Sir Thopas in The Canterbury Tales

Instructor: Joe Ricker

Joe has a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing and a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.

Sir Thopas is a knight in a tale shared by Chaucer during his journey with other travelers to Canterbury Cathedral. Chaucer doesn't get the chance to finish the tale of Sir Thopas however, because the Host takes issue with Chaucer's tone.

Another Knight

Sir Thopas is a knight introduced by Chaucer's character in The Canterbury Tales. After the Prioress shares a morbid and saddening tale, the Host and the rest of the travelers headed to Canterbury Cathedral want something uplifting and comical. The Host calls on Chaucer to share, and Chaucer claims to have only one tale in the form of a rhyme that he heard long ago.

Chaucer begins his tale of Sir Thopas; however, Chaucer's tone is mocking of the traditional tales of heroes and romance, knights and chivalry. Thopas was a name typically reserved for women. While Sir Thopas has many qualities attributed to a noble knight, Chaucer describes Sir Thopas' appearance as dainty and similar to the physical qualities retained for describing women of that time.

'With face like bread of whitest grain.

His lips were red as rose,

And his complexion like a stain

Of scarlet red…'

Sir Thopas' Skills and Exploits

Chaucer even offers a description of Sir Thopas' shoe leather, which was Spanish. Thopas is dressed elegantly in robes of fine material, further solidifying Chaucer's mockery of knights and chivalry, especially when compared to the Knight's tale. Then Chaucer begins to describe Sir Thopas' skills. He was quite skilled at things like archery and wrestling, as Chaucer writes:

'…He was an archer, never fear,

A wrestler too that had no peer…'

After offering a slew of physical descriptions and promising his audience a merry tale, Chaucer begins to tell the other travelers about Sir Thopas' exploits. Thopas falls in love with an elf-queen, and in pursuing her, Thopas encounters a giant who he must fight to win the heart of the elf queen he has fallen in love with.

'By God I dreamt all night,' said he,

'An Elf-Queen should my mistress be

And sleep beneath my cloak.'

When Sir Thopas ventures into Fairy-land, the first person he encounters is a giant named Sir Elephant. And Chaucer writes:

'For not a soul in all that zone

There was and not a face was shown,

No woman, not a child,

Until a mighty Giant came

On him, Sir Elephant by name

A perilous man indeed.'

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