The Canterbury Tales Suggested Essays

Suggested Essay Questions

Buy Study Guide
  1. 1

    The Prioress wears "a brooch of gold ful sheene / On which ther was first write a crowned A, / And after Amor vincit omnia" (General Prologue, l.159-162). Might "Love Conquers All" be the moral of the Tales?

    This question asks you to consider the Tales as a whole work, and to trace the theme of love conquering all throughout the work. Remember that with a question like this, it is just as possible to disagree as to agree: just make sure you justify your answer with examples from the text.

    Useful tales to look at might include The Miller's Tale, The Merchant's Tale, The Prioress' Tale, The Manciple's Tale, The Wife of Bath's Tale.

  2. 2

    Choose one word (and its variants), and use it as a key to the interpretation of any one Tale.

    This question asks you to follow the fortunes of a single word through any tale, and structure your argument around the repeated uses of this single word. You should start by highlighting all the moments in the tale that the single word appears, and talk about how its meaning changes or deepens as the tale progresses.

    Useful tales to look at might include The Miller's Tale (suggested word: "pryvetee"), The Wife of Bath's Tale (suggested word: "clooth"), The Franklin's Tale (suggested word: "trouthe"), The Shipman's Tale (suggested word: "tail") or The Merchant's Tale (suggested word: "corage").

  3. 3

    What do women most desire in the Tales?

    This question asks you to look at the characterization and presentation of the female characters in the Tales (which could include characters within tales as well as female pilgrims). Remember to begin by examining the Tale from which the question comes.

    Useful tales to look at might include: The Wife of Bath's Tale, The Miller's Tale, The Merchant's Tale, The Shipman's Tale, Melibee.

  4. 4

    "The Wife of Bath is Chaucer's most completely drawn character." Do you agree?

    This question asks you to compare the characterization of the Wife of Bath to any of the other characterizations in the Tales. Do you think the Wife is completely drawn? If so, why? If not, why not - and which character is better fleshed out?

    Useful tales to look at must include The Wife of Bath's Tale.

  5. 5

    "Men in the Tales are largely depicted as idiots, blindly and foolishy adhering to outdated, impractical codes of chivalry and honour." Do you agree?

    This question asks you to consider the presentation of men in the Tales. Look at examples which support the quotation's argument, but also remember that Chaucer includes a variety of presentations - and that there is certainly justification in the text for taking the opposing view to the quotation.

    Useful tales to look at might include The Knight's Tale, The Merchant's Tale, The Physician's Tale, Sir Thopas, The Franklin's Tale.

  6. 6

    "Chaucer writes the Tales in pairs". Do you agree?

    This question asks you to consider the structure of the Tales, and consider whether each Tale has a pair. It would be a good idea to examine some tales which do fall naturally into pairs, but also to consider some that do not - or perhaps, even fall into threes.

    Useful tales to look at might include The Miller's Tale with The Knight's Tale or The Reeve's Tale, The Friar's Tale with The Summoner's Tale, The Shipman's Tale with The Wife of Bath's Tale and The Manciple's Tale with The Nun's Priest's Tale.

  7. 7

    "It is no wonder that Chaucer retracts the Tales at the end of the work. They are quite simply blasphemous." Can we read the Tales as a religious work?

    This question asks you to consider the theme of religion in the Tales. It is a difficult subject to precisely consider, and would be helped by some knowledge of the religious context of the later 1300s when Chaucer was writing. Don't forget to define "blasphemy".

    Useful tales to look at might include: The Miller's Tale, The Wife of Bath's Tale, The Summoner's Tale, The Prioress' Tale, The Second Nun's Tale, The Parson's Tale.

  8. 8

    "Women in Chaucer are idealized objects of desire." Write an essay about the presentation of women in the Tales.

    This question asks you to consider the presentation of women across the Tales as a whole. Remember to include contradictory facets: there is nothing to say that Chaucer's writings are consistent from tale to tale. It might be best to choose two entirely contradictory examples (say, Cecilia in the Second Nun's Tale, and the Wife of Bath) and try and find some points of similarity.

    Useful tales to look at might include The Wife of Bath's Tale, The Prioress' Tale, The Miller's Tale, The Reeve's Tale.

  9. 9

    At what point does a joke become cruel? Write an essay about one Tale of your choice.

    This question asks you to look at the comedy of the Tales and to decide whether you find it funny or cruel (or a combination of the two). Consider whether physical harm is funny, whether cruelty and comedy depend on events depicted or on presentation, and on how dissimilar tales are which you find very funny, and very cruel.

    Useful tales to look at might include The Miller's Tale, The Reeve's Tale, The Summoner's Tale, The Manciple's Tale, The Physician's Tale, The Wife of Bath's Tale and The Merchant's Tale.

  10. 10

    "Chaucer, though he features himself in the Tales, is adept at vanishing completely." Write an essay about the persona(e) of Chaucer.

    This question asks you to focus on what you learn about Chaucer himself: remember that there are two Chaucers, one a character, one the author.

    Useful tales to look at might include Sir Thopas, Melibee, The Man of Law's Tale, The General Prologue, the Retraction.

  11. 11

    "What nedeth wordes mo?" Is language worthless in the Canterbury Tales?.

    This question asks you to write an essay about language in the Tales, and analyse whether or not you think it is presented as having value, as being worthless, or - more likely - that it is some combination of the two.

    Useful tales to look at might include The Reeve's Tale, The Manciple's Tale, The Nun's Priest's Tale, The Knight's Tale, Chaucer's Retraction.