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Foreshadowing in The Canterbury Tales

Foreshadowing Examples in The Canterbury Tales:

The Knight’s Tale

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"in May, On the third night..."   (The Knight’s Tale)

May 3rd is an unlucky day in the medieval calender.  Chaucer used it as the night Chanticleer is seized in the Nun's Priest's Tale and in Troylus and Criseyde.

"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.

"God Mercury,..."   (The Knight’s Tale)

Mercury is a messenger of the gods in Roman mythology. Much like Hermes of Greek mythology, Mercury would bring dreams, instructions, and visions to a sleeper at Zeus's request. Arcita is having a conventional dream vision, a very common episode in classical and medieval writing. Mercury is also the god of thieves that leads souls into the underworld. His appearance could be ominous, foreshadowing Arcita's coming death on his return to Athens.

"Pilate..."   (The Miller’s Prologue)

"Pilate" is an allusion to Pontius Pilate, the man who orders Jesus's crucifixion. The Miller interrupts the Monk, who is comes next in the social order, so that he can tell his story. His failure to remove his hat demonstrates his disrespect for the other pilgrims and the tavern, while his "Pilate" voice suggests that this character is blasphemous. This introduction to the Miller's tale foreshadows the inappropriate and crude tale that will follow.

"burn his book..."   (The Wife of Bath’s Prologue)

The burning of this book is symbolic for the end of her husband's authority. The Wife and her husband have switched roles: she now governs the lands while he dotes upon her. Alison's personal story foreshadows the story that she will tell the pilgrims. However, notice that in her personal story, she need to both use and endure violence in order to gain her authority, while the character in the story does not.

"sought..."   (The Pardoner’s Tale)

Notice how quickly the rioters forget their vow to kill death in the presence of money. Their willingness to abandon their noble (if not foolish) quest demonstrates the weakness of their moral characters. This foreshadows their downfall and the Pardoner's ultimate theme that greed is the most dangerous vice of men.

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