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451 Read-along Questions for Chaucer's "Tale of Sir Thopas"

Vocabulary: bathos, chivalric romance, enjambement, spoof, fit, tail-rhyme

Characters: The Host, Geoffrey the Pilgrim, Sir Thopas, Oliphaunt, the elf-queen

Useful Middle English terms: childe (knight-in-training),

Lecture Questions: What is unique about the Prologue to Sir Thopas in terms of its structure?
We 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 691-711)

  • 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 come from?
  • 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 740-47.
  • Sir Thopas is really good at wrestling. Or is he? With what opponent does 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 his mate"?
  • 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 of Fairie?
  • 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 biology.
  • 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 this request.
  • 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? (Hint: Google them).
  • What does Sir Thopas sleep in each knight?
  • Who or what interrupts Geoffrey at line 918.
  • 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 ache?
  • 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 instead?
  • 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 genealogy in 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 doghty swayn;
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
With mace.

C. "Namoore of this, for Goddes dignitee,"
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!"


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