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Literature Study GuidesThe Canterbury TalesThe Parsons Prologue And Tale Summary

The Canterbury Tales | Study Guide

Geoffrey Chaucer

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The Parson's Prologue and Tale

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

The Canterbury Tales | The Parson's Prologue and Tale | Summary



After the Manciple is done telling his story, Harry Bailey calls upon the Parson. But the parson says he will tell no "fable or romance" but instead will give a sermon.

The sermon is intended to encourage penitence—or feeling regret for sins and amending one's life. Contrition—feeling sorry for sins committed—is the beginning of penitence. There are venial, or forgivable, sins and deadly sins. Of the deadly sins each one has a remedy: the sin of pride has the remedy of humility; the sin of envy has the remedy of loving God and others; the sin of anger is remedied by patience; the remedy of sloth is fortitude; the remedy to the sin of avarice (greed) is mercy; the sin of gluttony is remedied by temperance and sobriety; the remedy of lechery is chastity.

Confession to a priest follows contrition. Then satisfaction, or making amends, can occur. Following through on contrition, confession, and satisfaction leads a person to Heaven.


In the Prologue to The Canterbury Tales, when Chaucer described various members of the company, the Parson is described in complimentary terms. He is a man who "truly knew Christ's gospel and would preach it ... Benign and wonderfully diligent." He visits the poor and suffering no matter the weather and gives his own money to those in need. So there is no sense that the Parson is corrupt, like other servants of the church who appear in the book. Rather, he gives a solid, if long, sermon that expresses a basic medieval understanding of how a person might make it to Heaven.

The Parson's story serves as a sort of penance for all the ribaldry that has come before, from the pilgrims in the tale and from their author, Chaucer. In many ways the Parson's tale, of all the tales, relates best to the purpose of the pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral. The pilgrims are on a literal and spiritual journey and so the Parson maps out the "road" to Heaven—the steps one might take to achieve eternal bliss.

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