The Canterbury Tales

Main Ideas


Main Ideas Protagonist

Like many frame narratives, The Canterbury Tales lacks a clear protagonist because the work primarily acts as a vessel for the individual stories. Chaucer himself narrates the frame story of the pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral, but he doesn’t drive the storytelling contest, which is the main action of the frame. He offers observations and opinions, but aside from when he tells his own tale, he remains in the background. The Host initiates the contest, but the pilgrims themselves push the plot from story to story with their interjections and arguments. The individual tales, with their structured plots, generally have clear protagonists. For example, “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale” centers on the rooster Chanticleer and how his pride nearly gets him eaten by a fox. “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” follows a knight’s quest to save his own life and atone for a rape he committed. These protagonists from specific tales often reflect on the teller of the story. For example, “The Miller’s Tale” revolves around Alisoun and Nicholas’s elaborate plot to commit adultery. By having the primary actors of his story be deceptive and hard-hearted, the Miller reveals himself to be a bit cruel instead of merely bawdy.