Sunday, December 11, 2011




The Abbot of Canterbury is an anonymous poem. The time of the poem is Medieval England, particularly the days of King John. The locale of the poem is England and as to type it is southern ballad. The style is entertaining even conversational. Two lessons we get from the poem, one is wisdom is not confined to the wise, even an ordinary person can at times be as wise as the wisest of the land second idea that with wit and wisdom we can defeat the might of a king. To generalize wit is more effective than brute power.

The Abbot of Canterbury is actually the head of a monastery. He is so rich and popular and so rich is he that he keeps hundred servants everyday, fifty of them wearing gold chain and velvet coats. He is so popular that people come to him from far and wide to see his health, to be his guest and even to receive charity. This wealth and popularity seemed a challenge to King John who was not just a king and hence not popular at all. Therefore, the king felt that the Abbot might be doing treason against him. So, the king called Abbot to his court. He wanted to do away with the holy man but he could not do so in straight way because as the Abbot was highly popular and in case of his beheading people might stand against the king. So, the king played a trick and gave him three questions which he must answer in three weeks time or be ready for beheading, to the first question the king asked what was the worth of king in one penny when he was having such a precious crown on his head. To the second question the king asked how soon could he make the journey for the whole world and in the last question the king wanted to know what the powerful man was thinking at that time. Having heard those difficult questions Abbot got much confused.
He confused that he had no mind to answer the questions yet. So, he took three weeks’ time.

The Abbot of Canterbury went to Oxford in Cambridge, the two vital centre of learning but no doctor there could make answers to those to those mind boggling questions. One his way back, he met his poor shepherd who promised him to answer the questions before the king. The Abbot allowed him to appear before the king not as the simple shepherd but as the Abbot of Canterbury. So, permission was given and the poor shepherd appeared before the king and answered the questions.

On the appointed time, the shepherd appeared before the king with all the answers. The king was happy that the Abbot had kept his promise and put before him all three questions. To the first question the shepherd told that our Christ was sold for thirty penny and the king might be given for twenty nine as he was one penny less than the Lord. To the second question he said that if he got up with one sun rise and rode on till the next sunrise, within twenty four hours he would have moved round the world. To the third question the shepherd answered, the king was taking him as the Abbot which he was not and that his poor shepherd who had come to beg pardon from the king.

All the answers were quite amusing to the king and he got really so impressed by the performance shepherd as Abbot. He decided to make the shepherd as the Abbot of Canterbury but the shepherd did not like the idea as he was quite illiterate and only had some common sense which often worked. The king awarded four gold coins a weak to the shepherd and pardoned the Abbot of Canterbury.

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