The "Pyramid" of Canterbury Pilgrims: Estate Groups of Nobles, Clergy, and Freemen/-women
Nobility (petite) and retinue: Knight, Squire, Yeoman (NT);
Clergy, the High ("ceremonial/managerial") and the Mendicant ("begging/wandering/teaching"); and Secular Employees of the Clergy: the Prioress ("madame Eglentyne"), 2nd Nun, three Priests (? see Exp. Note and Textual Note), and Monk have taken "holy orders" swearing vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to the Church; the Friar ("Huberd") took vows, too, but lived and worked among the people; the bishop's secular employees are the Summoner (bishop's "sheriff") and Pardoner (sells papal pardons for venal [minor] sins to raise money for the Church).
Free, high-status non-nobles, including guildsmen: Merchant, Clerk, Sergeant of the Lawe (lawyer), Frankeleyn (wealthy landowner); Haberdasshere (maker of hats and handkerchiefs), Carpenter, Webbe (weaver), Dyere, Tapycer (maker of tapestries). and their Cook; Shipman, Doctour of Physik, Wif of Bathe, Parson, Plowman (NT, the Parson's "brother," maybe a real sib or "good friend" or "comrade"); Reeve (estate overseer), Miller, Maunciple (purchasing agent for a large household), Chaucer-the-pilgrim, and "Oure Hoost," the keeper of the Tabard Inn (later identified as "Harry Baily").
For English 211 Students:
Today would be a good day to start exploring the Web pages that are hyperlinked to each assigned reading for 211. The "General Prologue" of Canterbury Tales is a very complex work. Our chatty narrator is about to overload your memory with details about many medieval people he is describing in detail. How can we remember such a thing, like a series of Facebook pages from an era and culture unfamiliar to us? Become methodical in your reading. See the Web syllabus the next class and take its advice seriously. Your first time through the "GP," you won't remember much. I advise you to become a specialist in one pilgrim or a group of pilgrims, but also you should take into account what might recommend a pilgrim to your special attention. I heartily recommend the Knight (and his entourage, the Squire and Yeoman) because the narrator makes such an example of them as an ideal or nearly ideal noble household. You also should pay attention to the Miller and the Wife of Bath because we are going to read their tales. The first is sort of obvious--Chaucer-the-Pilgrim, our narrator, places him first. That indicates his social rank, as do the prologue orders of all the other pilgrims, from highest "estate" or rank to lowest, and among the lowest, from highest status to lowest. Chaucer's narrator is giving us these portraits to prepare our expectations for what kind of tale these narrators will tell. What does he emphasize about the pilgrim you are paying attention to? Especially if you read the Knight with some care (i.e., do not ignore the footnotes!), reading either the Miller or Wife of Bath will get you set up to read the teller's tale with some sense of how they contrast with our noble Knight. Each of them is intended to be massively different from the Knight. Both Miller and Wife challenge the Knight's world view, and his tale in particular, with the tales they tell. Their prologues also will put them into competition with some other teller/pilgrims, specifically the Reeve (vs. Miller), and the Pardoner, Friar, and Summoner (vs. the Wife of Bath). That will give you lots to chew on about how these kinds of people might be competing for social and economic advantage in Chaucer's lifetime. Midterm paper topics abound!