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451 Read-along Questions for
Chaucer's "Tale of Sir Thopas"
chivalric romance, enjambement, spoof, fit, tail-rhyme
Host, Geoffrey the Pilgrim, Sir Thopas, Oliphaunt, the
Useful Middle English
terms: childe (knight-in-training),
What is unique about the Prologue to Sir Thopas in terms of its structure?
find out that Thopas's father "ruled" in Poperyng,
Flanders. What is the joke about this?
Explain what's so funny about Sir Thopas's name.
What modern word does the Middle English "Thopas" become?
What Shakespearean play also features a character who takes
on the pseudonym "Thopas" or "Topas"?.
(From "Prologue to Sir Thopas," lines
- When the Host looks at Geoffrey, what
does he have trouble remembering?
- Describe Geoffrey's demeanor as the
Host phrases it.
- What similarity does Geoffrey have
physically with the Host?
- How is Harry's description of Geoffrey's
"countenance" likely an inspiration for the themes
of "Sir Thopas?"
- What sort of tale does Harry want Geoffrey to tell?
(From "Sir Thopas" itself)
- Fit One
- Where does Sir Thopas's family
- We read that Thopas had a face as "white as payndemayn."
What is paynedemayn?
- What are Thopas's lips like?
- What is Sir Thopas's most attractive feature? (And
why is that funny?)
- Explain the connection between Sir Thopas's grooming
and the band ZZ Top.
- Explain the joke about Sir Thopas's
cordoban leather in lines 732-35. (I.e., what's funny
about his clothes
costing "many a jane"?)
- Describe Sir Thopas's sex life, as detailed in lines
- Sir Thopas is really good at wrestling. Or is
he? With what
he regularly wrestle?
- Sir Thopas's breath is as sweet as the bramble flower.
What are two other names for this plant? How do those
names indicate humor?
- Sir Thopas rides out into combat with a "launcegay."
Where were these light-lances normally used?
- We read that in the dangerous forest, there are many
"a wilde best." What two beasts does Geoffrey list as
examples of the dangers?
- What happens when Sir Thopas hears the thrustle sing?
- After Sir Thopas falls in love-longing, what does he
do with his horse? (Hint: this bit has a bit of Chaucerian
ambiguity. The verb in these lines applies to both horse-riding
and to what activity we have seen in fabliaux elsewhere.
What does Chaucer the author (intentionally) have Geoffrey
the pilgrim (accidentally) imply about his protagonist?
- "So fiers was his corage" that Sir Thopas does what?
- Who or what does Sir Thopas declare
will be his lover because no woman is "worthy to be
- Who or what is Sir Thopas searching
for in the forest?
- Note the bathos in lines 804-06. What
two sorts of people do not dare to go in the forest
- What is the name of the giant Sir
Thopas encounters in the forest?
- According to the giant, what will the giant do if Sir
Thopas does not ride immediately out of the forest? What's
odd or humorous about his threat? (I.e., who or what
does the giant threaten?)
- Explain the giant's name as it connects with mammalian
- Note the rhyme in lines 823-26: "mawe" and "slawe."
What is the normal past participle of the verb "slay"?
(i.e., I slay, I slew, I have . . .")
What is the humor here? (Hint: You might compare the
rhyme here to Ogden Nash: "Farwell, farewell, you old
rhinoceros, / I'll stare at something less prepoceros.")
- How does our hero Sir Thopas deal with the giant when
the giant starts chucking boulders at him from his staff-sling?
- Fit Two
- According to Geoffrey's introduction to Fit Two, what
will be the heroic focus of that Fit when it comes to
Sir Thopas's noble deeds? Why is that funny?
- What unusual anatomical feature does Sir Oliphaunt
the Giant have, according to lines 841-42?
- When Sir Thopas wants to be entertained, he wants his
minstrils to sing tales about royal romances, popes,
cardinals, and the joys of sex. Explain the humor in
- There is a mock-epic quality to the arming of Sir Thopas
in lines 857 onward. Explain what's humorous about the
layers of armor regarding the following:
- the layers of cloth, trousers, shirt, quilted
padding, haubergeon, hauberk, coat-armor on top
of each other
- the fact his armor is of Jewish manufacture
- the decoration on his shield
- the way his fierce warhorse "ambles" "ful softely
and rounde" (885-86).
- Fit Three
- In the beginning of Fit Three, what
does Geoffrey request that his audience do? The fact
that he must
request thi;s suggests what about his audience at this
point in the narrative? (i.e., what are they doing
while he is trying to tell his tale?)
- Explain the redundancy of "love-drury."
- Who are these characters, Horn, Ypotys,
Bevis of Hampton, Guy of Warwick, Lybeaus Desconus?
- What does Sir Thopas sleep in each
- Who or what interrupts Geoffrey at
- Heere the Hoost stynteth Chaucer
of his Tale of Thopas (Linking Material: Lines 919-96)
- Why does Harry Bailey stop Geoffrey
from continuing the tale of Sir Thopas? What is causing
his ears to
- What sort of rhyme does Harry Bailey
label Geoffrey's poetry?
- What does Geoffrey want Harry to
explain to him?
- In response, Harry claims that this "drasty" rhyming
is not worth a what?
- Since the Host thinks Geoffrey is
unable to rhyme, what does he propose Geoffrey tell
- Geoffrey states in response that
he will tell "a
litel thyng in prose." Flip through the Tale
of Melibee (Geoffrey's
next story-telling attempt). How long is it? What does
that suggest about Geoffrey's claim to
tell "a litel thyng"?
- Geoffrey notes that, between the
four Gospels, there is "in hir tellyng difference." (Chaucer
is probably thinking of details like how Christ's
Matthew does not match the genealogy in Luke exactly,
or the differences between Mark 8:11-12, Luke 11:29-32,
and Matt. 12:38-41, etc.) Geoffrey, however, warns
us in contrast something different about his story
in lines 959 et passim. What does he claim about his
own tale, Melibee?
A. [XXX] . . . wax a
Whit was his face as payndemayn,
His lippes rede as rose;
His rode is lyk scarlet in grayn,
And I yow telle in good certayn
He hadde a semely nose.
B. Til that ther came a greet geaunt,
His name was sire Olifaunt,
A perilous man of dede.
He seyde, "Child, by Termagaunt,
But if thou prike out of myn haunt,
Anon I sle thy steede
C. "Namoore of this, for Goddes
Quod oure Hooste, "for thou makest me
So wery of thy verray lewednesse
That, also wisly God my soule blesse,
Myne eres aken of thy drasty speche.
Now swich a rym the devel I biteche!
This may wel be rym dogerel," quod he.
D. "Why so?" quod I, "why
wiltow lette me
Moore of my tale than another man,
Syn that it is the beste rym I kan?
"By God," quod he, "for pleynly, at a word,
Thy drasty rhymyng is nat worth a toord!"