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Characters / The Canterbury Tales

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With Loads and Loads of Characters going on pilgrimage with Chaucer, it's only natural that there has to be a character list for The Canterbury Tales.

Chaucer:

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  • Innocent Inaccurate: Here, he is a naive, guileless rube who gushes admiration on his fellow pilgrims, but in a way that the reader can figure out what's going on. For example, Chaucer the narrator speaks of the Monk admirably, but his description of things like the Monk's "love knot" lets the reader know that the Monk is an unchaste libertine.
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  • Stylistic Suck / Self-Deprecation: Chaucer assigns himself a pair of awful stories, the first of which is so bad it's forcibly halted by Harry Bailey, who orders him to tell a better tale.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Everyone has had their moments, but Chaucer takes the cake.

Harry Bailey, the Host:

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The Knight:

  • But I Digress: Does this all the time. Naturally, everybody else mocks him for it.
  • Knight in Shining Armor: He fits this personality wise, but actually has rather dirty, worn-out armor, because he's an experienced horseman who has got a lot of use out of it.
  • Nice to the Waiter: He has never spoken rudely to anyone.

Robin, the Miller:

  • Boisterous Bruiser: He loves to wrestle.
  • Fiery Redhead: He is described as having a red beard.
  • Toilet Humor: Uses this extensively in his tale. First, a man farts in another man's face, and then, the second man burns the first man's butt with a red-hot poker.

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Oswald, the Reeve:

Roger, the Cook:

  • Stylistic Suck: His tale was Cut Short, perhaps intentionally, because it was too bawdy.
  • Supreme Chef: Zig-zagged. While Chaucer regards him as a Supreme Chef, he (Chaucer) is Put Off Their Food when he sees a nasty running sore on the Cook's knee. In addition, Harry Bailey accuses Roger of various dishonest cooking practices, including draining gravy from his stews, selling old meat pies, giving pilgrims food poisoning, and keeping an unclean kitchen. Roger then claims that Harry speaks the truth.

The Man of Law:

The Shipman:

Madame Eglantine, the Prioress:

  • Flower Motifs: Her name is Madame Eglantine, referring to a kind of rose, also known as a sweetbrier. Having a name that means "rose" is right in line with her sentimentality and bracelet reading "Love Conquers All."
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: "Her greatest oath was but 'By Saint Loy!'"
  • Hypocrite: The Prioress, who after all is a nun, wears a necklace of beads with the motto "amor vincit omnia" ("love conquers all"). She also makes a great show of getting upset when a mouse is caught in a trap, yet she feeds her dogs raw meat on a regular basis.
  • Moral Myopia: She cares more for dogs than she does for the Jews.
  • Old Maid: She is clearly middle-aged, but still concerned about her appearance.
  • Tender Tears: She is said to weep whenever one of her little dogs gets injured. Intentional Moral Dissonance, perhaps.

The Monk:

  • Boisterous Bruiser: The Monk much prefers hunting and sports over sticking to his monastic vows.
  • Break the Haughty: The theme of his tale. It's not just one story, he picks a famous great figure, then tells about how he failed and died, then moves onto another one, over and over again. He says he has a hundred, but the Knight cuts him off after seventeen.
  • Hypocrite: He's definitely not the chaste monk he's supposed to be.
  • The Lady's Favour: An unorthodox example, as the Monk basically acts like a typical nobleman in spite of his religious profession. He is described wearing a gold pin with a "love knot" (a lock of his sweetheart/mistress' hair) inside it.
  • Sexy Priest: Given the "love knot" he wears.
  • Stylistic Suck: The Monk has his tale booed down by the other pilgrims because everyone expected him to tell a light, bawdy story, but instead he chose to recite a list of the tragic ends of various powerful people from ancient times to the present. Part of Terry Jones' reinterpretation of the Knight is to dispute whether the Monk's Tale was bad, but in any case, it's been traditionally accepted that it's intentionally bad.

The Nun's Priest:

  • Sexy Priest: The Host alleges the Nun's Priest is one of these (see Unwanted Harem below), but the Nun's Priest denies it. Most of the other examples are more along the lines of "lecherous priest" than necessarily "good looking priest", and the Nun's Priest is probably the only example who isn't a slimy bastard.
  • Unwanted Harem: There's an interesting subtext to his tale. His story is a beast fable whose protagonist is a rooster with a number of hen-wives. There is an implied parallel to the Nun's Priest himself who is a confessor for a group of nuns (possibly Naughty Nuns). He asserts that he is chaste though and might be telling the truth. That being said, an alternate interpretation is that the Nun is the rooster, with the "wives" being the priests who work for her. Note the rooster's vanity and stupidity.

The Physician:

The Pardoner:

  • Ambiguously Gay: Due to his effeminate looks, the Pardoner's sexuality has been much debated.
  • Blatant Lies: He is particularly wrong about the Bible.
  • Card-Carrying Villain
  • Clueless Aesop: In-universe example: he gives a story teaching the evils of greed, but he himself is incredibly greedy. He even mentions how ironic this is.
  • Faux Affably Evil: He may act soft-spoken and polite, but it is clear to everyone that he is a corrupt hypocrite, and proud of it.
  • Gratuitous Latin: His (hypocritical) motto is, "Radix malorum est cupiditas" (greed is the root of all evil).
  • Hypocrite: Perhaps the worst example of all the hypocritical churchmen in this collection.
  • It's All About Me
  • Pretty Boy: Subverted. He's rather androgynous, but this is meant to make him creepy rather than attractive. That and it's subtly implied that he's a eunuch.
  • Refuge in Audacity: He begins his tale by bragging about his hypocrisy and all the fake relics he sells. At the end of his tale, an effective moral tale, he offers the same relics to the other pilgrims.
  • Sexy Priest / Girlfriend in Canada: He says he would like to keep a wench in every town.
  • Snake Oil Salesman
  • Straw Hypocrite: He constantly preaches against greed and covetousness (referring to it as "the root of all evil"), yet freely admits that that he himself is motivated entirely by it, preaching, selling salvation and peddling phony miracle cures to make a swift profit. He takes it a step further by claiming that all forms of preaching are done for evil or selfish reasons.

The Wife of Bath:

Hubert, the Friar:

The Summoner:

The Oxford Clerk:

The Merchant:

  • Awful Wedded Life: After all of two months of experiencing it, the Merchant is dissatisfied with his marriage and has little faith in the Happily Married trope.
  • The Cobbler's Children Have No Shoes / Hypocritical Humor: It's commented in the Prologue that while the Merchant is always giving financial advice, he is actually flat broke. He's also telling his tale with an intent to show that marriage is terrible and women are lying liars who lie, which is kind of hilarious considering that he's drawing this from all of two months' experience in the realm of marriage.
  • Henpecked Husband: The Merchant claims he has a nagging wife.
  • Morally Bankrupt Banker: He's also literally bankrupt.

The Squire:

The Franklin:

The Second Nun:

The Canon's Yeoman:

The Manciple:

The Parson:

  • Good Shepherd / Token Good Teammate: He's just about the only religious character who isn't corrupt. In fact Chaucer uses the former metaphor, comparing the parson to a shepherd guarding his sheep, and noting how bad a "shiten" shepherd is for his flock.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: He is described as the ideal priest.
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