Analysis of the Tale of Sir Thopas in The Canterbury Tales

Instructor: Catherine Smith

Catherine has taught History, Literature, and Latin at the university level and holds a PhD in Education.

'The Tale of Sir Thopas' is a parody of the medieval romance, told by Chaucer as a character within ''The Canterbury Tales.' This comedic story covers the adventures of Sir Thopas, a slightly absurd version of a romantic knight.

Plot Summary

'The Tale of Sir Thopas' is told by the Chaucer character within The Canterbury Tales. It focuses on the fun and largely silly adventures of Sir Thopas, described in glowing terms as an attractive and chaste knight who excels at hunting, archery, and other knightly pursuits.

In the first part of the tale, Sir Thopas is out riding his horse when he hears a lovely bird song; he is inspired by the romantic song and decides he is in love with an elf-queen that he has dreamed about. As he searches for the elf-queen, he encounters a giant called Sir Oliphaunt, whom he barely escapes; he is unable to fight the giant, as he has forgotten his armor. In Part Two of the tale, Sir Thopas arrives in town, where he is fed by the townspeople and finds his armor. Chaucer begins the third part with a meandering description about the gallantry of Sir Thopas, but then the Host asks him to stop telling the story, complaining that it isn't very good.

Parody of a Chivalrous Romance

'The Tale of Sir Thopas' is intended to satirize a traditional medieval romance. For example, Sir Thopas decides that he will fall in love with the elf-queen of his dreams before he has actually met her, which lends an element of humor to the story. Further, when Sir Thopas comes across the giant, he is unable to vanquish him in a typical knightly way because he has forgotten to wear his armor.

In Chaucer's tale, much attention is paid to the superficial reputation of the chivalrous knight, his looks, his beautiful armor and charm; however, we see no action to back up the description. His 'queen' is imaginary, and he runs from battle. These elements of this story satirize the traditional parts of a romantic tale, where brave knights fall in love and valiantly defeat frightening enemies.


Chaucer: Character vs. Author

'The Tale of Sir Thopas' is one of two tales in the work that is told by Chaucer as he exists as a character in The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer the character must not be confused with Chaucer the author of the work, since the character is engaging with other characters who are also fictional. Thus, in this story, we cannot use Chaucer the character and Chaucer the author interchangeably; the author is writing the character in a certain way to create an effect.

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