The Canterbury Tales’ 29 Pilgrims

“Chaucer’s tale-tellers: Knight * Miller * Reeve * Cook * Man of Law * Wife of Bath * Friar * Summoner * Clerk * Merchant * Squire * Franklin * Physician * Pardoner * Shipman * Prioress * Monk * Nun’s Priest * Second Nun * Canon’s Yeoman * Manciple * Parson * Narrator

And those who don’t tell tales: Host * Plowman * Yeoman * Canon * Second Priest * Third Priest and Five Guildsmen (Haberdasher, Carpenter, Weaver, Dyer, Arras-Maker)

Chaucer tells us that there are ‘well nyne and twenty’ pilgrims in the company that sets off from Southwark to visit the shrine of Saint Thomas-a-Becket in Canterbury. But once you start list-making you find that such numerical certainty proves evasive, for there are thirty-four identifiable characters in his text, of whom twenty-three tell a tale. I like to imagine that the Host and the Five Guildsmen would have been made to perform if Chaucer had lived long enough, for The Canterbury Tales was almost certainly a work in progress, which Chaucer happily tinkered with all his life.”

Excerpted from: Rogerson, Barnaby. Rogerson’s Book of Numbers: The Culture of Numbers–from 1,001 Nights to the Seven Wonders of the World. New York: Picador, 2013.

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