The Narrator of The Canterbury Tales is referred to in-text as Chaucer. However, it’s important to separate Chaucer the narrator from Chaucer the poet because there’s no sense that the Narrator is actually meant to be a sincere self-portrait. The Narrator is cheerful and affable, but his sincerity is difficult to pin down. Despite being full of praise for each pilgrim, the details the Narrator uses make it clear that these praises are usually undeserved. For example, he praises the Friar’s virtue and ability to collect alms one moment, and the next his lavish garb, which implies that the Friar misuses the offerings he collects. The relentless enthusiasm of the Narrator makes it unclear whether he notices the irony in his description. When the Narrator introduces the Monk, who disagrees with Saint Augustine that monks shouldn’t travel, the Narrator heartily agrees with him and asks why a monk would spend all day studying in cloister. Because studying in cloister is what Medieval monks were supposed to do, this remark appears to suggest the Narrator is intentionally snarky. Nevertheless, it’s still possible to read the remark as more proof of the Narrator’s cluelessness.

The Narrator’s tales, Sir Topas and Melibee, add another layer to the puzzle of his character. Sir Topas appears to be a parody of popular English romances. The short lines and simple rhymes have none of the poetic dexterity of Chaucer the poet, and the tale itself is quite silly. Indeed, the Host considers it so terrible he begs the Narrator to stop. The Narrator appears to take no offense and switches to Melibee, which could not be more different. Melibee is a heavy tale in form and content, written in prose. Though some critics read the long and solemn Melibee as the Narrator’s revenge on the Host for interrupting, the Host seems delighted by the tale. Therefore, others read Melibee as the Narrator genuinely trying to entertain the company. That the Narrator has these two completely different stories at the ready is perhaps a commentary on how Medieval writers’ success depended on pleasing their patrons. The Narrator is certainly a people-pleaser, or at least, non-confrontational in the way he implies his criticisms of the other pilgrims. Thus, the Narrator may be so self-effacing and amiable because he knows his livelihood depends on the goodwill of others.