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The Role of Quiting in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales Essay

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The Role of "Quiting" in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales  


In Chaucer’s, The Canterbury Tales, many characters express the desire to "pay back" some other pilgrim for their tale. The function of "quiting" gives us insights into the ways in which Chaucer painted the social fabric of his world. The characters of the Knight, the Miller, and the Reeve, all seem to take part in a tournament of speech. The role of "quiting" in The Canterbury Tales serves to "allow the characters themselves to transcend their own social class, and class-based moral expectations, in order to gain power over people of "higher" social strata."(Hallissy 41)

Throughout each prologue of the first three tales, we can see a clear description of the social rank of each speaker. The Knight is clearly the person to start the Tale cycle, as he belongs to the highest class of all the Pilgrims. By following the Knight, the Miller usurps the Monk’s privilege to tell the next tale, and begins one of his own. The Miller is allowed by the Host to use the pretense of being drunk, and proceeds to tell a story which goes against social conventions by poking fun at the rules and regulations of a higher social class. The Reeve then follows the Miller’s Tale with one of his own. Osewold tries to "quit" the Miller’s Tale by telling the story concerning Symkyn. The progression from the Knight to the Miller to the Reeve, gives us a picture of three very different class-levels. Through their speech, however, the lower-class characters of the Miller and Reeve are allowed to comment and pass judgement on people without fear of the socially-constructed class system.

In his Prologue, the Miller seems to be driven by a kind of anger directed at the ending of the Knight’s s...


... middle of paper ...


...o meaning within the world of the mind. A lowly Miller has as much right to "quit" a Knight as anyone does. The battle instead, becomes one of inner strength, where the contestants are not defined by social roles, but by the quality and passion of their beliefs.


Works Cited and Consulted

Brewer, Derek. Tradition and Innovation in Chaucer. London: Macmillan, 1982.

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. In the Riverside Chaucer. Larry D. Benson, ed. Boston: Houghton, 1987.

Cooper, Helen. "Deeper into the Reeve’s Tale, 1395-1670." Pp. 168-184. In Chaucer Traditions: Studies in Honour of Derek Brewer. Ruth Morse and Barry Windeatt, eds. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1990.

Delasanta, Rodney. "The Miller’s Tale Revisited." Chaucer Review 31.3 (1997), 209-231.

Hallissy, Margaret. Codes of Conduct in The Canterbury Tales. Connecticut: Greenwood, 1993.


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