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Facts in The Canterbury Tales

Facts Examples in The Canterbury Tales:

The General Prologue - The General Prologue

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" Zephyr also has, with his sweet breath,..."   (The General Prologue - The General Prologue)

Zephyr is the Greco-Roman god for the west wind, one of four directional wind gods in Greco-Roman mythology. He is generally winged, handsome, and young in artistic depictions. The god is generally portrayed as the personification of spring, holding or associated with unripe fruit. “Sweet breath” here refers to a wind commanded by Zephyr. By characterizing this breath as “sweet,” Chaucer creates an implicit connection between Zephyr blowing and spring approaching.

"Southwark, at the Tabard..."   (The General Prologue - The General Prologue)

Southwark is a borough just to the south of London Bridge, and the Tabard was an inn whose symbol was a smock (like the blue tabard with white cross worn by the three musketeers).

"Canterbury wend, The holy blessed martyr..."   (The General Prologue - The General Prologue)

This holy martyr is a reference to Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was murdered in the cathedral in 1170 for a dispute with King Henry II of England. Only three years later, Pope Alexander III canonized Becket as a martyr. On the 50th anniversary of his death, Becket’s remains were put into a shrine in the Canterbury Cathedral which would gain an almost cult-like following. Every year people would travel to venerate this shrine and attend a feast in Becket’s honor. This is where Chaucer’s narrator and characters are going.

"Into the Ram one half his course has run,..."   (The General Prologue - The General Prologue)

The “Ram” is Aries, the zodiacal time period from March 12 to April 11. The personified sun has “run” half his course, which means the Aries period is half over. This places the pilgrimage around the 27th of March.

"white and red..."   (The General Prologue - The Squire)

White and red are a reference to Saint George’s cross, a red cross on a white background that crusaders adopted on their flags. Saint George was the warrior saint. If this squire is “embroidered” “white and red” it means that he bears the cross of Saint George on his uniform.

"Flanders, in Artois, and Picardy,..."   (The General Prologue - The Squire)

Flanders, Artois, and Picardy are provinces in Northern France. This reference suggests that the Squire has been on military expeditions. However, it also shows that he has not gone as far as his father, the Knight. Whereas the previous description focused on the honor, chivalry, and military prowess of the Knight, this description focuses more on the youth, strength, and beauty of the young squire.

" him there was his son, a youthful squire..."   (The General Prologue - The Squire)

In the military order of the feudal system, a squire is a knight’s attendant who ranks just below the knight. A squire was usually a young man of good birth who would eventually rise to the position of a knight. The “his” here refers to the Knight that the Narrator has just introduced. The squire is his son.

"On breast a Christopher of silver sheen..."   (The General Prologue - The Yeoman)

This is a medallion of St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers. According to legend, Christopher carried child Christ across a river, thus earning his name, which literally means "Christ carrier." Pilgrims and travelers often wore medallions of St. Christopher to incur his blessing on their journeys.

"very dignified appear..."   (The General Prologue - The Prioress)

Here the narrator focuses most of his description on the Prioress' table manners rather than traits of her religious devotion. Some have suggested that the Prioress' upper class etiquette suggests that she was a daughter of a noble family who was sent to a nunnery when she was unable to get married. In focusing on her upper class upbringing rather than her religious devotion, Chaucer satirizes this social practice.

"French..."   (The General Prologue - The Prioress)

French was the language of culture and law until about 1300, at which point English displaced it. The Prioress' ability to speak French demonstrates both learning and upper class culture.

"Hubert..."   (The General Prologue - The Friar)

The Friar is the only pilgrim besides the Wife of Bath who is given a first name. Hubert was an unusual name in Chaucer's time. Scholars remain puzzled and divided as to why Chaucer decided to name this character.

"He would the sea were held at any cost..."   (The General Prologue - The Merchant)

This means he wants the sea to be protected from pirates at any cost, since they negatively affect his profits. Middleburgh is a trading port in Holland that traded often with Orwell, its counterpoint in England. Chaucer uses this description to show that the Merchant is most concerned with trade and profits.

"That on his shin a deadly sore had he..."   (The General Prologue - The Cook)

In the 14th century, when The Canterbury Tales is set, England suffered from the Black Death, also known as the bubonic plague, which claimed an estimated 200 million lives. The Cook's leg sore would've been indication enough that he was dying and would likely have infected some if not all of the other pilgrims on this journey before it ended.

"parson..."   (The General Prologue - The Parson)

A parson was a priest of an independent church. While vicars were priests that were monetarily supported by the Roman Catholic Church, a parson gained his revenue from the contributions of his parishioners.

"white coat and blue hood..."   (The General Prologue - The Miller)

In the 1300s peasants and members of the working class wore blue hoods because blue dye was cheaper and more easily accessible. Notice that this description of the Miller differs from previous descriptions of higher ranking characters. Where the narrator focused on details of dress at the beginning of the prologue, his description of the Miller is more concerned with facial features and strength rather than is clothing.

" ram...."   (The General Prologue - The Miller)

A ram was often a prize given to the winner of a wrestling match. Notice that most of the Miller's prologue demonstrates his strength rather than his wit.

"manciple..."   (The General Prologue - The Manciple)

The "Inns of Court" are four institutions that are responsible for legal education in London. A Manciple is an officer or public servant who is in charge of buying food and provisions for a college, Inn of Court, monastery etc.

"summoner..."   (The General Prologue - The Summoner)

In the 1300s, the Catholic Church would hire a summoner to call sinners before an ecclesiastic court. These spiritual crimes could be anything from adultery to heresy, and generally courts would excommunicate those found guilty.

"bridle reins..."   (The Knight’s Tale)

A bridle is a mechanism used to direct a horse. It consists of a metal piece that goes between a horse's teeth and a pair of straps that the horse's rider holds. By pulling the straps left or right the rider can direct the horse, and by pulling directly back the rider can stop the horse. This line simply means that the women will not stop crying until the riders stop their horses.

"Argus..."   (The Knight’s Tale)

Argus is a hundred eyed giant in Greek mythology. Hera, Zeus's wife, hires Argus to guard a white cow from Zeus. This cow is the nymph Lo, who Zeus seeks to couple with, in disguise. Zeus sends Hermes to kill Argus. Hermes uses charms to put all one hundred of Argus's eyes to sleep, then crushes him with a rock. Notice that this is an interesting comparison because when Hermes "gave Argus sleep" it was with the intention of killing him. This could suggest that the advice Palamon is about to receive is comparably dangerous.

"Pirithous,..."   (The Knight’s Tale)

Theseus and Pirithous, King of the Lapiths, were very good friends. In Greek mythology, the two decide to take daughters of Zeus. Theseus captures Helen of Sparta and Pirithous vows to steal Persephone, wife of the god Hades. Theseus and Pirithous descend into the underworld to kidnap Persephone, however, they become encased in stone when they stop to rest. Eventually, Hercules is allowed to rescue Theseus. But Pirithous is never allowed to leave the rock in the underworld because his hubris was too great a crime.

"Theseus;..."   (The Knight’s Tale)

Chaucer loosely based The Knight's Tale on Boccaccio's Il Teseida, an epic poem in 12 books probably composed around 1340 that recounts the adventures of Theseus, Duke of Athens.  In addition to Boccaccio, Chaucer most likely used Statius' Thebiad as a source, as well as The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius.  Although referred to as Duke, Theseus is actually the King of Athens.

"bragget or as mead..."   (The Miller’s Tale)

The Blazon was a poetic tradition of the chivalric romance that defined a woman's perfection by focusing on each part of her body and comparing it to something pure. For example, her skin as white as snow. Here, the Miller uses the same poetic catalogue to describe the carpenter's wife. However, instead of comparing her to pure or elegant things, he compares her to common items associated with the low classes, such as mead.

"Saint Thomas..."   (The Wife of Bath’s Prologue)

In Catholicism, Saint Thomas the Apostle was one of Jesus's 12 Apostles. He initially doubted that Christ had been resurrected after his crucifixion. After making a confession of faith Thomas witnessed Jesus's body and was reaffirmed in his belief. This caused him to travel as far as India preaching the gospel and baptizing converts.

"HOLD..."   (The Nun’s Priest’s Prologue)

In the original order of the Canterbury Tales, "The Nun's Priest's Prologue" comes after the "Monk's Tale." The Monk's tale consists of 17 short, tragic stories based on historical events. Though the Monk claims that he has 100 stories to tell, the Knight stops him here because his stories were too sad. This once again establishes the Knight as the arbitrator and leader of the pilgrims, and demonstrates Chaucer's favorable attitude towards him.

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