The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

The Tale of Sir Thopas Summary

The Host next turns to Chaucer, asking him to tell “a tale of mirth” to follow up the Prioress’s serious tale. Chaucer says he only knows one tale, a rhyme he heard as a child:

The Tale of Sir Thopas describes itself as one of “of myrthe and of solas” (of fun and seriousness). Thopas is a fair knight with white skin, red lips, blond hair, and a good nose. He dresses well and can hunk, hawk, and use a bow and arrow. Although he had women throwing themselves at him, he stayed chaste and refused to sleep with any of them.

One day, Thopas was riding through a forest when he heard a bird singing. The bird’s song made him fall into a kind of love-sickness, and he began riding so fast his horse began to sweat. He then dismounted and decided to have a nap and give his horse a rest. He also vowed to go looking for an elf-queen, whom he had heard about in children’s stories but never actually seen, and that she was the only woman with whom he would ever fall in love.

Thopas climbs back into the saddle to start his quest for the elf-queen. Instead, he meets a giant called “Sire Olifaunt” (Sir Elephant), who tells Thopas that if he tries to leave the forest, Sire Olifaunt will kill his horse. Thopas says he’ll meet the giant tomorrow, but first he has to run home and get his armor. The giant throws rocks at Thopas, but he and his horse escape.

Thopas then rides into town, where he gathers up his “merry men” (apparently his companions) and tells them a tale of fighting a giant with three heads. His merry men give him sweet wine, licorice, and gingerbread, then help Thopas put on his armor. Thopas rides until he finds a well, where he also finds the Arthurian knight Sir Percivel. They drink water from the well together.

At this point, the Host tells Chaucer to shut up, saying the tale is terrible “doggerel” and demanding that Chaucer tell some other story – in prose this time.

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