Chaucer, CT, Prologue

Below is a text (in black) of the Prologue of the Canterbury Tales of Geoffrey Chaucer, with

  • my comments in blue (as now),
  • my highlighting in yellow.

The Prologue tells the frame story of a pilgrimage from London to the shrine of the “holy blissful martyr” at Canterbury; along the way, the pilgrims will tell the tales that make up the rest of the collection.

Chaucer was born around 1340; the dramatic date of his Prologue may be 1387. The martyr in Canterbury is Thomas Becket, assassinated in the cathedral there in 1170 by agents of King Henry II of England.

The Black Death was 1346–53.

Reasons to read Chaucer include testing Collingwood’s assertion in the Prologue of Speculum Mentis (1924),

Chaucer and Dante are no shallow optimists, but their tragedies are discords perpetually resolved in the harmony of a celestial music. The fundamental thing in Chaucer is the ‘mery tale’ of human life as a heartening and lovely pageant … The medieval mind feels itself surrounded, beyond the sphere of trial and danger, by a great peace, an infinite happiness.

Those clauses are from this paragraph, elaborating on medieval happiness:

Now there is no truer and more abiding happiness than the knowledge that one is free to go on doing, day by day, the best work one can do, in the kind one likes best, and that this work is absorbed by a steady market and thus supports one’s own life. The man who is rich enough to work unnoticed and unrewarded is by comparison a savage; the man who can only do his own work by stealth when he has won his daily bread elsewhere is a slave. Perfect freedom is reserved for the man who lives by his own work and in that work does what he wants to do. But this freedom and happiness were in principle at least the lot of every one in the middle ages; and to what extent they were actually achieved by no small number of workers we can see when we look at the work they have left behind them. For these works breathe visibly the air of a perfect freedom and a perfect happiness. Chaucer and Dante are no shallow optimists, but their tragedies are discords perpetually resolved in the harmony of a celestial music. The fundamental thing in Chaucer is the ‘mery tale’ of human life as a heartening and lovely pageant, diversified with all the adventures that befall upon the course

Of thilke parfit glorious pilgrimage
That highte Jerusalem celestial;

the fundamental thing in Dante is not mere human fortitude, the ‘gran dispitto’ of Farinata, but

l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle.

The medieval mind feels itself surrounded, beyond the sphere of trial and danger, by a great peace, an infinite happiness. This feeling, so clear in the poets, is equally clear, to those who have eyes to see, in the illuminations of a missal and the detail of stonework, in the towers of Durham and the Vine window at Wells.

Collingwood thus draws historical inferences about the Middle Ages from his criticism of medieval art. The criticism may be sound, though the inferences invalid.

In the chapter of Speculum Mentis called “Art,” Collingwood will quote Chaucer’s Prologue, to illustrate how literature may be good or bad, as art, regardless of whether what it says is literally true. Chaucer refers to himself as a pilgrim among the others; we do not know, neither need we care, whether he actually made the pilgrimage.

Speculum Mentis is “a critical review of the chief forms of human experience.” The experiences reviewed are art, religion, science, history, and philosophy. Collingwood could have pursued any of these, professionally, and in some sense he did pursue them all. I am not aware that he ever considered holy orders, but his first book was Religion and Philosophy (1916). Perhaps he did not do science, but he studied it, sympathetically, in An Essay on Metaphysics (1940) and The Idea of Nature (published posthumously in 1945). I reviewed the “Art” chapter of Speculum Mentis last summer in “Map of Art.” I wrote more about how I see the whole book in “Poetry and Mathematics.”

In my reading and posting of Chaucer, I am continuing a practice of the winter and spring, when I joined reading groups for

  • the erotic dialogues of Plato (namely the Symposium and the Phaedrus),
  • the Pensées of Pascal.

For Pascal, though not for Plato, I posted the texts of the readings here, with my annotations. This summer of 2021, I am likely to do the same for Chaucer. I have joined a group to read some of the Canterbury Tales, and this post has the first reading. The schedule for the discussions is the following.

July 5
General Prologue (this post)
July 12
Knight’s Tale
July 19
Miller’s Prologue & Tale; Reeve’s Prologue + Tale
July 26
Man of Law’s Tale (Introduction, Prologue + Tale)
August 2
Wife of Bath’s Prologue + Tale
August 9
Friar’s Prologue + Tale; Clerk’s Prologue and Tale
August 16
Franklin’s Prologue + Tale
August 30
Prioress’ Prologue + Tale; Monk’s Prologue + Tale
September 14
Nun’s Priest Prologue + Tale; Second Nun’s Prologue + Tale

The dates are Mondays, when the discussions are to be held at 8 PM on the eastern coast of the US. Here in Istanbul, I’m 7 hours ahead (8 hours in winter, since authority in Turkey has determined that we shall no longer go off “savings time”). Thus I shall be getting up on Tuesday mornings to join Zoom meetings at 3 AM. There will end up being no meeting on August 23 or September 7.

For the Pascal group, I had the Pensées on paper, but in the Brunschvicg order, and the group was following the Sellier order. I could have obtained what everybody else was reading, but I didn’t want a translation, and I didn’t want to use Amazon. I do order books through bookshops here, but this can take weeks, and I don’t know if they deal with French publishers. Therefore I assembled the Pascal readings from the web.

I did not do that for Plato, as I already had him on paper. So I have Chaucer, in The Poetical Works of Chaucer, edited by F. N. Robinson for the Riverside Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1933. My mother must have used this book in college (as I went on to do); it has some of her notes in pencil (mainly translations of obscure words). The book’s own print is fine, thus presenting a challenge for my aging eyes. Though Robinson provides explanatory and textual notes, along with a glossary, these are all at the end of the book.

From my own high-school days I have The Canterbury Tales of Geoffrey Chaucer, “A Selection Edited with Introduction and Notes by Daniel Cook,” Anchor Books, 1961. This is an excellent edition, for the student of literature (as opposed to linguistics), because it has Chaucer’s verses on the even-numbered pages, with glosses and notes on the facing pages; but the book does not contain every reading on the schedule above.

The text below is that of Skeat, perhaps in the second edition of 1900, obtained from the html version of the Online Library of Liberty. The raw html of the OLL edition has links to Skeat’s footnotes, but the links do not seem to work properly, and anyway the notes are not glosses, but variant readings in the manuscripts. I have edited out all of this apparatus, while keeping the line numbers, along with the boldface labels that show which persons Chaucer is describing in the Prologue. (Skeat’s printer could fit the list Haberdassher … Tapicer of five guildsmen into four lines, but I don’t know how to do that yet.)

Project Gutenberg also has Skeat’s text and notes. It would be interesting to see which transcription is more accurate, the Gutenberg or the OLL. I think the OLL edition will be easier for me to work with, if I continue to post the readings here.

I have Skeat’s Concise Etymological Dictionary of the English Language on paper and have referred to it in some posts. Robinson remarks in the Preface to his own Chaucer,

In previous editions, even those of Skeat (1894) and the Globe editors (1898), very incomplete account had been taken of modern investigations of Chaucer’s grammar, and I felt that one of the chief services an editor could render would be in the grammatical purification of the text.

Below I note a curiosity in the grammar of lines 43–6, at the head of the description of the Knight; but Robinson’s notes say nothing about it.

Here biginneth the Book of the Tales of Caunterbury.

WHAN that Aprille with his shoures sote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the rote,

And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
 5Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale fowles maken melodye,
 10That slepen al the night with open ye,
(So priketh hem nature in hir corages):
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages
(And palmers for to seken straunge strondes)
To ferne halwes, couthe in sondry londes;
 15And specially, from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The holy blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seke.

The big question is of tone or register. Is a pilgrimage just an excuse to go on holiday, and does Chaucer mean to point this out?

In the Iliad, a sacrifice is also a feast. A sacrifice is literally, or etymologically, a making sacred, a consecrating; only later does it come be a giving up in the sense of resolving to go without. But why should not a sacrifice be a time of communing with the gods through enjoyment of food or of the countryside in spring?

Muslims must make the pilgrimage to Mecca, at a certain time of the lunar year, if they can, at least once in their lives. Some persons cannot go, out of poverty (or because they cannot get a visa). Other persons go several times; but after the first time, why do they not instead fund the pilgrimages of others?

Bifel that, in that seson on a day,
 20In Southwerk at the Tabard as I lay
Redy to wenden on my pilgrimage
To Caunterbury with ful devout corage,
At night was come in-to that hostelrye
Wel nyne and twenty in a companye,
 25Of sondry folk, by aventure y-falle
In felawshipe, and pilgrims were they alle,
That toward Caunterbury wolden ryde;
The chambres and the stables weren wyde,
And wel we weren esed atte beste.
 30And shortly, whan the sonne was to reste,
So hadde I spoken with hem everichon,
That I was of hir felawshipe anon,
And made forward erly for to ryse,
To take our wey, ther as I yow devyse.

The people to be described are

  1. Knight
  2. Squire
  3. Yeoman
  4. Prioress (Mme Eglantine)
  5. Nun
  6. Priest 1
  7. Priest 2
  8. Priest 3
  9. Monk
  10. Friar (Hubert)
  11. Merchant (unknown)
  12. Clerk
  13. Man of Law
  14. Franklin
  15. Haberdasher
  16. Carpenter
  17. Web
  18. Dyer
  19. Tapisser
  20. Cook
  21. Shipman
  22. Doctor of Physic
  23. Wife of Bath
  24. Parson
  25. Plowman
  26. Miller
  27. Manciple
  28. Reeve
  29. Summoner
  30. Pardoner

They would seem to be one more than the nine and twenty counted by Chaucer at the Tabard.

 35But natheles, whyl I have tyme and space,
Er that I ferther in this tale pace,
Me thinketh it acordaunt to resoun,
To telle yow al the condicioun
Of ech of hem, so as it semed me,
 40And whiche they weren, and of what degree;
And eek in what array that they were inne:

And at a knight than wol I first biginne.

Condition, “which,” degree, array: what is the “which”?

  KnightA Knight ther was, and that a worthy man,
That fro the tyme that he first bigan
 45To ryden out, he loved chivalrye,
Trouthe and honour, fredom and curteisye.

Ful worthy was he in his lordes werre,
And therto hadde he riden (no man ferre)
As wel in Cristendom as hethenesse,
 50And ever honoured for his worthinesse.

“A worthy man that, from the time when he first began to ride out, he [sic] loved chivalry.” The second “he” would seem to be redundant, unless the point is that he was so worthy that he loved chivalry.

Chivalry, truth, honor, courtesy, OK; but what is the freedom that he loves?

He fights in his lord’s war: his earthly feudal lord, or the Prince of Peace?

Ferre is the comparative of fer, that is, “far.”

At Alisaundre he was, whan it was wonne;
Ful ofte tyme he hadde the bord bigonne
Aboven alle naciouns in Pruce.
In Lettow hadde he reysed and in Ruce,
 55No Cristen man so ofte of his degree.
In Gernade at the sege eek hadde he be
Of Algezir, and riden in Belmarye.
At Lyeys was he, and at Satalye,
Whan they were wonne; and in the Grete See
 60At many a noble aryve hadde he be.
At mortal batailles hadde he been fiftene,
And foughten for our feith at Tramissene
In listes thryes, and ay slayn his foo.
This ilke worthy knight had been also
 65Somtyme with the lord of Palatye,
Ageyn another hethen in Turkye:
And evermore he hadde a sovereyn prys.
And though that he were worthy, he was wys,
And of his port as meke as is a mayde.

 70He never yet no vileinye ne sayde
In al his lyf, un-to no maner wight.
He was a verray parfit gentil knight.
But for to tellen yow of his array,
His hors were gode, but he was nat gay.
 75Of fustian he wered a gipoun
Al bismotered with his habergeoun;
For he was late y-come from his viage,
And wente for to doon his pilgrimage.

The Knight must have joined the campaigns of Peter of Cyprus (or de Lusignan), who was in England, 1362–3.

I don’t understand the fight for the faith at Tlemcen. Robinson reports,

the lord of Palatye (probably Turkish Balat, on the site of the ancient Miletus) is not definite … But … the lord of Palatye, in 1365, was a heathan bound in friendly treaty to King Peter.

The knight had a sovereign price, or rather value.

The pattern of line 72 is repeated for the doctor in line 422.

“With his habergeon he wore a gypon of fustian, all besmottered” – besmottered with blood, are we to understand? Is it ironic that a man who has been out killing should be “as meek as a maid”?

The OED has an entry for “Besmottered,” labelled as obsolete and rare, Chaucer being the earliest source, and no form without “be’” being known.

  Squyer.With him ther was his sone, a yong Squyer,
 80A lovyere, and a lusty bacheler,
With lokkes crulle, as they were leyd in presse.
Of twenty yeer of age he was, I gesse.
Of his stature he was of evene lengthe,
And wonderly deliver, and greet of strengthe.
 85And he had been somtyme in chivachye,
In Flaundres, in Artoys, and Picardye,
And born him wel, as of so litel space,
In hope to stonden in his lady grace.
Embrouded was he, as it were a mede
 90Al ful of fresshe floures, whyte and rede.
Singinge he was, or floytinge, al the day;
He was as fresh as is the month of May.

Short was his goune, with sleves longe and wyde.
Wel coude he sitte on hors, and faire ryde.
 95He coude songes make and wel endyte,
Iuste and eek daunce, and wel purtreye and wryte.
So hote he lovede, that by nightertale
He sleep namore than dooth a nightingale.
Curteys he was, lowly, and servisable,
 100And carf biforn his fader at the table.

“Chevachee” is a doublet of “cavalcade” and in modern French is chevauchée.

The “space” here is temporal – or does it refer to the boy’s not having warred so far away as his father?

Is the squire’s lady the Virgin Mary?

Did Chaucer invent the analogy of being as fresh as May?

The squire could portray and write: so he had the accomplishments of a young woman such as Emma Woodhouse, or rather Jane Fairfax.

  Yeman.A Yeman hadde he, and servaunts namo
At that tyme, for him liste ryde so;
And he was clad in cote and hood of grene;
A sheef of pecok-arwes brighte and kene
 105Under his belt he bar ful thriftily;
(Wel coude he dresse his takel yemanly:
His arwes drouped noght with fetheres lowe),
And in his hand he bar a mighty bowe.
A not-heed hadde he, with a broun visage.
 110Of wode-craft wel coude he al the usage.
Upon his arm he bar a gay bracer,
And by his syde a swerd and a bokeler,
And on that other syde a gay daggere,
Harneised wel, and sharp as point of spere;
 115A Cristofre on his brest of silver shene.
An horn he bar, the bawdrik was of grene;
A forster was he, soothly, as I gesse.

Is it the knight who has a yeoman, but no more servants, because the knight loved to ride, and he could not afford both horses and servants, or he could not afford to supply mounts for his servants, so he left them at home?

The yeoman carries weapons the way some Americans do today, although Chaucer’s time was different. Here is Yuval Noah Harari from Sapiens:

Ours is the first time in history that the world is dominated by a peace-loving elite – politicians, business people, intellectuals and artists who genuinely see war as both evil and avoidable. (There were pacifists in the past, such as the early Christians, but in the rare cases that they gained power, they tended to forget about their requirement to ‘turn the other cheek’.) …

In 1964 a military dictatorship was established in Brazil. It ruled the country until 1985. During these twenty years, several thousand Brazilians were murdered by the regime. Thousands more were imprisoned and tortured. Yet even in the worst years, the average Brazilian in Rio de Janeiro was far less likely to die at human hands than the average Waorani, Arawete or Yanomamo.

Will the pilgrims meet violence on the way to Canterbury, or are they so well defended that none will attack?

  Prioresse.Ther was also a Nonne, a Prioresse,
That of hir smyling was ful simple and coy;
 120Hir gretteste ooth was but by sëynt Loy;
And she was cleped madame Eglentyne.
Ful wel she song the service divyne,
Entuned in hir nose ful semely;
And Frensh she spak ful faire and fetisly,
 125After the scole of Stratford atte Bowe,
For Frensh of Paris was to hir unknowe.
At mete wel y-taught was she with-alle;
She leet no morsel from hir lippes falle,
Ne wette hir fingres in hir sauce depe.
 130Wel coude she carie a morsel, and wel kepe,
That no drope ne fille up-on hir brest.
In curteisye was set ful muche hir lest.
Hir over lippe wyped she so clene,
That in hir coppe was no ferthing sene
 135Of grece, whan she dronken hadde hir draughte.
Ful semely after hir mete she raughte,
And sikerly she was of greet disport,
And ful plesaunt, and amiable of port,
And peyned hir to countrefete chere
 140Of court, and been estatlich of manere,
And to ben holden digne of reverence.
But, for to speken of hir conscience,
She was so charitable and so pitous,
She wolde wepe, if that she sawe a mous
 145Caught in a trappe, if it were deed or bledde.
Of smale houndes had she, that she fedde
With rosted flesh, or milk and wastel-breed.
But sore weep she if oon of hem were deed,
Or if men smoot it with a yerde smerte:
 150And al was conscience and tendre herte.
Ful semely hir wimpel pinched was;
Hir nose tretys; hir eyen greye as glas;
Hir mouth ful smal, and ther-to softe and reed;
But sikerly she hadde a fair forheed;
 155It was almost a spanne brood, I trowe;
For, hardily, she was nat undergrowe.
Ful fetis was hir cloke, as I was war.
Of smal coral aboute hir arm she bar
A peire of bedes, gauded al with grene;
 160And ther-on heng a broche of gold ful shene,
On which ther was first write a crowned A,
And after, Amor vincit omnia.

We are told so much about how politely Madam Eglantine eats; then we are given to understand that she is “not undergrown.”

She is sensitive, or sentimental; and yet to her dogs she feeds the flesh of animals that somebody has had to kill.

  Nonne.Another Nonne with hir hadde she,
  3 Preestes.That was hir chapeleyne, and Preestes three.

The knight has his entourage; the prioress, hers. Do any of the latter carry weapons?

  Monk.A Monk ther was, a fair for the maistrye,
 166An out-rydere, that lovede venerye;
A manly man, to been an abbot able.
Ful many a deyntee hors hadde he in stable:
And, whan he rood, men mighte his brydel here
 170Ginglen in a whistling wind as clere,
And eek as loude as dooth the chapel-belle,
Ther as this lord was keper of the celle.
The reule of seint Maure or of seint Beneit,
By-cause that it was old and som-del streit,
 175This ilke monk leet olde thinges pace,
And held after the newe world the space.

He yaf nat of that text a pulled hen,
That seith, that hunters been nat holy men;
Ne that a monk, whan he is cloisterlees,
 180Is lykned til a fish that is waterlees;
This is to seyn, a monk out of his cloistre.
But thilke text held he nat worth an oistre;
And I seyde, his opinioun was good.
What sholde he studie, and make him-selven wood,
 185Upon a book in cloistre alwey to poure,
Or swinken with his handes, and laboure,
As Austin bit? How shal the world be served?
Lat Austin have his swink to him reserved.
Therfore he was a pricasour aright;
 190Grehoundes he hadde, as swifte as fowel in flight;
Of priking and of hunting for the hare
Was al his lust, for no cost wolde he spare.
I seigh his sleves purfiled at the hond
With grys, and that the fyneste of a lond;
 195And, for to festne his hood under his chin,
He hadde of gold y-wroght a curious pin:
A love-knotte in the gretter ende ther was.
His heed was balled, that shoon as any glas,
And eek his face, as he had been anoint.
 200He was a lord ful fat and in good point;
His eyen stepe, and rollinge in his heed,
That stemed as a forneys of a leed;
His botes souple, his hors in greet estat.
Now certeinly he was a fair prelat;
 205He was nat pale as a for-pyned goost.
A fat swan loved he best of any roost.
His palfrey was as broun as is a berye.

“Swink” (labor, toil), is archaic or dialectical in the OED.

Chaucer’s is the only use of pricasour known to the OED. “Pricking” is spurring a horse.

“Gris” here is gray fur.

  Frere.A Frere ther was, a wantown and a merye,
A limitour, a ful solempne man.
 210In alle the ordres foure is noon that can
So muche of daliaunce and fair langage.
He hadde maad ful many a mariage
Of yonge wommen, at his owne cost.

Un-to his ordre he was a noble post.
 215Ful wel biloved and famulier was he
With frankeleyns over-al in his contree,
And eek with worthy wommen of the toun:
For he had power of confessioun,
As seyde him-self, more than a curat,
 220For of his ordre he was licentiat.
Ful swetely herde he confessioun,
And plesaunt was his absolucioun;
He was an esy man to yeve penaunce
Ther as he wiste to han a good pitaunce;
 225For unto a povre ordre for to yive
Is signe that a man is wel y-shrive.
For if he yaf, he dorste make avaunt,
He wiste that a man was repentaunt.
For many a man so hard is of his herte,
 230He may nat wepe al-thogh him sore smerte.
Therfore, in stede of weping and preyeres,
Men moot yeve silver to the povre freres.

His tipet was ay farsed ful of knyves
And pinnes, for to yeven faire wyves.
 235And certeinly he hadde a mery note;
Wel coude he singe and pleyen on a rote.
Of yeddinges he bar utterly the prys.
His nekke whyt was as the flour-de-lys;
Ther-to he strong was as a champioun.
 240He knew the tavernes wel in every toun,
And everich hostiler and tappestere
Bet than a lazar or a beggestere;
For un-to swich a worthy man as he
Acorded nat, as by his facultee,
 245To have with seke lazars aqueyntaunce.
It is nat honest, it may nat avaunce
For to delen with no swich poraille,
But al with riche and sellers of vitaille.
And over-al, ther as profit sholde aryse,
 250Curteys he was, and lowly of servyse.
Ther nas no man no-wher so vertuous.
He was the beste beggere in his hous;

 252 b[And yaf a certeyn ferme for the graunt;
 252 cNoon of his bretheren cam ther in his haunt;]
For thogh a widwe hadde noght a sho,
So plesaunt was his In principio,
 255Yet wolde he have a ferthing, er he wente.
His purchas was wel bettre than his rente.
And rage he coude, as it were right a whelpe.
  (260)In love-dayes ther coude he muchel helpe.
For there he was nat lyk a cloisterer,
 260With a thredbar cope, as is a povre scoler,
But he was lyk a maister or a pope.
Of double worsted was his semi-cope,
That rounded as a belle out of the presse.
Somwhat he lipsed, for his wantownesse,
 265To make his English swete up-on his tonge;
And in his harping, whan that he had songe,
His eyen twinkled in his heed aright,
  (270)As doon the sterres in the frosty night.
This worthy limitour was cleped Huberd.

Now it seems we are really gearing up for the Reformation.

A friar limiter is authorized to beg within geographical limits. Apparently we are going to learn more.

Apparently the friar found husbands and paid dowries for the women he seduced.

  Marchant.A Marchant was ther with a forked berd,
 271In mottelee, and hye on horse he sat,
Up-on his heed a Flaundrish bever hat;
His botes clasped faire and fetisly.
His resons he spak ful solempnely,
 275Souninge alway thencrees of his winning.

He wolde the see were kept for any thing
Bitwixe Middelburgh and Orewelle.
  (280)Wel coude he in eschaunge sheeldes selle.
This worthy man ful wel his wit bisette;
 280Ther wiste no wight that he was in dette,

So estatly was he of his governaunce,
With his bargaynes, and with his chevisaunce.
For sothe he was a worthy man with-alle,
But sooth to seyn, I noot how men him calle.

Nobody knew he was in debt? Sounds like Trump.

Chevisance is bringing to an end or head (chef in French). Does Chaucer’s ignorance of the Merchant’s name give verisimilitude, or hint at something deeper?

  Clerk.A Clerk ther was of Oxenford also,
 286That un-to logik hadde longe y-go.
As lene was his hors as is a rake,
  (290)And he nas nat right fat, I undertake;
But loked holwe, and ther-to soberly.
 290Ful thredbar was his overest courtepy;
For he had geten him yet no benefyce,
Ne was so worldly for to have offyce.
For him was lever have at his beddes heed
Twenty bokes, clad in blak or reed,
 295Of Aristotle and his philosophye,
Than robes riche, or fithele, or gay sautrye.
But al be that he was a philosophre,
  (300)Yet hadde he but litel gold in cofre;
But al that he mighte of his freendes hente,
 300On bokes and on lerninge he it spente,
And bisily gan for the soules preye
Of hem that yaf him wher-with to scoleye.
Of studie took he most cure and most hede
Noght o word spak he more than was nede,
 305And that was seyd in forme and reverence,
And short and quik, and ful of hy sentence.
Souninge in moral vertu was his speche,
  (310)And gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche.

Etymologically, a clerk is a cleric, hence a scholar.

The Clerk compensates his patrons by praying for them. One could be as cynical about this as about the Friar’s habits. But look what Collingwood says, in The New Leviathan (1942):

36. 51. Civility as between man and man, members of the same community, is not only what constitutes the civilization of that community relatively to the human world; it is also what makes possible that community’s civilization relatively to the natural world.

36. 52. This is a thing we take too lightly. We are the beneficiaries of an ancestral, prehistoric civility which we take too much for granted.

36. 53. A character in a dialogue of Plato addresses another, famous for his store of information: ‘I beg you, if you know the answer to this question, tell it me; be generous of your knowledge; don’t grudge me your treasure (μὴ φθονήσῃς)’.

36. 54. How civilized! we exclaim. How enlightened of these ancient Greeks to talk about mere knowledge as if it were gold or silver!

36. 55. Centuries later we find Chaucer writing of his poor clerk: ‘And gladly would he learn, and gladly teach.’

36. 56. How admirable, we think, and how strange! Here we are in the howling wilderness of fourteenth-century England; and here, depicted by the poet who of all poets is least given to paint fancy pictures, to flatter any man or any class of men, rides a threadbare scholar whose only passions are a miserly greed to acquire knowledge and a princely generosity to share it.

36. 57. But in the times we lightly call barbarous, then and for many centuries earlier, unless men had been in sober fact as greedy of knowledge and as generous of it as Chaucer and Plato describe them, there would never have been any civilization at all; none of the arts of civilization would have been discovered, or, if once discovered, imparted.

According to the OED, the obsolete “Courtepy” is apparently from Middle Dutch kurte pîe, “short coat.” The second element, pij in Modern Dutch, stands alone in the obsolete “pee” and persists in “pea-coat” and “pea-jacket.” Under the last word, the OED mentions “a gratuitous surmise” that the first element stands for “pilot”; according to the Wikipedia article just linked to though, the surmise is favored by the US Navy.

  Man of Lawe.A Sergeant of the Lawe, war and wys,
 310That often hadde been at the parvys,
Ther was also, ful riche of excellence.
Discreet he was, and of greet reverence:
He semed swich, his wordes weren so wyse.
Iustyce he was ful often in assyse,
 315By patente, and by pleyn commissioun;
For his science, and for his heigh renoun
Of fees and robes hadde he many oon.
  (320)So greet a purchasour was no-wher noon.
Al was fee simple to him in effect,
 320His purchasing mighte nat been infect.
No-wher so bisy a man as he ther nas,
And yet he semed bisier than he was.

In termes hadde he caas and domes alle,
That from the tyme of king William were falle.
 325Therto he coude endyte, and make a thing,
Ther coude no wight pinche at his wryting;
And every statut coude he pleyn by rote.
  (330)He rood but hoomly in a medlee cote
Girt with a ceint of silk, with barres smale;
 330Of his array telle I no lenger tale.

The Lawyer puts on a show, like the Merchant.

  Frankeleyn.A Frankeleyn was in his companye;
Whyt was his berd, as is the dayesye.
Of his complexioun he was sangwyn.
Wel loved he by the morwe a sop in wyn.
 335To liven in delyt was ever his wone,
For he was Epicurus owne sone,

That heeld opinioun, that pleyn delyt
  (340)Was verraily felicitee parfyt.
An housholdere, and that a greet, was he;
 340Seint Iulian he was in his contree.

His breed, his ale, was alwey after oon;
A bettre envyned man was no-wher noon.
With-oute bake mete was never his hous,
Of fish and flesh, and that so plentevous,
 345It snewed in his hous of mete and drinke,
Of alle deyntees that men coude thinke.
After the sondry sesons of the yeer,
  (350)So chaunged he his mete and his soper.
Ful many a fat partrich hadde he in mewe,
And many a breem and many a luce in stewe.
Wo was his cook, but-if his sauce were
Poynaunt and sharp, and redy al his gere.
His table dormant in his halle alway
Stood redy covered al the longe day.
 355At sessiouns ther was he lord and sire;
Ful ofte tyme he was knight of the shire.
An anals and a gipser al of silk
  (360)Heng at his girdel, whyt as morne milk.
A shirreve hadde he been, and a countour;
 360Was no-wher such a worthy vavasour.

The Franklin was generous, then, in his epicurianism?

  Haberdassher.An Haberdassher and a Carpenter,
  Carpenter.A Webbe, a Dyere, and a Tapicer,
  Webbe.Were with us eek, clothed in o liveree,
  Dyere.Of a solempne and greet fraternitee.
  Tapicer. 365Ful fresh and newe hir gere apyked was;
Hir knyves were y-chaped noght with bras,
But al with silver, wroght ful clene and weel,
  (370)Hir girdles and hir pouches every-deel.
Wel semed ech of hem a fair burgeys,
 370To sitten in a yeldhalle on a deys.
Everich, for the wisdom that he can,
Was shaply for to been an alderman.
For catel hadde they y-nogh and rente,
And eek hir wyves wolde it wel assente;
 375And elles certein were they to blame.
It is ful fair to been y-clept ma dame,
And goon to vigilyës al bifore,
  (380)And have a mantel royalliche y-bore.


  Cook.A Cook they hadde with hem for the nones,
 380To boille the chiknes with the mary-bones,
And poudre-marchant tart, and galingale.
Wel coude he knowe a draughte of London ale.
He coude roste, and sethe, and broille, and frye,
Maken mortreux, and wel bake a pye.
 385But greet harm was it, as it thoughte me,
That on his shine a mormal hadde he;
  (389)For blankmanger, that made he with the beste.

Mormal “sore, gangrene”

  Shipman.A Shipman was ther, woning fer by weste:
For aught I woot, he was of Dertemouthe.
 390He rood up-on a rouncy, as he couthe,
In a gowne of falding to the knee.
A daggere hanging on a laas hadde he
Aboute his nekke under his arm adoun.
The hote somer had maad his hewe al broun;
 395And, certeinly, he was a good felawe.
Ful many a draughte of wyn had he y-drawe
From Burdeux-ward, whyl that the chapman sleep.

  (400)Of nyce conscience took he no keep.
If that he faught, and hadde the hyer hond,
 400By water he sente hem hoom to every lond.
But of his craft to rekene wel his tydes,
His stremes and his daungers him bisydes,
His herberwe and his mone, his lodemenage,
Ther nas noon swich from Hulle to Cartage.
 405Hardy he was, and wys to undertake;
With many a tempest hadde his berd been shake.
He knew wel alle the havenes, as they were,
  (410)From Gootlond to the cape of Finistere,
And every cryke in Britayne and in Spayne;
 410His barge y-cleped was the Maudelayne.

His barge has a name, but not himself?

  Doctour.With us ther was a Doctour of Phisyk,
In al this world ne was ther noon him lyk
To speke of phisik and of surgerye;
For he was grounded in astronomye.

 415He kepte his pacient a ful greet del
In houres, by his magik naturel.
Wel coude he fortunen the ascendent
  (420)Of his images for his pacient.
He knew the cause of everich maladye,
 420Were it of hoot or cold, or moiste, or drye,
And where engendred, and of what humour;
He was a verrey parfit practisour.

The cause y-knowe, and of his harm the rote,
Anon he yaf the seke man his bote.
 425Ful redy hadde he his apothecaries,
To sende him drogges and his letuaries,
For ech of hem made other for to winne;
  (430)Hir frendschipe nas nat newe to biginne.
Wel knew he the olde Esculapius,
 430And Deiscorides, and eek Rufus,
Old Ypocras, Haly, and Galien;
Serapion, Razis, and Avicen;
Averrois, Damascien, and Constantyn;
Bernard, and Gatesden, and Gilbertyn.
 435Of his diete mesurable was he,
For it was of no superfluitee,
But of greet norissing and digestible.
  (440)His studie was but litel on the Bible.
In sangwin and in pers he clad was al,
 440Lyned with taffata and with sendal;
And yet he was but esy of dispence;
He kepte that he wan in pestilence.
For gold in phisik is a cordial,
Therfore he lovede gold in special.

Could he cure you?

  Wyf of Bathe.A good Wyf was ther of bisyde Bathe,
 446But she was som-del deef, and that was scathe.
Of clooth-making she hadde swiche an haunt,
  (450)She passed hem of Ypres and of Gaunt.
In al the parisshe wyf ne was ther noon
 450That to the offring bifore hir sholde goon;
And if ther dide, certeyn, so wrooth was she,
That she was out of alle charitee.

Hir coverchiefs ful fyne were of ground;
I dorste swere they weyeden ten pound
 455That on a Sonday were upon hir heed.
Hir hosen weren of fyn scarlet reed,
Ful streite y-teyd, and shoos ful moiste and newe.
  (460)Bold was hir face, and fair, and reed of hewe.
She was a worthy womman al hir lyve,
 460Housbondes at chirche-dore she hadde fyve,
Withouten other companye in youthe;
But therof nedeth nat to speke as nouthe.
And thryes hadde she been at Ierusalem;
She hadde passed many a straunge streem;
 465At Rome she hadde been, and at Boloigne,
In Galice at seint Iame, and at Coloigne.
She coude muche of wandring by the weye.
  (470)Gat-tothed was she, soothly for to seye.
Up-on an amblere esily she sat,
 470Y-wimpled wel, and on hir heed an hat
As brood as is a bokeler or a targe;
A foot-mantel aboute hir hipes large,
And on hir feet a paire of spores sharpe.
In felawschip wel coude she laughe and carpe.
 475Of remedyes of love she knew per-chaunce,
For she coude of that art the olde daunce.

Did she poison her husbands?

  Persoun.A good man was ther of religioun,
  (480)And was a povre Persoun of a toun;
But riche he was of holy thought and werk.
 480He was also a lerned man, a clerk,
That Cristes gospel trewely wolde preche;
His parisshens devoutly wolde he teche.
Benigne he was, and wonder diligent,
And in adversitee ful pacient;
 485And swich he was y-preved ofte sythes.
Ful looth were him to cursen for his tythes,
But rather wolde he yeven, out of doute,
  (490)Un-to his povre parisshens aboute
Of his offring, and eek of his substaunce.
 490He coude in litel thing han suffisaunce.
Wyd was his parisshe, and houses fer a-sonder,
But he ne lafte nat, for reyn ne thonder,
In siknes nor in meschief, to visyte
The ferreste in his parisshe, muche and lyte,
 495Up-on his feet, and in his hand a staf.
This noble ensample to his sheep he yaf,
That first he wroghte, and afterward he taughte;

  (500)Out of the gospel he tho wordes caughte;
And this figure he added eek ther-to,
 500That if gold ruste, what shal iren do?
For if a preest be foul, on whom we truste,
No wonder is a lewed man to ruste;
And shame it is, if a preest take keep,
A shiten shepherde and a clene sheep.
 505Wel oghte a preest ensample for to yive,
By his clennesse, how that his sheep shold live.
He sette nat his benefice to hyre,
  (510)And leet his sheep encombred in the myre,
And ran to London, un-to sëynt Poules,
 510To seken him a chaunterie for soules,
Or with a bretherhed to been withholde;
But dwelte at hoom, and kepte wel his folde,
So that the wolf ne made it nat miscarie;
He was a shepherde and no mercenarie.
 515And though he holy were, and vertuous,
He was to sinful man nat despitous,
Ne of his speche daungerous ne digne,
  (520)But in his teching discreet and benigne.
To drawen folk to heven by fairnesse
 520By good ensample, was his bisinesse:
But it were any persone obstinat,
What-so he were, of heigh or lowe estat,
Him wolde he snibben sharply for the nones.
A bettre preest, I trowe that nowher noon is.
 525He wayted after no pompe and reverence,
Ne maked him a spyced conscience,
But Cristes lore, and his apostles twelve,
  (530)He taughte, and first he folwed it him-selve.

Can it be that the Parson is just as Chaucer says?

  Plowman.With him ther was a Plowman, was his brother,
 530That hadde y-lad of dong ful many a fother,
A trewe swinker and a good was he,
Livinge in pees and parfit charitee.
God loved he best with al his hole herte
At alle tymes, thogh him gamed or smerte,

 535And thanne his neighebour right as him-selve.
He wolde thresshe, and ther-to dyke and delve,
For Cristes sake, for every povre wight,
  (540)Withouten hyre, if it lay in his might.
His tythes payed he ful faire and wel,
 540Bothe of his propre swink and his catel.
In a tabard he rood upon a mere.

And now can the Plowman be so? Do some people actually follow the Gospel?

Ther was also a Reve and a Millere,
A Somnour and a Pardoner also,
A Maunciple, and my-self; ther were namo.

No more except the Host!

  Miller.The Miller was a stout carl, for the nones,
 546Ful big he was of braun, and eek of bones;
That proved wel, for over-al ther he cam,
  (550)At wrastling he wolde have alwey the ram.
He was short-sholdred, brood, a thikke knarre,
 550Ther nas no dore that he nolde heve of harre,
Or breke it, at a renning, with his heed.
His berd as any sowe or fox was reed,
And ther-to brood, as though it were a spade.
Up-on the cop right of his nose he hade
 555A werte, and ther-on stood a tuft of heres,
Reed as the bristles of a sowes eres;
His nose-thirles blake were and wyde.
  (560)A swerd and bokeler bar he by his syde;
His mouth as greet was as a greet forneys.
 560He was a Ianglere and a goliardeys,
And that was most of sinne and harlotryes.
Wel coude he stelen corn, and tollen thryes;
And yet he hadde a thombe of gold, pardee.

A whyt cote and a blew hood wered he.
 565A baggepype wel coude he blowe and sowne,
And ther-with-al he broghte us out of towne.

Knarre is originally a knot in wood.

On no authority, a site called IdleHearts says that “Every honest miller has a thumb of gold” is an Icelandic proverb; but nothing like those words is on a page of Icelandic proverbs at a sited hosted at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, nor on Wikiquote.

  Maunciple.A gentil Maunciple was ther of a temple,
  (570)Of which achatours mighte take exemple
For to be wyse in bying of vitaille.
 570For whether that he payde, or took by taille,
Algate he wayted so in his achat,
That he was ay biforn and in good stat.
Now is nat that of God a ful fair grace,
That swich a lewed mannes wit shal pace

 575The wisdom of an heep of lerned men?
Of maistres hadde he mo than thryes ten,
That were of lawe expert and curious;
  (580)Of which ther were a doseyn in that hous,
Worthy to been stiwardes of rente and lond
 580Of any lord that is in Engelond,
To make him live by his propre good,
In honour dettelees, but he were wood,
Or live as scarsly as him list desire;
And able for to helpen al a shire
 585In any cas that mighte falle or happe;
And yit this maunciple sette hir aller cappe.

Apparently “lewd” here means just ignorant; it may be related to “laity.”

“Wood” is mad or furious (it’s in Skeat’s etymological dictionary), possibly related to Woden.

The Manciple was better than his employers in the temple, because, while they could manage any estate in England, even one whose owner was mad, the manciple knew how to keep the supplies of them in order.

  Reve.The Reve was a sclendre colerik man,
  (590)His berd was shave as ny as ever he can.
His heer was by his eres round y-shorn.
 590His top was dokked lyk a preest biforn.
Ful longe were his legges, and ful lene,
Y-lyk a staf, ther was no calf y-sene.
Wel coude he kepe a gerner and a binne;
Ther was noon auditour coude on him winne.
 595Wel wiste he, by the droghte, and by the reyn,
The yelding of his seed, and of his greyn.
His lordes sheep, his neet, his dayerye,
  (600)His swyn, his hors, his stoor, and his pultrye,
Was hoolly in this reves governing,
 600And by his covenaunt yaf the rekening,
Sin that his lord was twenty yeer of age;
Ther coude no man bringe him in arrerage.

Ther nas baillif, ne herde, ne other hyne,
That he ne knew his sleighte and his covyne;
 605They were adrad of him, as of the deeth.
His woning was ful fair up-on an heeth,
With grene trees shadwed was his place.
  (610)He coude bettre than his lord purchase.
Ful riche he was astored prively,
 610His lord wel coude he plesen subtilly,
To yeve and lene him of his owne good,
And have a thank, and yet a cote and hood.
In youthe he lerned hadde a good mister;
He was a wel good wrighte, a carpenter.
 615This reve sat up-on a ful good stot,
That was al pomely grey, and highte Scot.
A long surcote of pers up-on he hade,
  (620)And by his syde he bar a rusty blade.
Of Northfolk was this reve, of which I telle,
 620Bisyde a toun men clepen Baldeswelle.
Tukked he was, as is a frere, aboute,
And ever he rood the hindreste of our route.

The reeve then is a good manager like the manciple.

  Somnour.A Somnour was ther with us in that place,
That hadde a fyr-reed cherubinnes face,
 625For sawcefleem he was, with eyen narwe.
As hoot he was, and lecherous, as a sparwe;
With scalled browes blake, and piled berd;
  (630)Of his visage children were aferd.

Ther nas quik-silver, litarge, ne brimstoon,
 630Boras, ceruce, ne oille of tartre noon,
Ne oynement that wolde clense and byte,
That him mighte helpen of his whelkes whyte,
Nor of the knobbes sittinge on his chekes.
Wel loved he garleek, oynons, and eek lekes,
 635And for to drinken strong wyn, reed as blood.
Thanne wolde he speke, and crye as he were wood.
And whan that he wel dronken hadde the wyn,
  (640)Than wolde he speke no word but Latyn.
A fewe termes hadde he, two or three,
 640That he had lerned out of som decree;
No wonder is, he herde it al the day;
And eek ye knowen wel, how that a Iay
Can clepen ‘Watte,’ as well as can the pope.
But who-so coude in other thing him grope,
 645Thanne hadde he spent al his philosophye;
Ay Questio quid iuris wolde he crye.
He was a gentil harlot and a kinde;
  (650)A bettre felawe sholde men noght finde.

He wolde suffre, for a quart of wyn,
 650A good felawe to have his concubyn
A twelf-month, and excuse him atte fulle:
Ful prively a finch eek coude he pulle.
And if he fond o-wher a good felawe,
He wolde techen him to have non awe,
 655In swich cas, of the erchedeknes curs,
But-if a mannes soule were in his purs;
For in his purs he sholde y-punisshed be.
  (660)‘Purs is the erchedeknes helle,’ seyde he.
But wel I woot he lyed right in dede;
 660Of cursing oghte ech gilty man him drede—
For curs wol slee, right as assoilling saveth—
And also war him of a significavit.
In daunger hadde he at his owne gyse
The yonge girles of the diocyse,

 665And knew hir counseil, and was al hir reed.
A gerland hadde he set up-on his heed,
As greet as it were for an ale-stake;
  (670)A bokeler hadde he maad him of a cake.

Salsum phlegma “having pimples or eruptions.” “Danger” is the power to do harm. Girls are children of either sex.

  Pardoner.With him ther rood a gentil Pardoner
 670Of Rouncival, his freend and his compeer,
That streight was comen fro the court of Rome.
Ful loude he song, ‘Com hider, love, to me.’
This somnour bar to him a stif burdoun,
Was never trompe of half so greet a soun.
 675This pardoner hadde heer as yelow as wex,
But smothe it heng, as dooth a strike of flex;
By ounces henge his lokkes that he hadde,
  (680)And ther-with he his shuldres overspradde;
But thinne it lay, by colpons oon and oon;
 680But hood, for Iolitee, ne wered he noon,
For it was trussed up in his walet.
Him thoughte, he rood al of the newe Iet;
Dischevele, save his cappe, he rood al bare.
Swiche glaringe eyen hadde he as an hare.
 685A vernicle hadde he sowed on his cappe.
His walet lay biforn him in his lappe,
Bret-ful of pardoun come from Rome al hoot.

  (690)A voys he hadde as smal as hath a goot.
No berd hadde he, ne never sholde have,
 690As smothe it was as it were late y-shave;
I trowe he were a gelding or a mare.
But of his craft, fro Berwik into Ware,
Ne was ther swich another pardoner.

For in his male he hadde a pilwe-beer,
 695Which that, he seyde, was our lady veyl:
He seyde, he hadde a gobet of the seyl
That sëynt Peter hadde, whan that he wente
  (700)Up-on the see, til Iesu Crist him hente.
He hadde a croys of latoun, ful of stones,
 700And in a glas he hadde pigges bones.
But with thise relikes, whan that he fond
A povre person dwelling up-on lond,
Up-on a day he gat him more moneye
Than that the person gat in monthes tweye.
 705And thus, with feyned flaterye and Iapes,
He made the person and the peple his apes.
But trewely to tellen, atte laste,
  (710)He was in chirche a noble ecclesiaste.
Wel coude he rede a lessoun or a storie,
 710But alderbest he song an offertorie;
For wel he wiste, whan that song was songe,
He moste preche, and wel affyle his tonge,
To winne silver, as he ful wel coude;
Therefore he song so meriely and loude.

Male is bag; pilwe-beer is pillow bearer, i.e. pillow case.

 715Now have I told you shortly, in a clause,
Thestat, tharray, the nombre, and eek the cause
Why that assembled was this companye
  (720)In Southwerk, at this gentil hostelrye,
That highte the Tabard, faste by the Belle.
 720But now is tyme to yow for to telle
How that we baren us that ilke night,
Whan we were in that hostelrye alight.
And after wol I telle of our viage,
And al the remenaunt of our pilgrimage.
 725But first I pray yow, of your curteisye,
That ye narette it nat my vileinye,
Thogh that I pleynly speke in this matere,
  (730)To telle yow hir wordes and hir chere;
Ne thogh I speke hir wordes properly.
 730For this ye knowen al-so wel as I,
Who-so shal telle a tale after a man,
He moot reherce, as ny as ever he can,
Everich a word, if it be in his charge,
Al speke he never so rudeliche and large;

 735Or elles he moot telle his tale untrewe,
Or feyne thing, or finde wordes newe.
He may nat spare, al-thogh he were his brother;
  (740)He moot as wel seye o word as another.
Crist spak him-self ful brode in holy writ,
 740And wel ye woot, no vileinye is it.
Eek Plato seith, who-so that can him rede,
The wordes mote be cosin to the dede.

Also I prey yow to foryeve it me,
Al have I nat set folk in hir degree
 745Here in this tale, as that they sholde stonde;
My wit is short, ye may wel understonde.

The Plato reference is apparently to the words of the title character in the Timaeus, 29b–d:

Again, if these premisses be granted, it is wholly necessary that this Cosmos should be a Copy of something. Now in regard to every matter it is most important to begin at the natural beginning. Accordingly, in dealing with a copy and its model, we must affirm that the accounts given will themselves be akin to the diverse objects which they serve to explain; those which deal with what is abiding and firm and discernible by the aid of thought will be abiding and unshakable; and in so far as it is possible and fitting for statements to be irrefutable and invincible, [29c] they must in no wise fall short thereof; whereas the accounts of that which is copied after the likeness of that Model, and is itself a likeness, will be analogous thereto and possess likelihood; for I as Being is to Becoming, so is Truth to Belief. Wherefore, Socrates, if in our treatment of a great host of matters regarding the Gods and the generation of the Universe we prove unable to give accounts that are always in all respects self-consistent and perfectly exact, be not thou surprised; rather we should be content if we can furnish accounts that are inferior to none in likelihood, remembering that both I who speak [29d] and you who judge are but human creatures, so that it becomes us to accept the likely account of these matters and forbear to search beyond it.

However, Chaucer may know about Plato only through Boethius (I’m using Robinson’s notes on this); does he understand that Timaeus is excusing inaccuracy?

Greet chere made our hoste us everichon,
  (750)And to the soper sette he us anon;
And served us with vitaille at the beste.
 750Strong was the wyn, and wel to drinke us leste.
A semely man our hoste was with-alle
For to han been a marshal in an halle;
A large man he was with eyen stepe,
A fairer burgeys is ther noon in Chepe:
 755Bold of his speche, and wys, and wel y-taught,
And of manhod him lakkede right naught.
Eek therto he was right a mery man,
  (760)And after soper pleyen he bigan,
And spak of mirthe amonges othere thinges,
 760Whan that we hadde maad our rekeninges;
And seyde thus: ‘Now, lordinges, trewely,
Ye been to me right welcome hertely:
For by my trouthe, if that I shal nat lye,
I ne saugh this yeer so mery a companye
 765At ones in this herberwe as is now.
Fayn wolde I doon yow mirthe, wiste I how.
And of a mirthe I am right now bithoght,
  (770)To doon yow ese, and it shal coste noght.

What will cost nought would seem to be not the evening at the hostelry, but the Host’s companionship on the pilgrimage, along with the supper of the winner of the contest.

‘Ye goon to Caunterbury; God yow spede,
 770The blisful martir quyte yow your mede.
And wel I woot, as ye goon by the weye,
Ye shapen yow to talen and to pleye;
For trewely, confort ne mirthe is noon
To ryde by the weye doumb as a stoon;
 775And therfore wol I maken yow disport,
As I seyde erst, and doon yow som confort.
And if yow lyketh alle, by oon assent,
  (780)Now for to stonden at my Iugement,
And for to werken as I shal yow seye,
 780To-morwe, whan ye ryden by the weye,
Now, by my fader soule, that is deed,
But ye be merye, I wol yeve yow myn heed.
Hold up your hond, withouten more speche.’


Our counseil was nat longe for to seche;
 785Us thoughte it was noght worth to make it wys,
And graunted him withouten more avys,
And bad him seye his verdit, as him leste.


  (790)‘Lordinges,’ quod he, ‘now herkneth for the beste;
But tak it not, I prey yow, in desdeyn;
 790This is the poynt, to speken short and pleyn,
That ech of yow, to shorte with your weye,
In this viage, shal telle tales tweye,
To Caunterbury-ward, I mene it so,
And hom-ward he shal tellen othere two,

 795Of aventures that whylom han bifalle.
And which of yow that bereth him best of alle,
That is to seyn, that telleth in this cas
  (800)Tales of best sentence and most solas,
Shal have a soper at our aller cost

 800Here in this place, sitting by this post,
Whan that we come agayn fro Caunterbury.
And for to make yow the more mery,
I wol my-selven gladly with yow ryde,
Right at myn owne cost, and be your gyde.
 805And who-so wol my Iugement withseye
Shal paye al that we spenden by the weye.

And if ye vouche-sauf that it be so,
  (810)Tel me anon, with-outen wordes mo,
And I wol erly shape me therfore.’

So the Host is making himself dictator? He even repeats it below.

 810This thing was graunted, and our othes swore
With ful glad herte, and preyden him also
That he wold vouche-sauf for to do so,
And that he wolde been our governour,
And of our tales Iuge and reportour,
 815And sette a soper at a certeyn prys;
And we wold reuled been at his devys,
In heigh and lowe; and thus, by oon assent,
  (820)We been acorded to his Iugement.
And ther-up-on the wyn was fet anon;
 820We dronken, and to reste wente echon,
With-outen any lenger taryinge.


A-morwe, whan that day bigan to springe,
Up roos our host, and was our aller cok,
And gadrede us togidre, alle in a flok,
 825And forth we riden, a litel more than pas,
Un-to the watering of seint Thomas.
And there our host bigan his hors areste,
  (830)And seyde; ‘Lordinges, herkneth, if yow leste.
Ye woot your forward, and I it yow recorde.
 830If even-song and morwe-song acorde,
Lat se now who shal telle the firste tale.
As ever mote I drinke wyn or ale,
Who-so be rebel to my Iugement
Shal paye for al that by the weye is spent.

 835Now draweth cut, er that we ferrer twinne;
He which that hath the shortest shal biginne.
Sire knight,’ quod he, ‘my maister and my lord,
  (840)Now draweth cut, for that is myn acord.
Cometh neer,’ quod he, ‘my lady prioresse;
 840And ye, sir clerk, lat be your shamfastnesse,
Ne studieth noght; ley hond to, every man.’


Anon to drawen every wight bigan,
And shortly for to tellen, as it was,
Were it by aventure, or sort, or cas,
 845The sothe is this, the cut fil to the knight,
Of which ful blythe and glad was every wight;
And telle he moste his tale, as was resoun,
  (850)By forward and by composicioun,
As ye han herd; what nedeth wordes mo?
 850And whan this gode man saugh it was so,
As he that wys was and obedient
To kepe his forward by his free assent,
He seyde: ‘Sin I shal biginne the game,
What, welcome be the cut, a Goddes name!
 855Now lat us ryde, and herkneth what I seye.’
And with that word we riden forth our weye;
And he bigan with right a mery chere
  (860)His tale anon, and seyde in this manere.

Here endeth the prolog of this book; and here biginneth the first tale, which is the Knightes Tale.

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