The Reeve                                                       

                      The REVE was a sclendre colerik man.

590                His berd was shave as ny as ever he kan;

                      His heer was by his erys ful round yshorn;

                      His top was dokked lyk a preest biforn.

                      Ful longe were his legges, and ful lene,

                      Ylyk a staf, ther was no calf ysene.

595                Wel koude he kepe a gerner and a bynne;

                      Ther was noon auditour koude on him wynne.

                      Wel wiste he by the droghte and by the reyn,

                      The yeldynge of his seed and of his greyn.

                      His lordes sheep, his neet, his dayerye,

600                His swyn, his hors, his stoor, and his pultrye,

                      Was hoolly in this Reves governynge,

                      And by his covenant yaf the rekenynge,

                      Syn that his lord was twenty yeer of age,

                      Ther koude no man brynge hym in arrerage.

605                Ther nas baillif, ne hierde, nor oother hyne,

                      That he ne knew his sleighte and his covyne;

                      They were adrad of hym as of the deeth.

                      His wonyng was ful faire upon an heeth;

                      With grene trees shadwed was his place.

610                He koude bettre than his lord purchace.

                      Ful riche he was astored pryvely:

                      His lord wel koude he plesen subtilly,

                      To yeve and lene hym of his owene good,

                      And have a thank, and yet a cote and hood.

615                In youthe he hadde lerned a good myster;

                      He was a wel good wrighte, a carpenter.

                      This Reve sat upon a ful good stot,

                      That was al pomely grey, and highte Scot.

                      A long surcote of pers upon he hade,

620                And by his syde he baar a rusty blade.

                      Of Northfolk was this Reve, of which I telle,

                      Bisyde a toun men clepen Baldeswelle.

                      Tukked he was as is a frere aboute,

                      And evere he rood the hyndreste of oure route.


 The Reeve


‘a slender, coleryk man’…

‘They were adrad of hym as of the deeth./ His wonyng was ful faire upoin an heeth.’

The Reeve is the general manager on his estate, responsible for the land and its crops, the stock animals, the working of the farm, and the accounting of its funds. He is crafty and sly, dominated by the humour of bile: an angry, choleric, frightening man!


He wears a thin close-cropped beard, short cut hair, and he has long, thin calf-less legs. Despite his power and wealth, he seems pinched and sickly.


He knows every detail of the functioning of his farm: he knows the exact contents of the granary and corn bin; no auditor can cheat him; as a matter of fact, no one on the farm dares to cheat him. He knows all the tricks of the trade (and is certain to have run into a fair number of cheating millers in his time.) He knows farming so well that simply from gauging the rain or drought, he can tell to the pound the yield of a particular piece of land.

This reeve is taking advantage of a common legal loophole to reap in added gains. The owner of his farm is not yet of legal age and therefore cannot be sued for arrears of bills. The reeve is secretly taking advantage of this situation by racking up as much debt as possible on the farm and siphoning the proceeds to his own use. He gives and lends his lord’s property. His house on the farm is larger than the owner’s!

He even has a fall back profession if he ever gets fired! He is a skilled carpenter.

He wears his coat like a friar; his hair is cut like a friar, but this reeve clearly has dedicated his life to a different religion than Christianity.

Why do you think he takes the ‘hyndereste’ place on the route?


The Summoner                                                      

                      A SOMONOUR was ther with us in that place,

                      That hadde a fyr-reed cherubynnes face,

                      For saucefleem he was, with eyen narwe.

                      As hoot he was and lecherous as a sparwe,

                      With scalled browes blake, and piled berd,

630                Of his visage children were aferd.

                      Ther nas quyk-silver, lytarge, ne brymstoon,

                      Boras, ceruce, ne oille of tartre noon,

                      Ne oynement, that wolde clense and byte,

                      That hym myghte helpen of his whelkes white,

635                Nor of the knobbes sittynge on his chekes.

                      Wel loved he garleek, oynons, and eek lekes,

                      And for to drynken strong wyn, reed as blood;

                      Thanne wolde he speke and crie as he were wood.

                      And whan that he wel dronken hadde the wyn,

640                Than wolde he speke no word but Latyn.

                      A fewe termes hadde he, two or thre,

                      That he had lerned out of som decree-

                      No wonder is, he herde it al the day,

                      And eek ye knowen wel how that a jay

645                Kan clepen "Watte" as wel as kan the pope.

                      But whoso koude in oother thyng hym grope,

                      Thanne hadde he spent al his philosophie;

                      Ay "Questio quid iuris" wolde he crie.

                      He was a gentil harlot and a kynde;

650                A bettre felawe sholde men noght fynde;

                      He wolde suffre, for a quart of wyn,

                      A good felawe to have his concubyn

                      A twelf-monthe, and excuse hym atte fulle;

                      Ful prively a fynch eek koude he pulle.

655                And if he foond owher a good felawe,

                      He wolde techen him to have noon awe,

                      In swich caas, of the ercedekenes curs,

                      But if a mannes soule were in his purs;

                      For in his purs he sholde ypunysshed be.

660                "Purs is the erchedekenes helle," seyde he.

                      But wel I woot he lyed right in dede;

                      Of cursyng oghte ech gilty man him drede,

                      For curs wol slee, right as assoillyng savith,

                      And also war him of a Significavit.

665                In daunger hadde he at his owene gise

                      The yonge girles of the diocise,

                      And knew hir conseil, and was al hir reed.

                      A gerland hadde he set upon his heed

                      As greet as it were for an ale-stake;

670                A bokeleer hadde he maad him of a cake.


Wel loved he garleek, oynons and eke lekes,/ And for to drynken strong wyn, reed as blood/…/And whan that he wel dronken hadde the wyn,/ Than wolde he speke no word but Latyne.”

A summoner is a minor, non-clerical officer of the archdeacon’s ecclesiastical court. There were many different types of court in the middle ages. The king exercised his power through a legal system which regulated business and criminal behavior, but the church itself had a court which prosecuted moral crimes: violations of the ten commandments. The church could not sentence a person to jail or force him to pay a fine, but the church could excommunicate a sinner, and that action would not only condemn the person to damnation, but it would also force the community to ostracize the sinner.

The summoner serves as the beadle or policeman for this morals court. This position offers him ample opportunity to practice extortion and exercise his depravity in the community.

He is not only morally unattractive; he is physically repugnant: ‘ a fyr-reed cherubynnes face… with scalled browes blake and piled berd’ On his cheek are ‘whelkes white’ and ‘knobbes’ which no ointment can heal. He loves to eat garlic, onions and leeks, strong wine. The children of the neighborhood run from his fearful visage.

That’s all disgusting enough, but why then is he described as possessing a ‘cherubynne’s face’?  In our imagination a cherub is one of those flying infants like Cupid who flutter about shooting arrows of love into the hearts of the unsuspecting on Valentine’s Day. But if you look in the Bible, the cherubim served a different purpose altogether: In Genesis when Adam and Eve are driven from paradise, God places cherubim at the gate with flaming swords to their prevent return and guard the path to the Tree of Life. In Ezekiel, cherubim are described as mythological creatures with four wings and four faces which emerge from the north wind to protect the path to Eden. In Solomon’s Temple Cherubim protect the arc of the covenenant. They accompany Jesus on the Day of Judgment.If you recall the climactic scene in Raiders of the Lost Arc, these cherubim possess the power to render you unto dust quite rapidly.

What is Chaucer’s purpose? The Summoner, as the beadle for the ecclesiastical court,  represents the terrible power of God on the Day of Judgment. It is he who will summon both the quick and the dead on that day so that justice can be rendered. In perverting this fundamental aspect of God’s justice, the summoner has brought a terrible sentence upon himself. He is the living embodiment of the punishment that awaits us all if we do not heed God’s laws.

When he gets drunk, he screams in Latin like he is mad! He knows a few legal terms from hanging about the church court, and he will toss the language of decrees about terrifying the people. To Chaucer’s superstitious contemporaries, words from the actual decree of excommunication could carry the power of a magical spell, banishing all in hearing to perdition. With such magic power at his disposal, the Summoner can circumvent the archdeacon’s writ for a price, but woe be unto them who are in his purse (ie. debt). The Summoner is just as liable to damn them with a ‘Significat’: the order to expel an excommunicated sinner. Even the youngest girls of the diocese are in danger around him because, like the Firar, he has extorted from them their secret sins and uses this knowledge to corrupt them all! Hell, he’ll even share one of his concubines with you for a pitcher of blood red wine!

The Summoner truly is damned: he is a ‘gentil harlot’ willing to trade his concubines about in exchange for wine. He knows how to ‘pulle a finche’: ie he knows how to hunt down young prey in his amorous pursuits.

Costume: On his head he wears a huge red hat as big as the sign outside an alehouse. He carries a buckler made of cake. This guy can control neither his eating nor his drinking.

Why is he on this pilgrimage?

The Pardoner                                                  

                      With hym ther rood a gentil PARDONER

                      Of Rouncivale, his freend and his compeer,

                      That streight was comen fro the court of Rome.

                      Ful loude he soong "Com hider, love, to me!"

675                This Somonour bar to hym a stif burdoun;

                      Was nevere trompe of half so greet a soun.

                      This Pardoner hadde heer as yelow as wex,

                      But smothe it heeng as dooth a strike of flex;

                      By ounces henge his lokkes that he hadde,

680                And therwith he hise shuldres overspradde;

                      But thynne it lay by colpons oon and oon.

                      But hood, for jolitee, wered he noon,

                      For it was trussed up in his walet.

                      Hym thoughte he rood al of the newe jet;

685                Dischevelee, save his cappe, he rood al bare.

                      Swiche glarynge eyen hadde he as an hare.

                      A vernycle hadde he sowed upon his cappe.

                      His walet lay biforn hym in his lappe

                      Bretful of pardoun come from Rome al hoot.

690                A voys he hadde as smal as hath a goot,

                      No berd hadde he, ne nevere sholde have;

                      As smothe it was as it were late shave,

                      I trowe he were a geldyng or a mare.

                      But of his craft, from Berwyk into Ware,

695                Ne was ther swich another pardoner;

                      For in his male he hadde a pilwe-beer,

                      Which that he seyde was Oure Lady veyl:

                      He seyde he hadde a gobet of the seyl

                      That Seint Peter hadde, whan that he wente

700                Upon the see, til Jesu Crist hym hente.

                      He hadde a croys of latoun ful of stones,

                      And in a glas he hadde pigges bones.

                      But with thise relikes, whan that he fond

                      A povre persoun dwellyng upon lond,

705                Upon a day he gat hym moore moneye

                      Than that the person gat in monthes tweye;

                      And thus, with feyned flaterye and japes,

                      He made the persoun and the peple his apes.

                      But trewely to tellen atte laste,

710                He was in chirche a noble ecclesiaste.

                      Wel koude he rede a lessoun or a storie,

                      But alderbest he song an offertorie;

                      For wel he wiste, whan that song was songe,

                      He moste preche, and wel affile his tonge

715                To wynne silver, as he ful wel koude;

                      Therfore he song the murierly and loude.



The Pardoner

‘His walet, biforn hym in his lappe,/ Bretful of pardoun comen from Rome al hoot.’

The Summoner’s good buddy is his traveling companion, the Pardoner. Together they are merrily singing “Come hither love to me!” as they pass their way to Canterbury.

A pardoner was a seller of indulgences. The church actually sold writs which offered official absolution of punishment for sins committed by those on earth or now in purgatory. In return for this writ, the pardoner could impose penance in the form of prayers, a pilgrimage, or more likely alms given directly to him. Furthermore, this pardoner carries a pillowcase full of holy relics with him which possess medicinal qualities: he has part of the veil of the Virgin herself, a scrap of the sail from St. Peter’s fishing boat, even a glass full of the bones of Jesus Christ himself (which look remarkably like pig’s bones)! By Chaucer’s time these practicies, designed to raise funds for church projects (like hospitals and other charities), had gotten completely out of hand. The opportunites for graft and corruption in a credulous era were limitless. Not only did the sick and the poor seek magic remedies for ailments, but the wealthy figured that a good investment might reduce the time they spent in Purgatory, the cosmic waiting house where the saved burn away their sins before entering heaven.(Nice touch! You cannot purchase salvation, but you can certainly reduce time spent in Purgatory with a handsome gift to the church.) Church officials had discovered easy ways to enrich the papacy and themselves. A hundred years after Chaucer, the rebellion against these practices would split the Church forever during the Reformation.

This Pardoner works for the Hospital of St Mary of Rouncivale, located in the village of Charing Cross between London and Westminster.  He ‘streight has comen fro the court of Rome’ or so he says in his sales pitch. He possesses a strong bass voice, like a trumpet, which he uses to hawk his wares and to deliver impromptu sermons.

For ‘jolitee’, he wears his long yellow hair without a hood, ‘Dischevelee’, a bold fashion choice for this age! He has bold, staring eyes like a hare, his chin is smooth and beardless, he speaks in a small goat’s voice, and he wears a copy of the veil of St. Veronica on his hat. All these details suggest an effeminate appearance despite his deep bass singing voice. A gelding? Even in the middle ages, homosexuals were clearly among this party of English citizens enroute to Canterbury!

The narrator says that this pardoner has no equal from Berwyck to Ware, or literally across the breadth of England! He can make more money in a day than the parson will earn in a month.

In church he preaches beautifully (even if he is not an ordained priest). He has a beautiful bass voice (even if he dresses like a woman). He has a silver tongue! Even so, he might represent the most damnable behavior among this whole company of sinners: he trades upon the faith of the people in the mercy of God and his love for humankind.

Chaucer's Apology

                      Now have I toold you shortly in a clause,

                      Th'estaat, th'array, the nombre, and eek the cause

                      Why that assembled was this compaignye

720                In Southwerk, at this gentil hostelrye

                      That highte the Tabard, faste by the Belle.

                      But now is tyme to yow for to telle

                      How that we baren us that ilke nyght,

                      Whan we were in that hostelrie alyght;

725                And after wol I telle of our viage

                      And all the remenaunt of oure pilgrimage.

                      But first I pray yow, of youre curteisye,

                      That ye n'arette it nat my vileynye,

                      Thogh that I pleynly speke in this mateere,

730                To telle yow hir wordes and hir cheere,

                      Ne thogh I speke hir wordes proprely.

                      For this ye knowen also wel as I,

                      Whoso shal telle a tale after a man,

                      He moot reherce as ny as evere he kan

735                Everich a word, if it be in his charge,

                      Al speke he never so rudeliche or large,

                      Or ellis he moot telle his tale untrewe,

                      Or feyne thyng, or fynde wordes newe.

                      He may nat spare, al thogh he were his brother;

740                He moot as wel seye o word as another.

                      Crist spak hymself ful brode in hooly writ,

                      And, wel ye woot, no vileynye is it.

                      Eek Plato seith, whoso kan hym rede,

                      The wordes moote be cosyn to the dede.

745                Also I prey yow to foryeve it me,

                      Al have I nat set folk in hir degree

                      Heere in this tale, as that they sholde stonde.

                      My wit is short, ye may wel understonde.