who exclaims that he is tired of the jingling rhymes and wants Chaucer to tell a little something in prose. Chaucer complies with the boring story of Melibee.
After the tale of Melibee, the Host turns to the merry Monk and demands a story that he confidently expects to be a jovial and happy tale. Instead, the Monk relates a series of tales in which tragedy befalls everyone. The Knight joins in with the Host in proclaiming that the Monk's tales are too much to bear and requests a merry tale. But the Monk refuses, and the Host turns to the Nun's Priest and calls for a tale. Thus the Nun's Priest relates the tale of the barnyard rooster, Chaunticleer, his lady, and a fox. The Second Nun then offers a tale that befits her station — a retelling of the events in the life of St. Cecilia.
Suddenly, two men approach the pilgrims. One is a canon; the other his yeoman (servant). The Host welcomes them and asks whether either has a tale to tell. The Canon's Yeoman answers that his master has many strange tales filled with mirth and laughter, yet when he begins to tell of their life and actions, the Canon slips away embarrassed and frightened.
As the party nears Canterbury, the Host demands a story from the Manciple, who tells of a white crow that can sing and talk. Finally, the Host turns to the last of the group, the Parson, and bids him to tell his tale. The Parson agrees and proceeds with a sermon. The Tales end with Chaucer's retraction.
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