The Skipper in The Canterbury Tales: Description & Character Analysis

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  • 0:03 Introduction to the Skipper
  • 2:25 Different from Other…
  • 2:55 The Skipper's Tale
  • 3:48 Moral of the Skipper's Story
  • 4:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Catherine Smith

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

The Skipper in ''The Canterbury Tales'' is different from many other characters in the work. He is a fairly straightforward character who calls things as he sees them. This lesson looks at descriptions of his character and his storytelling.

Introduction to the Skipper

The Skipper, known sometimes as the Shipman, is introduced at the beginning of The Canterbury Tales along with the other pilgrims. Chaucer paints a clear picture of the Skipper through descriptions of his clothing, horse, and skin. For example, he writes:

''He rode upon a rouncy (hack), as he couth, All in a gown of falding (coarse cloth) to the knee. A dagger hanging by a lace had he About his neck under his arm adown; The hot summer had made his hue all brown; And certainly he was a good fellaw.''

Working-class and Tough

Now, since this is Chaucer, and he is writing in Middle English, it might take a moment to realize that he is trying to get across the idea that the Skipper is a tough, working class man of limited means. His horse is described as a ''hack'' (not an impressive ride), and he is wearing ''course cloth.'' The fact that he is carrying a dagger suggests to the reader that he would not run away from a fight; perhaps he is even a little dangerous. This sets the Skipper apart from many of the other pilgrims, as several of them have associations with the Church, and many are highly educated.

A Fighter

As Chaucer's introduction to the Skipper continues, we learn that Skipper is a fighter:

''Of nice conscience took he no keep. If that he fought and had the higher hand, By water he sent them home to every land (he drowned his prisoners).''

It seems, then, that the impression we got from the dagger was correct: The Skipper is up for a fight. And not only is he prepared to fight the people who cross him, but he ends up drowning them.

Good at his Job

Chaucer concludes his introduction of the Skipper by letting the reader know that he's very good at his work. He writes:

''There was none such, from Hull unto Carthage, Hardy he was, and wise, I undertake: With many a tempest had his beard been shake. He knew well all the havens, as they were, From Scotland to the Cape of Finisterre.''

From this description, we learn that the Skipper is not only good at keeping his ship afloat in difficult conditions (''With many a tempest...''), but he knows all about the ports around Europe. Within the scope of his work, then, he is both talented and learned.

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