The Canterbury Tales

Main Ideas

Antagonist

Main Ideas Antagonist

The Canterbury Tales has no antagonist because the frame story exists to provide a context for the individual tales, and no character or force thwarts the storytelling contest. The pilgrims squabble amongst themselves, and sometimes these conflicts further the frame narrative. For example, when the Wife of Bath finishes her tale about the importance of women’s autonomy, the Clerk responds with a story about a wife rewarded for obeying her husband. Because most of the individual tales follow a traditional plot structure, they do tend to have antagonists. For example, Death itself works against the three rogues of “The Pardoner’s Tale,” as they swore to rid the world of Death and in turn die of plague. The antagonist of a tale may not be the character who acts unkindly. In “The Miller’s Tale,” the foolish but earnest carpenter John acts as the obstacle to Alisoun and Nicholas’s tryst. The knight of “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” begins as a rapist, but the story follows his character growth. Therefore, the enchantress, by threatening his death, plays the role of antagonist in that tale.