The Canterbury Tales Comprehension Questions

Instructor: Elisha Madison

Elisha is a writer, editor, and aspiring novelist. She has a Master's degree in Ancient Celtic History & Mythology and another Masters in Museum Studies.

'The Canterbury Tales' by Geoffrey Chaucer is an epic story in verse, written about a group on pilgrimage and the stories they tell on the way. This lesson has a variety of comprehension questions that you can use to assess student's knowledge.

The Canterbury Tales

The Canterbury Tales was written by Geoffrey Chaucer in the 1300s, but published posthumously in 1478. It starts as a tale of 29 people who are on pilgrimage to go see the shrine of the martyr Saint Thomas Becket, located in Canterbury. The people meet at the Tabard while on their journey and decide to travel together. During their trip, 22 full tales, and 2 partial, are told by the travelers for entertainment. The book states that there are supposed to be around 120 tales: 2 told by each pilgrim on the way to the shrine, and 2 on the way back; however, some say that the book was never finished, and was published in the form that was left after Chaucer's passing.

The following comprehension questions encompass not only the story, but the author, and the time period, to allow students to get a full idea of the context of the tales.

England and Chaucer

The era of the Black Death and Chaucer's life influenced his writings, especially The Canterbury Tales. The following questions help students understand that the context surrounding the book is also important.

  • How did Chaucer's profession influence his writing?
  • Why was The Canterbury Tales considered blasphemous in the time it was written?
  • Did the traditional men and women's roles of the day show within the writing? How?
  • Who was Thomas Becket? Why was he sainted? Do you think the true story of Becket plays into the story?
  • What was the standard religion in England at the time this was written?
  • Why was this story published posthumously?
  • Why is it unique and significant that Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales in the English vernacular?
  • Does this story remind you of another? Why?

The Pilgrims

The pilgrims are intrinsic to The Canterbury Tales and provide a lot of insight into the time and the behavior of the people of that time period.

  • Why was the seamstress called ''Wife of Bath''?
  • What virtue does the Knight embody, and why?
  • Why do you think Chaucer put the Knight at the front of the party and the Pardoner in the back?'
  • Which character of the pilgrims did you like the most? Why?
  • Do you think the Friar was crooked?
  • What is a Reeve?
  • Who is the host?
  • Do you think the host is symbolic of Chaucer? Why or why not?
  • Which of the pilgrims is choleric?
  • Who are the richest and poorest of the pilgrims?
  • What is an ''outrider'', and which pilgrim is considered one?

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