The Canterbury Tales

by: Geoffrey Chaucer

Study Questions

1

Why is the Knight first in the General Prologue and first to tell a tale?

The Knight is first to be described in the General Prologue because he is the highest on the social scale, being closest to belonging to the highest estate, the aristocracy. The Knight’s nobility derives from the courtly and Christian values he has sworn to uphold: truth, honor, freedom, and courtesy. The Knight’s Tale comes first because he has drawn the shortest straw of the group, although the narrator’s comment that the Knight drew the shortest straw “[were] it by aventure, or sort, or cas [whether by chance, luck, or destiny]” seems to suggest that he feels that it was not by chance at all that the Knight tells his tale first (General Prologue, 844).

2

What makes the Pardoner so offensive?

The Pardoner is the most controversial of all the pilgrims for four reasons: his work, his sin (greed), his unrepentant pride, and his sexuality. The Pardoner’s job—giving people written absolution from sin—was a dubious profession in medieval Europe. As he reveals in his Prologue, the Pardoner is well aware that he himself is covetous, which is the very sin against which he preaches in order to con people into giving him money. What makes him so distasteful to the other characters, especially the Host, is that fact that he is so proud of his vice. In the General Prologue, the narrator suggests that the Pardoner’s sexual orientation is ambiguous, which means that he occupies an even further marginalized position in fourteenth-century society.