John Zedolik

Defense Date


Graduation Date

Spring 2010


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name





McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Anne Brannen

Committee Member

Bernard Beranek

Committee Member

Linda Kinnahan


Bath, Canterbury, Chaucer, Comedy, Frye, Harmony


The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer has been a controversial work for many years due in part to its tonal variety which leads to questions of genre and the work's purpose. Ambiguity regarding the work's hypothetical finished state, due to its actual fragmented condition, also contributes to critical controversy. Thus the dissertation analyzes certain tales and these tales' relationships to other tales to arrive at an argument that sees the Canterbury Tales as indeed fragmented, but harmoniously complete.

The most important critical point in the dissertation is the "quyting"--paying-back or balancing--which one tale and teller perform upon another tale and teller or other tales and tellers. Thus each chapter looks at how a pilgrim specifically balances the Canterbury Tales by telling a tale contrasting in tone, outcome, or genre to a preceding tale in the same fragment or to another tale in a separate fragment. Additionally, the chapters analyze specifically how a taleteller, a member of the tale-telling "game" during the pilgrimage, often takes comedic revenge upon the teller (a fellow pilgrim) of the preceding tale or a taleteller from a separate fragment. Finally, chapters focus also on how the fragmented state of the Canterbury Tales allows further "quyting" that helps make the work what it is as a whole.

The analysis produces the argument that the "quyting" between tales and between tellers, and the Canterbury Tales's fragmented state produces comedy as a whole due to the pragmatic harmony--necessary to comedy--that arises from the "quyting" of tales and tellers. The harmony that this "quyting" produces allows the Canterbury Tales as a whole to transcend the non-comedic nature or genre of some of its individual tales. Moreover, the fragmented state of the Canterbury Tales allows the reader to "quyt" the author, thus allowing imaginative freedom and thereby harmony between reader and author. The great comedy extends beyond the pages to readers themselves who now exist beyond the bounds of Chaucer's world of the late fourteenth century. The comedy of the Canterbury Tales continues to transcend limitations.