The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue & Frame Story
by Geoffrey Chaucer
The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue & Frame Story Literature and Writing Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Line). We used the line numbering found on Librarius's online edition.
For [the Clerk] was levere have at his beddes heed
Twenty bokes, clad in blak or reed,
Of Aristotle and his philosophye
Than robes riche, or fithele, or gay sautrye.
(General Prologue 293 – 296)
In contrast to the Monk's disrespect toward learned authority, the Clerk would rather have books than food or clothes! His specific love of Aristotle, an ancient Greek philosopher who became very popular with scholars during this time period, tells us that the Clerk is well-versed in the intellectual trends of the medieval university, where Aristotle was one of the most important authorities.
This noble ensample to his sheep he yaf,
That first [the Parson] wroghte, and afterward he taughte.
Out of the gospel he tho wordes caught.
(General Prologue 496 – 498)
The most important book for a medieval person was the Bible. A good medieval reader of any text, but especially the Bible, is one who internalizes the teaching contained in it and truly lives it in his own life. That the Parson does this marks him as a good reader.
Whoso shal telle a tale after a man,
He moot reherce as ny as evere he can
Everich a word, if it be in his charge,
Al speke he never so rudeliche and large
Or elles he moot telle his tale untrewe,
Or feyne thing, or finde wordes newe.
(General Prologue 731 – 736)
Chaucer the character's rule for being a good repeater of tales is that you have to copy the tale exactly. This compares very interestingly with Chaucer the poet's idea of what makes a good repeater of tales: most of the tales he has the pilgrims tell are taken from other sources, but he freely revises them to suit his purpose, finding "wordes newe" to tell them with.