Chaucer’s Pilgrims

Pilgrims from Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales

Namesakes of almost all of the pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales can be found reunited at rest in Brooklyn’s historic Green-Wood Cemetery. Quotations are from The Portable Chaucer [Penguin, 1977] unless otherwise noted.

The Knight

“A Knight was with us, and an excellent man … He was a knight in all things to perfection”

The Squire

“His son was with him, a young Squire, in age / Some 20 years”

The Yeoman

“A Yeoman, in a coat and hood of green. His peacock-feathered arrows, bright and keen … And in his hand he held a mighty bow”

Haven’t seen a YEOMAN in Green-Wood, but Chaucer’s Yeoman was also a BOWMAN

The Prioress

“There was also a Nun, a Prioress, whose smile was gentle and full of guilelessness … And she was known as Madame Eglantine

Green-Wood has residents named PRIOR and DAME, but no PRIORESS. There is a path named EGLANTINE

The Nun’s Priest

“A Priest accompanied her toward Canterbury”

The Monk

“There was a Monk, and nowhere was his peer/ A hunter and a roving overseer”

The Friar

“A Friar was with us … None so polite, so humble. He was good,/ The champion beggar of his brotherhood”

The word Friar, for a member of a mendicant order, derives from Frere, French for brother

The Merchant

“Among the rest a Merchant also came. He wore a forked beard and a beaver hat.”

The Clerk

“A Clerk there was of Oxford also … of study took he most care and most heed”

from Norton Anthology of English Literature

The Sergeant of the Law

“There was a Lawyer, cunning and discreet / Who’d often been to St. Paul’s porch to meet / His clients. He was a Sergeant of the Law

The Franklin

“A Franklin traveled in his company / Whiter could never daisy petal be / Than was his beard”

The Guildsmen

“There were five Guildsmen, in the livery / of one august and great fraternity,/ A Weaver, a Dyer, and a Carpenter, / a Tapestry-maker and a Haberdasher”

The Cook

“These Guildsmen had a Cook with them, their own/ to boil their chickens with the marrow bone”

The Shipman

“A Shipman was there … Hardy he was and wise to undertake; / With many a tempest had his beard been shake”

from Norton Anthology of English Literature

The Physician

“With us also came an astute Physician. / There was none like him for a disquisition / On the art of medicine or surgery”

I’ve seen no gravestones with surname Physician or Doctor in Green-Wood, but the grave of the noted resident Susan McKinney-Steward proclaims her profession.

The Wife of Bath

“A good Wife was there of beside Bath”

from Norton Anthology of English Literature

Green-Wood has no residents with the surname Wife, but numerous gravestones are engraved with the family relationship of the person buried there, such as WIFE, HUSBAND, MOTHER, FATHER, etc.

The Parson

“There was a good man of the priest’s vocation,/ A poor town Parson of true consecration,/ But he was rich in holy thought and work”

The Plowman

“There was a Plowman with him on the road, / His brother, who had forked up many a load / Of good manure”

The Miller

“As tough a yokel as you’d care to meet / The Miller was”

The Manciple

“The Manciple was of a lawyers’ college,/ And other buyers might have used his knowledge / How to be shrewd provisioners”

Manciple” is the most archaic term used for the pilgrims, but as he’s the purchaser for a college, PROVOST isn’t too far off

The Reeve

“The Reeve was a slender, fiery-tempered man. / He shaved as closely as a razor can”

The Summoner

“A Summoner in his company had his place / Red as the fiery cherubim his face”

The surname Sumner derives from Summoner

The Pardoner

“There was a Pardoner of Rouncivalle / With him … Save for his cap, his head was bare, / And in his eyes he glittered like a hare”

The Host (Harry Bailey)

“Our Host cut such a figure, all in all,/He might have been a marshall in a hall”

In the prologue to the Cook’s Tale, the Host is addressed by his full name, Harry BAILEY

Geoffrey Chaucer, the Narrator

Chaucer, referring to himself as “I”, serves as the TELLER of the larger frame-tale, also narrating the Tales of Sir Topaz and Melibeus to his fellow pilgrims

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