It is April, and the Tabard Inn, Southwark, London is full of Pilgrims
preparing for the journey to Canterbury in Kent where they hope to receive the blessings of St. Thomas ' Becket, the English martyr.
There are representatives of all the social classes from aristocrats down to
the lowliest Christian soul.
The host of the Inn proposes that the Pilgrims should each tell tales in
order to make the journey pass more quickly. The best storyteller will receive an excellent meal paid for by the other Pilgrims, and the host will accompany the Pilgrims and be the judge.
Chaucer himself is one of the Pilgrims. They all draw straws to see
who will start and so we hear the Knight’s tale first, and as one might expect, his story concerns chivalry, honor and love.
The Monk is due to tell the next tale, but the drunken Miller skips the
queue and tells his story concerning a stupid Carpenter.
The Reeve, who had once been a Carpenter, insists he tells his
story next in order to get his revenge on the Miller.
The Cook fails to complete his story and so it is the Man of Law who tells the next complete tale.
The host is well pleased at the standard of their tales, although he seems
to have forgotten about the Monk, so he turns to the Parson to tell his story. Whether the Parson cannot think of a story at this stage is not clear, but he refuses, and the Shipman breaks in and tells a
The colorful Wife of Bath who has been married five times begins her story,
which is concerned with the success of marriage, which in her view can only occur when the wife governs the husband.
There have already been disagreements among the Pilgrims, and the host is
reluctant to allow the Friar to tell his story concerning a Summoner. The Summoner is not concerned, for his tale is about a Friar, and any slight will be repaid in full. However, when the story is told,
the Summoner becomes angry and tells a most obscene story concerning all Friars.
Next to tell a story is the Clerk, which concerns the patience
of women and is in total contrast to the Wife of Bath’s tale. Stories are then told by the Merchant, the
Squire (unfinished), and the Franklin.
The host keeps control over the Pilgrims and ensures that there is a balance
regarding humor, sober matters, happy and sad, and he then calls upon the Physician, and then the Pardoner to tell their tales.
The Pardoner tells a moral story, but is a most immoral man.
He tries to sell relics to the Pilgrims at the end of his tale, which infuriates the host. The Knight has to make the peace.
The Prioress tells her story, which seems to calm everybody down, and then
it is the turn of the Narrator to tell his story, but Chaucer’s tale about Sir Topas is not well received, as many Pilgrims are tired of rhyme, and request Chaucer tells his story in prose. He, therefore,
tells a boring story of Melibee.
At last it is the merry Monk’s turn to tell his story, but to everyone’s
surprise he comes up with a tragic tale.
It is then the Nun’s Priest who lifts the mood with a story about a barnyard
rooster, Chaunticleer, his lady and a fox.
The second Nun provides an historic tale concerning the life of St. Celia.
A Canon and his Yeoman approach the party and the host asks if they have any
tales to tell. The Canon is too embarrassed to tell a story, so the servant complies.
The party is nearing Canterbury, and the last two members of the group who
wish to tell stories do so – the Manciple and the Parson. The Parson’s story is more like a sermon.
The book ends with comments from Chaucer himself.