The Canterbury Tales


Plot Summary

The Canterbury Tales is a collection of tales describing a group of pilgrims who are traveling to the town of Canterbury to a shrine for the martyr Saint Thomas Becket. There are 29 pilgrims on the journey: the Knight, the Squire, the Yeoman, the Prioress, the Monk, the Friar, the Merchant, the Clerk, the Man of Law, the Franklin, the Haberdasher, the Carpenter, the Weaver, the Dyer, the Tapestry-Weaver, the Cook, the Shipman, the Physician, the Wife, the Parson, the Plowman, the Miller, the Manciple, the Reeve, the Summoner, the Pardoner, the Host, the Second Nun, and the Nun’s Priest. The Host, Harry Bailey, suggests that the pilgrims travel in a group. To pass the time while they travel, he suggests that they tell each other stories as they go, with each telling two stories on the way there and two stories on the way back home. He offers a reward for the best story: a meal at Bailey’s Tavern, though he proposes that all of the other pilgrims pitch in to help pay for this meal. To decide who will go first, the pilgrims draw lots. The Knight is the first to tell his story.

The Knight tells a story about Theseus, the Duke of Athens. Theseus imprisons two knights, Arcite and Palamon, who are from Thebes. In prison, the knights fall in love with Theseus’s sister-in-law, Emelye. Arcite manages to get freed from prison, but a condition of his release is that his is banished from Athens. He sneaks back to Athens to be close to Emelye, and actually begins to work as a page for her. Palamon is not freed from prison, but he does manage to escape. When he gets out, he confronts Arcite and the two men fight over Emelye. They are caught fighting. Rather than throwing either of them back in prison, Theseus decides to arrange a tournament, and the winner may marry Emelye. Arcite wins the tournament, but is killed when he is thrown from his horse. Palamon gets to marry Emelye.

The Miller, who is drunk, interrupts the host when the host asks the Monk to tell his tale, and says that he should get to tell his tale next. The Miller’s tale focuses...

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