The Canterbury Tales

 

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This is an eleven plate etching based on The Canterbury Tales
written by Geoffrey Chaucer at the end of the 14th century.
The book is a collection of tales told as part of a story-telling
contest by a group of pilgrims as they travel together from a
tavern in Southwark to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at
Canterbury Cathedral.


The etching is done in a style hopefully reminiscent of medieval
maps and manuscripts and comprises three separate strands:
the pilgrims, the route of the pilgrimage and the tales. For the
locations along the route I have tried where possible to use
depictions of landmarks that would be recognisable to the
14th century pilgrims. I have included a comprehensive key
for those with some time on their hands

 

 


The Route - Key

A

The Tabard Inn, Southwark
This is based on contemporary drawings of the Tabard Inn, which
was
constructed in 1307 and survived until a fire in 1676. My edition
of The Canterbury Tales had the spelling Tabbard but as I worked on
the etching I quite often found the variant spelling Tabard. I possibly
eccentrically decided to use both: one for the tavern's sign and
the other for the inscription.

B
St Thomas a Watering
St Thomas a Watering is the first rest stop on the journey where travellers
would traditionally water their horses. This is located on the Old Kent Road,
near to the Thomas a Becket pub and as nothing medieval remains in that
area I have depicted St Thomas watering the pathway.
C
Deptford
St Nicholas Church is a 14th century parish church although only the
ragstone tower remains from that time.
D
Greenwich
I could find no existing medieval buildings in Greenwich but recent excavation
did uncover the remains of a medieval water wheel so I have included a
medieval drawing of a water wheel.
E
Dartford
Holy Trinity Church dates back to 1080. The boys in front of the church are
based on a painting called 'ABC Minors' by Peter Blake who comes
from Dartford.
F
Rochester
Rochester Castle was built in 1127 and is one of the best-preserved castles in England.
G
Sittingbourne
'Painting of the Doom' is a medieval fresco in Newington-next-Sittingbourne. This detail
depicts a devil impeding the escape from hell of two naked figures.
H
Ospringe
The Maison Dieu was built in the 13th century as a medieval hospital and hostel for
Kings.
I
Boughton under Blean
The pilgrims saw the 13th century parish church of St Peter and St Paul as they
stopped in Boughton under Blean.
J
Harbledown
The hospital of St Nicholas, Harbledown was founded in 1084 for the relief of lepers.
K
Canterbury
Canterbury Cathedral is the spiritual centre of the Anglican Church and St Thomas a
Becket who when he was the Archbishop of Canterbury was murdered there in 1170
by the knights of King Henry II.
 

  The Pilgrims - Key

1
The Knight was a man of substance and valour who wore a tunic of coarse
cloth over chain mail.
2
The Miller was a burly, strong man with a thick neck and a red beard so broad it
could pass for a shovel. He was a coarse, boorish, bagpipe playing buffoon with a
mouth as big as a cauldron.
3
The Reeve was a slender and choleric man with legs so long and lean they
resembled a staff. He was always the last rider.
4
The Cook was an unsavoury man with a large ulcer on his lower leg.
5
The Man of Law was a moneyed man who wore robes of authority with a mantle
of green cloth furred with black lambs wool.
6
The Wife of Bath was a lusty, gap-toothed woman with an easy laugh and a hat as
wide as a target. She's been married five times and was looking forward to
number six.
7
The Friar was a well-dressed man with a big hood who regularly took bribes and
played the lute and harp.
8
The Summoner had a scabby face like a fiery cherub and wore a huge, green
garland on his head.
9
The Clerk was a gaunt, grave scholar from Oxford University who loved nothing
more than his books.
10
The Merchant had a forked beard, a cloak of many colours, a Flemish hat of
beaver and very nice boots.
11
The Squire was the Knight's son and had long, blond curls and a tunic
embroidered with flowers. He sings and plays the flute.
12
The Franklin was a wealthy landowner; white-bearded, vigorous and cheerful.
13
The Doctor of Physic or Physician was a temperate man who ate a moderate diet.
He wore a striped robe with a furred hood.
14
The Pardoner had no beard but hair yellow as old wax that hung long and thin like
rat's tails. He had large eyes as timid as a hare's and carried a large staff wound with
red cloth.
15
The Shipman rode a carthorse and wore a robe of coarse woollen cloth. He had a
dagger hanging from a cord round his neck and could read the stars.
16
The Prioress was well dressed and kept small dogs which she fed with morsels of
roasted meat.
17
Chaucer was a writer and the narrator and consequently gives no description of
himself. The host while persuading him to tell a tale describes him as 'looking at the
ground like he wants to catch a rabbit'. He says 'you may have a big waist like mine
but some woman might still want to embrace you'.
18
The Monk was a handsome, fat, bald man whose skin was fair and soft and was
obviously not used to hard labour. He was well dressed and liked hunting.
19
The Nun's Priest and 20 The Second Nun were the constant companions of the
Prioress and always rode just behind her.
20
The Canon's Yeoman had a green hood and coat and carried a bow and peacock
feathers and a horn.
21
The Manciple was a business agent at the inner temple.
22
The Parson was a poor man with a sturdy staff.
23
The Host was a large, generous spirited man with bright eyes.
 
 

  The Tales - Key

1
The Knight's tale tells of Arcite and Palamon who were locked in a tower and both
fell in love with Emily. Arcite is released and Palamon escapes and they meet and
agree to have a tournament to win the hand of Emily. Arcite wins but then falls off his
horse, dies and is burnt on a massive pyre. Emily then marries Palamon.
2
The Miller's tale is about an old carpenter and his young, lusty bride. Nicholas, a
young student, fancies the young bride and manages to trick the carpenter into being
absent and sneaks in to be with her. Absolon, a curly-haired guitar playing dandy,
also fancies the bride and when he makes his way up a ladder in the dark to woo her,
Nicholas persuades the bride to present her bottom to him which he kisses with great
passion.
3
Realising that the Miller's tale was aimed at him, the Reeve's tale is of a dishonest,
thieving miller. Two students stay with the miller, his wife and their daughter and
while they are not looking the miller steals their grain and makes a huge loaf of
bread. They get their revenge by sleeping with the miller's wife and daughter,
beating the miller, taking the huge loaf of bread and escaping.
4
The Cook's tale is about Peter, a bad-apple cook's apprentice who works his time
and then leaves in a temper. The tale is never finished as the host feels that it is in
bad taste and stops the cook from continuing.
5
The Man of Law's tale is about Lady Constance, the Roman emperor's daughter.
The sultan of Syria wants to marry her so he converts his entire kingdom to
Christianity for her. The sultan's mother has other ideas and at their wedding feast,
murders everyone but Constance who is put on board a ship alone, told to learn
how to sail and cast adrift.
6
The Wife of Bath's tale is of a knight who is convicted of raping a girl but his
sentence is delayed as he is given a year to come up with the answer to the
question 'what do women most desire?' He finds an old hag who says she will give
him the answer but in return he must do whatever she asks. He agrees and her
answer, that women most want dominion and control over men, frees him. The hag
then says that he must marry her but he has the choice of having her old, ugly and
faithful or young, beautiful and potentially unfaithful. He says 'I will marry you and
allow you to choose which of those to be'. As a reward for his sensible reply she
became young, beautiful and faithful.
7
The Friar's tale tells of a Summoner who meets and befriends the devil disguised
as a yeoman. The Summoner bears false witness against a woman who, in
pleading her innocence, says 'if I am telling the truth may the devil take the
Summoner and my frying pan'.
8
The Summoner's tale is a response to the Friar with whom he is furious. He tells of
the special place in hell reserved for Friars in Satan's arse. Then in the answer to a
riddle a cartwheel is used to divide a fart equally between 12 people.
9
The Clerk's tale is about Walter, an Italian Marquis and adventurous playboy who
is persuaded by his people to choose a bride. He chooses a lovely and faithful
woman but then repeatedly tests her loyalty in a number of cruel ways.
10
The Merchant's tale is of January, an old knight who takes a young bride named
May. After they are married, he goes blind and during a walk with May through a
garden she climbs up a pear tree to have an assignation with a young swain named
Damian. His eyesight is restored by the king and queen of the fairies and he sees
May with Damian. She manages to convince him that she was with Damian in
order to have his eyesight magically restored and he believes her.
11
The Squire's tale is centred on a feast held by Genghis Khan, King of the
Mongols. A knight arrives bearing magical gifts: a brass horse that can go
anywhere in the world; a mirror that will show awaiting misfortune; a ring that
enables one to understand the speech of birds and the healing powers of herbs;
and a sword that can cut through anything on earth but can also heal anyone it
cuts.
12
The Franklin's tale is about a French knight, his wife and a Squire who is in love
with her. While the knight is away, the Squire professes his love for the wife and
she says that if he can remove all of the giant stones from the coast of Brittany she
will be his. He finds a sorcerer who can make it appear as if he is performing this
feat. The knight returns and the rocks seem to disappear. When the wife tells him
of her pact, the knight says that she must keep her word but the Squire is so struck
by their nobility that he releases her from her promise.
13
The Physician's tale is of a knight called Virginius and his beautiful daughter
Virginia. An evil magistrate named Appius desires to have her for himself and so
manipulates a custody trial so that Virginia will be taken from her father. Rather
than see her end up in the hands of the evil Appius, Virginius cuts off her head and
takes it to the court.
14
In the Pardoner's tale, three rogues hear that Death has been killing a lot of people
recently and can be found by an old oak tree. They find a vast pot of gold and the
youngest one of them runs back to town to get provisions so that they can manage
the journey back with the gold. While he is away the other two conspire to kill him
and take his share of the gold but he also plans to poison them and take their
shares. He is killed upon his return and the other two toast themselves with his
poisoned wine.
15
The Shipman's tale is about a merchant named Peter, his beautiful wife and a friend
of his named John who is a monk. Peter is very tight with money and gives none to
his wife. When he travels on business the monk stays in his house. The wife moans
about the husband to John and he offers her some money but in return she has to
sleep with him. He borrows the money to give to the wife from the merchant and when
the merchant asks for it back he says that he repaid it to the wife while he was away.
She innocently claims that she thought the money was payment for room and board
and spent it on household expenses.
16
The Prioress's tale is of a city with a Christian school just beyond a Jewish Ghetto.
A widow's young son walks through the ghetto every day on his way to the school
singing a song in praise of the Virgin Mary. Satan inspires the Jews in the ghetto to
kill the boy and his body is dumped in a cesspit. When the mother finds the boy's
body he rises up and is still singing.
17
Chaucer, the narrator tells Sir Thopas's tale which is an old-fashioned rhyme about
a brave knight with a huge, red nose, yellow hair and expensive clothes. The host
interrupts the rhyme to declare how awful it is and Chaucer is not allowed to finish.
He tries another rhyme and receives a similarly negative reception.
18
The Monk's tale is a role call of great men and their respective fates. Adam,
Hercules and Sampson among many others.
19
Nun's Priest's tale is about Chanticleer, the loudest rooster in the country and the
farmyard's protector. He is so confident that he can handle a fox that claims he simply
wants to hear him sing that he is convinced to let him into the farmyard. The fox attacks
him and he barely escapes with his life.
20
The Second Nun's tale tells of Cecelia who is taken before the king and commanded
to renounce Jesus. When she refuses, she is placed into a bathtub with a fire lit
underneath but feels no heat. She is still executed but made a saint and a church is
founded where her house once was.
21
The Canon's Yeoman's tale is about an alchemist who uses many techniques to fool
a priest into believing he has found a philosopher's stone.
22
The Manciple's tale is of a gallant knight named Phoebus who loves his wife but is
unsure of her fidelity. His pet white crow reveals that she has indeed been unfaithful
and in a rage he kills his wife and destroys all his possessions. He resents the crow
for informing on his wife so he plucks out its feathers and condemns its future offspring
to be mute, black and to squawk rather than sing.
23
The Parson's tale is a religious tale alluded to but not properly spelt out. I have
illustrated this with a danse macabre.
 
 

  The Text - Key

  On the path leading to Canterbury I have included text from the opening lines of the
General Prologue. The path only allowed for a few lines of text so I apologise for
the editing job I have had to perform.
i

Whan that Aprille with his showres swoote (sweet showers)
The drought of Marche hath perced to the roote (dryness, pierced)

ii
And smale foweles maken melodie (small birds)
That slepen al the nyght with open eye
iii
So priketh hem Nature in here corages (pierces them, spirits)
iv
Thanne longen folk to gon on pilgrimages
v
And palmeres for to seeken straunge strondes (pilgrims, foreign shores)
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sundry londes (distant shrines, known, foreign countries)
vi
And specially from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende
vii
The hooly blissful martir for to seke (holy blessed, seek)
viii
That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seeke. (they, helped, sick)
ix
Redy to wenden on my pilgrimage
To Caunterbury with ful devout corage. (completely, heart or feeling)