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The Canterbury Tales | Study Guide

Geoffrey Chaucer

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

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Summary

Harry Bailey now calls on the Squire to tell a tale.

Part I

King Cambuskan was a man of many good qualities, honorable and wise, and he had a beautiful daughter named Canace. On the Ides of March, he gives a splendid, lavish feast to celebrate his 20th year as king. A strange knight arrives at the feast, wearing ornate armor. Giving an elaborate speech, he presents gifts to the king: a brass horse with fantastical abilities, a mirror that can identify friends or enemies, and a magic sword. To Canace the knight presents a golden ring that will let her understand every language, even that of animals.

Part II

Canace wakes up early and goes for a walk. The birds are singing, and Canace understands what their songs mean. She hears a falcon crying in distress, so she asks what is wrong, and the falcon explains that her lover, a hawk, suddenly left her for another. Canace, pitying the falcon, takes the bird home and bandages her wounds.

At this point the Squire will tell of the magic ring and of Canace's brothers and father, but first he will tell stories about several other heroes. No sooner does he begin Part III of his story than Franklin interrupts, congratulating the Squire on his eloquent storytelling. Harry Bailey then tells the Franklin to tell a tale, and the Squire's story remains unfinished.

Analysis

The story the Squire begins to tell seems to be a romance, and it bears some resemblance to another interrupted tale—Chaucer's story of Sir Topaz. Both take place in spring among its singing birds, involve magic or magical beings, and feature characters of high rank. Yet within the romance narrative is the very unromantic story told by the lady falcon, whose lover left to be with another.

The connection between story and storyteller is clear in this tale. The Squire is a chivalrous youth who has traveled to many exotic lands and has likely heard stories of magical horses, rings, and other fantastical objects. As the Knight's son, he is familiar with the genre of epic romance and of the way one tells such a story. The Franklin even compliments the Squire's storytelling style as being very eloquent. His characters are idealized: the king is "powerful and wise and brave/Compassionate and just," while the heroine, Canace, is beautiful beyond the Squire's ability to describe.

The tone—the author's attitude toward the subject—is similar to that of Chaucer's Sir Topaz story. Both are a little silly, and the plots advance due to odd details. In Sir Topaz the song of spring bird calls sends him suddenly and forcefully into love-longing. In this story Canace gets up for her walk while everyone else sleeps off hangovers. The Squire's storytelling style is verbose and convoluted, which may be why the Franklin cuts him off. Chaucer may be making fun of the romance genre, or he may be using the Squire to mock his own ambitions as a storyteller. After all, his Canterbury Tales project was originally conceived of as 120 stories, many containing stories within stories—a plan that proved overly ambitious and which he ultimately pared back to 24 stories.

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