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Fragment 1, lines 331–714
The white-bearded Franklin is a wealthy gentleman farmer, possessed of lands but not of noble birth. His chief attribute is his preoccupation with food, which is so plenteous in his house that his house seemed to snow meat and drink (344–345). The narrator next describes the five Guildsmen, all artisans. They are dressed in the livery, or uniform, of their guild. The narrator compliments their shiny dress and mentions that each was fit to be a city official. With them is their skillful Cook, whom Chaucer would praise fully were it not for the ulcer on his shin. The hardy Shipman wears a dagger on a cord around his neck. When he is on his ship, he steals wine from the merchant he is transporting while he sleeps.
The taffeta-clad Physician bases his practice of medicine and surgery on a thorough knowledge of astronomy and the four humors. He has a good setup with his apothecaries, because they make each other money. He is well acquainted with ancient and modern medical authorities, but reads little Scripture. He is somewhat frugal, and the narrator jokes that the doctor’s favorite medicine is gold.
Next, the narrator describes the slightly deaf Wife of Bath. This keen seamstress is always first to the offering at Mass, and if someone goes ahead of her she gets upset. She wears head coverings to Mass that the narrator guesses must weigh ten pounds. She has had five husbands and has taken three pilgrimages to Jerusalem. She has also been to Rome, Cologne, and other exotic pilgrimage sites. Her teeth have gaps between them, and she sits comfortably astride her horse. The Wife is jolly and talkative, and she gives good love advice because she has had lots of experience.
A gentle and poor village Parson is described next. Pure of conscience and true to the teachings of Christ, the Parson enjoys preaching and instructing his parishioners, but he hates excommunicating those who cannot pay their tithes. He walks with his staff to visit all his parishioners, no matter how far away. He believes that a priest must be pure, because he serves as an example for his congregation, his flock. The Parson is dedicated to his parish and does not seek a better appointment. He is even kind to sinners, preferring to teach them by example rather than scorn. The parson is accompanied by his brother, a Plowman, who works hard, loves God and his neighbor, labors “for Christ’s sake” (537), and pays his tithes on time.
The red-haired Miller loves crude, bawdy jokes and drinking. He is immensely stout and strong, able to lift doors off their hinges or knock them down by running at them with his head. He has a wart on his nose with bright red hairs sticking out of it like bristles, black nostrils, and a mouth like a furnace. He wears a sword and buckler, and loves to joke around and tell dirty stories. He steals from his customers, and plays the bagpipes.
The Manciple stocks an Inn of Court (school of law) with provisions. Uneducated though he is, this manciple is smarter than most of the lawyers he serves. The spindly, angry Reeve has hair so short that he reminds the narrator of a priest. He manages his lord’s estate so well that he is able to hoard his own money and property in a miserly fashion. The Reeve is also a good carpenter, and he always rides behind everybody else.