The Canterbury Tales | Study Guide

Geoffrey Chaucer

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The Canterbury Tales | Quotes


When in April the sweet showers fall/And pierce the drought of March to the root/... Then people long to go on pilgrimages.

Chaucer, Prologue

These beautiful opening lines of The Canterbury Tales give readers the setting of the frame story. It is spring, a time of year when people go on pilgrimage to Canterbury to seek the help of the martyred saint Thomas Becket. It also introduces the string symbolic meaning of springtime and flowers—not just of spiritual rebirth but also of sexual awakening.


It's well to be upon one's guard, I mean,/Since all day long we meet the unforeseen.

Knight, The Knight's Tale

The Knight, remarking on the fact that Arcita is unaware of Palamon's presence in the woods, makes this observation about life in general. And, indeed, the stories in The Canterbury Tales are full of surprising twists of fate, tricks, and unexpected developments, for both characters and readers.


Well is it said that neither love nor power/Admit a rival, even for an hour.

Knight, The Knight's Tale

The theme of rivalry—between men for a woman or between men who use intelligence, strength, or dishonest means to outdo each other—is found throughout the tales.


People can die of mere imagination.

Miller, The Miller's Tale

This anxious thought, spoken by the foolish and fearful carpenter John in the Miller's Tale, also expresses the power of imagination and story.


'Do evil and be done by as you did.'/Tricksters will get a tricking, so say I.

Reeve, The Reeve's Prologue and Tale

This "lesson" from The Reeve's Tale suggests a plot device used in many of the tales: the trickster tricked.


See how Dame Fortune quickly changes side/And robs her enemy of hope and pride!

Nun's Priest, The Nun's Priest's Tale

The fickleness of Fortune, which allows a person to thrive one minute but casts him or her into misery the next, is an idea expressed by many characters and seen in the many twists and turns taken by the plots of the tales.


Marriage is a misery and a woe.

Wife of Bath, The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale

These famous words appear near the beginning the Wife of Bath's Prologue, in which she states her attitude toward marriage, the basis for which will become clearer as she explains her own life experience.


And if you take a wife into your bed/You're very likely to be cuckolded.

Merchant, The Merchant's Prologue, Tale, and Epilogue

The Merchant offers his "wisdom" on the advisability of taking a wife. While this does not prove true in every tale, it is an important feature of several stories, in which unfaithful wives feature prominently.


Lovers must each be ready to obey/The other, if they would long keep company.

Franklin, The Franklin's Prologue and Tale

The balance of power in marriage and romance is a common theme in The Canterbury Tales.


However, all that glitters is not gold,/And that's the truth as we're so often told.

Canon's Yeoman, The Canon's Yeoman's Prologue and Tale

In context this refers to the practice of alchemy and how other, more common substances can have the appearance of precious metals. It can also refer to the many tricks and deceptions that occur in the stories in this collection.

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