The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

The Tale of Sir Thopas Analysis

The Tale of Sir Thopas is a send-up of Middle English verse romances, packed with absurd details and written in a sing-song tail rhyme. Thopas is painted as “gentil” to the point of femininity; he’s described in terms usually used to describe the “damsel in distress” in chivalric romances, down to the white skin, red lips, blond hair, and girl’s name (the name “Thopas,” or “Topaz,” was usually given to women, not men, in the Middle Ages). He falls in love with a “lady” so idealized she doesn’t even exist, and he runs away from battle because he has forgotten his armor.

Thopas also parallels the Chaucer we meet in the Prologue in some ways. In the Prologue to the tale, Chaucer is described as being effeminate, antisocial, and “elflike.” Thopas is also effeminate, antisocial to the point of being completely chaste, and is seeking an elf-queen. Similarly, Chaucer’s reluctance to tell a tale in the Prologue parallels Thopas’s reluctance to fight Sir Oliphaunt. The story itself is filled with irrelevant details, which might indicate a narrator who is making it up as he goes, and it includes several points at which Chaucer begs patience from his audience, perhaps because the other pilgrims are mocking him or expressing their boredom.

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