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The General Prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales: An Outline

Compiled by Jonathan A. Glenn

Editions: Benson (1987, a revision of the Robertson edition) and Fisher (1989) are frequently referenced editions of Chaucer’s works. The classic edition is Robinson (1957), now online at University of Michigan Digital Library and an especially convenient class text (now, sadly, out of print) was edited by Baugh (1963). For other editions and much more, see the Bibliography link on the Chaucer Metapage.

Just as the Canterbury Tales (CT) themselves claim to have a fairly straightforward overall framework (the pilgrimage), so CT's General Prologue is straightforward in structure, an extended “catalog” of the pilgrims. The following outline indicates the order of presentation.

  1. Introduction (1–42)
    1. Time (1–18)
    2. Place (19–34)
    3. Plan (35–42)
  2. Catalog of Characters (43–716)
    1. Knight (43–78)
    2. Squire (79–100)
    3. Yeoman (101–17)
    4. Prioress, "Madame Eglantine" (118–64)
      [Chaucer notes the Prioress’s companions, ll. 163–64: another nun, a chaplain (or secretary), and three priests]
    5. Monk (165–207)
    6. Friar, "Huberd" (208–71)
    7. Merchant (272–86)
    8. Clerk (287–310)
    9. Sergeant of the Law (311–32)
    10. Franklin (333–62)
    11. Guildsmen: Haberdasher, Carpenter, Weaver, Dyer, and “Tapicer” (363–80)
    12. Cook (381–89)
    13. Shipman (390–412)
    14. Physician (413–46)
    15. Wife of Bath (447–78)
    16. Parson (479–530)
    17. Plowman (531–43)
      [At this point, ll. 544–46, Chaucer lets the reader know that he is nearing the end of his catalog by listing all the remaining characters, including “myself.”]
    18. Miller (547–68)
    19. Manciple (569–88)
    20. Reeve (589–624)
    21. Summoner (625–70)
    22. Pardoner (671–716)
  3. A Plan for a Pilgrimage (717–860)
    1. Narrator’s “Qualifications”: Disavowing Responsibility (717–48)
    2. The Host and His Proposal (749–823)
      1. Description of the Host (749–59)
      2. Host as Lord of the Revels (760–89)
      3. Proposal: The Framework and the Framed (790–823)
    3. The Pilgrimage Begins (824–60)