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The Canterbury Tales | Study Guide

Geoffrey Chaucer

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The Monk's Tale

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of The Monk's Tale from Geoffrey Chaucer's collection of stories The Canterbury Tales.

The Canterbury Tales | The Monk's Tale | Summary



Harry Bailey is impressed with Dame Prudence's patience, noting that his own wife is not a peace-loving person. He then calls on the Monk.

The Monk begins by saying he will tell tragic stories of how those of high status were brought low: Lucifer was the "brightest of angels," but he sinned and was sent to hell, where he remains. Adam lived in Eden until he ate of the fruit of the prohibited tree, which caused him to live a life of hard work and misery. Samson was a "noble warrior," but his wife convinced him to tell her the secret of his strength—his uncut hair—and betrays him to his enemies. Hercules, famous for his many amazing feats of strength, is given a shirt made with poison, which causes his flesh to rot and fall off his bones.

The Monk continues with a long series of similar stories. Finally the Knight cannot take any more, so he interrupts. The Knight prefers stories about men "of low estate" who go on to great success instead. Harry Bailey agrees and calls on the Nun's Priest.


The Monk's tale is not one story but many, and all have the same lesson. A story that gives an example of a moral teaching is known as exemplum. In Chaucer's time collections of exemplum like this one were common. The Monk's goal, as he tells the company, is to tell stories about those who were prosperous but who fell into misery. The protagonists of these stories are presented not as heroes but as victims of Fortune, despite their prosperity. His collection is impressive, beginning with Lucifer, who fell from Heaven to Hell, and encompassing heroes from the Bible, history, and mythology.

Chaucer pokes fun at this genre through the sheer tediousness of the Monk's tales. In the Monk's prologue, he says that he has "at least a hundred" of stories with the same lesson, but the Knight does not even let him get to 20. Once again, through the reaction of the pilgrims, Chaucer comments on what makes good storytelling. Clearly a collection of half-baked morality tales cannot compete with well-developed narratives.

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