Dr. Drake’s Chaucer Study Questions

Geoffery Chaucer Study Questions

by Dr. Alfred J. Drake

“General Prologue” to Canterbury Tales

1. What is the basic purpose of the “General Prologue?”

“The Canterbury Tales by Geoffery Chaucer”
[15th century Ellesmere manuscript of the Canterbury Tales, Huntington Library, CA] August 10, 2008. Cropped from original photograph by Flickr.com user Kevin T. Quinn.
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2. Study lines 1-18. What seem to be the motives offered for the pilgrimage that is about to begin? In what way are the season and the nature imagery important factors?

3. Again in relation to lines 1-18, what is the relationship between fertility and religion?

4. Study lines 19-42 and 727-48. With what sort of “personality” does Chaucer provide his narrator? In what does this narrator think his task consists?

5. Regarding lines 671-716, the description of the Pardoner:

a. How is the Pardoner described? What are his physical attributes? Of what “color” is he?

b. Whose companion is he, and what are the implications of this?

c. From lines 674-76, the Pardoner and the Summoner sing a song. How does this song affect our view of the Pardoner?

d. What does the narrator end up by emphasizing from lines 709-16?

6. Read lines 749-860. How does the host affect the nature of the journey, if he does? What does he propose to the pilgrims, and what will the “winner” receive?

“The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale”


7. How does the Wife of Bath oppose the patriarchal “auctoritee” (authority) of the bible and the Church fathers–what basic contrast does she make between herself and men who have written about marriage and sexuality?

8. How does the Wife of Bath reinterpret the scriptures to suit her argument? Do you find her arguments credible? Do you think Chaucer’s audience would have found them credible? Explain.

9. During the interlude with the Pardoner, in what spirit does the Wife claim she offers her tale?

10. As the Prologue unfolds, what view of marriage does the Wife set forth? How does it affect your view of her?

11. What male assumptions about women does the Wife battle, and by what means?

12. Follow out the changes in relations from the Wife’s first marriages through her fifth. How would you describe this progression? How might it be said to undercut her authority as an “expert” on marriage?

13. What devices does the wife employ to gain her fifth husband, Janekin? How does she describe the latter stages of this fifth marriage? How does her recounting undermine her claims to have got the better of the situation?

“The Tale”

14. How does the romance frame of the Wife’s tale change or complicate the issue of gender relations she addresses in her prologue?

15. In what sense might the story be interpreted as “wish-fulfilment” on the Wife’s part?

Unassigned Material….

“The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale”

16. What demands are made upon the Pardoner in the brief “Introduction” from pages 164-65? How does he propose to work himself up to the task of telling the tale in either case? When he says at lines 39-40 that “I moot thinke/ Upon som honeste thing,” do you take this seriously?

17. Now to the pardoner’s own “Prologue”:

a. Just describe the basic progress or flow of the speech.

b. Is the “Prologue” a well-formed, smooth speech?

c. What does the Pardoner emphasize about his method and intent when he preaches?

d. What relation does the Pardoner establish in his prologue between himself and his present audience of Chaucer’s pilgrims? How should the “Prologue” logically affect their reception of the tale he will relate?

e. Following on this question, examine lines 171-73: “For though myself be a ful vicious man,/ A moral tale yit I you telle can,/ Which I am wont to preche for to winne.” Is the logic of these lines sound?”

18. The Pardoner’s tale itself begins only at line 373. What, then, is the function of lines 175-372? What is the Pardoner doing in this long preamble and why does he need to do it?

19. Regarding the tale about the three “riotoures”:

a. What is the plot of the tale?

b. What does it exemplify, if anything?

c. Is there an analogy to be made between the three riotoures’ understanding of “death” and the Pardoner’s understanding of his own words?

d. Regarding lines 425-50, the part of the tale in which the “olde man” laments his inability to die, what is the significance of this lament? Does it reveal anything about the Pardoner, and if it does, do you think he realizes what he may have revealed about his own moral condition?

20. What does the Pardoner do immediately after he finishes his tale? To whom is the Pardoner speaking in this “application” (lines 616-30) of his tale’s significance? (An “application” is the part of a sermon in which a preacher says, “and this lesson applies to you in the audience as well.”) Also, are you a bit confused as to whom the Pardoner is speaking from lines 627-30? If so, how does that confusion arise?

21. When the Pardoner ends his tale at lines 627-30, do you take his phrase, “I wol you nat deceive” seriously?

22. Now to the “Epilogue”:

a. What seems to be the Pardoner’s attitude toward his present audience of Chaucer’s pilgrims?

b. When the Pardoner says, “oo word forgat I in my tale,” do you believe him?

c. What happens in the interchange between the Pardoner and the Host?

d. Why does the Pardoner fall silent?

e. Has the Pardoner’s “tale” had any effect upon his present audience of pilgrims? How can you determine this?

23. How is order restored after the Pardoner and Host argue?

24. Finally, does the Pardoner ever realize anything about his spiritual condition? Does he understand the import of his words and his performance?

Dr. Alfred J. Drake has taught many courses in English literature and currently teaches at California State University in Fullerton. Many thanks to Dr. Drake for graciously allowing us to reproduce these Chaucer study questions which were originally published on his website.

This article is reprinted here for educational purposes,  with the permission of the author who retains copyright to this work.


To learn more about Chaucer, here on our site you can read a vintage Chaucer biography from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.