The Plowman in The Canterbury Tales: Physical Description & Personality

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  • 0:03 The Plowman
  • 0:59 Pious
  • 2:10 Other Characteristics
  • 3:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joseph Altnether

Joe has taught college English courses for several years, has a Bachelor's degree in Russian Studies and a Master's degree in English literature.

Chaucer provides a brief description of the Plowman in the General Prologue to ''The Canterbury Tales.'' From it, one learns that the Plowman is a pious and hard-working individual who possesses a strong faith in God.

The Plowman

The Plowman is one of many travelers mentioned heading toward Canterbury in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. The Host describes him as a hard-working individual 'who'd fetched and carried many a load of dung.' Much later, when the Plowman is called upon to tell his story, the Host calls him by name, Plowman Tylyer. There isn't much more explicit detail given to the reader in terms of providing a description of the Plowman.

Examining what is said about the Plowman though, one could determine that the Plowman is a man of strength and stamina. In addition to fetching dung, the Plowman would 'thresh, and ditch, and also dig and delve.' This type of work would not be for an old, small or weak man. It would have to be someone with great physical strength and the stamina to carry out these tasks on a routine basis. One would also have to imagine that his hands were calloused.


His character is a bit easier to define than his physical appearance. The Plowman is described as pious, or a deeply religious man. The host explains that the Plowman loves God best 'and with all his heart,/At all times, good and bad, no matter what.' This shows that he is tolerant and patient. No matter what befalls him, whether good or bad, he takes it in stride. He harbors no grudge and is not a man who gives way to anger easily. In addition, the Plowman mentions, prior to his story, that he holds great love for Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus. He states that 'to that Lady fre/We do service, honour and plesaunce'. He lives his life according to the generous nature of Mary and abides by God's laws.

The Plowman carries this over to those around him. He treats them as if he were in their place. The Host even mentions that the Plowman 'loved his neighbor as himself'. He does what he can for them, 'for all poor men,/And ask no hire.' He serves for the benefit of others. Obviously, he needs the means in order to survive, but based on this, it would seem that he is willing to give all he has if it betters another's situation. Again, he is generous and charitable, finding that he can gain more through service to others.

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