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The Canterbury Tales | Study Guide

Geoffrey Chaucer

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The Canterbury Tales | Character Analysis



In general the character Chaucer, who narrates the frame story and tells his own tales on the road to Canterbury, is considered separately from Chaucer the author. He is a keen observer, providing detailed descriptions of the other pilgrims. He has a flair for satire and characterizes the pilgrims in unflattering ways while maintaining an earnest, even admiring, tone. When his turn to share stories arrives, he tells a silly story and then a tedious one.

Harry Bailey

The Host, Harry Bailey, is a cheerful and impulsive man. He is so taken with the assembled pilgrims at the Tabard Inn that he decides to accompany them. He is the one who suggests the storytelling contest and sets the rules; he also plans to judge the stories and provide the winner's reward. He is quick to make peace when a quarrel breaks out, and he often steers the stories away from the overly somber and toward merriment.


Chivalrous and wise, the Knight has achieved great honor for his noble deeds and success in many battles. He is the ideal knight in every way: courteous in his manners, heroic in battle, and polite and gentle in speech. Chaucer describes the knight as if he has no flaws. He is not even arrogant or proud because of his success; rather, he is modest and humble, wearing his stained cloak without pretensions.


The Miller, a strong, brawny man with a large nose and wide mouth, sports a red spade-shaped beard and a hairy wart. He loves telling filthy stories and playing the bagpipes. He's also a thief—he takes "three times his due" when he grinds grain. He hijacks the Host's role as master of ceremonies simply because he wants to tell a rude story about a carpenter.


The Reeve is an old, frightening-looking man whose business is taking care of another person's estate. He is good at his job; he keeps track of the crops and the livestock so well that no one dares take a chance on cheating—except the Reeve, of course, who uses the money he embezzles to make loans back to his own employer. The Reeve is also a carpenter, which explains his anger when the Miller tells a story about a jealous, foolish carpenter.

Wife of Bath

The Wife of Bath is a middle-aged woman with a gap between her front teeth, a large hat, and red stockings. She's no stranger to pilgrimages, having gone on several. She's no stranger to sex, either, having had five husbands and talking freely about her prowess in bed. As a successful seamstress with her own business and as a woman who gets what she wants from men, she's used to being in charge.


The Pardoner is a dishonest man who sells indulgences, which were intended to take years off a person's stay in Purgatory, as well as various items he says are saint's relics but are mostly fake—animal bones and other substitutes for real bones or pieces of cloth. He is good at his job but freely admits his only motive is profit.

Questions for Characters

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