Harry Bailly is the Host of the Tabard Inn that is the impetus for ”The Canterbury Tales” and also helps mitigate and reason with the characters during their journey.
The Tabard Inn
In the beginning of The Canterbury Tales, we catch up with the 29 pilgrims as they all meet at the Tabard Inn on their way to see the shrine of the martyr of Saint Thomas Becket. It’s at this point they meet the host of the inn, Harry Bailly. He provides good food and liquor to all of the company and they enjoy each other for the evening as they talk and laugh.
It’s during this brief interlude that the Host suggests that he go with the group on their pilgrimage, and that they have a little wager. The wager is that each person will tell four tales, two on the way to the shrine, and two on the way back. Then once they get back to his inn, the group will pay for the dinner of the person who told the best tales. This becomes an agreement between them all, so they set off.
A Jokester and Tease
The Host from the beginning is said to be very happy in temperament as well as a man who loves to joke. The narrator, who is believed to be Chaucer, states that the company all thought he was a shining example of a host, and they all appreciate his ability to entertain them. Whether at the inn or along the journey, Harry seems to keep his humor. He tends to tease the other pilgrims good-naturedly, such as when he teased the Cook about his horrible fly-ridden food. However, his personality seems to allow this type of teasing without any negative blowback from the rest of the group.
He is also self-deprecating about his own personal choices. He makes fun of himself, calling himself ”simple” and easy manipulated by women. He also insults the woman he married. He sees her as a ”shrew” and believes she is a gossip monger. Yet he uses his own misfortunes to tie into the stories being told by the others, making the work more relatable to readers.
Reason and Mitigation
Harry also tends to be the one who mitigates between the company. If a conflict arises, he eliminates it, either with jokes or by chiding the individuals involved. For example, when the Miller tells a wicked story about a carpenter, the Reeve becomes angry, because he was also a carpenter. This sets the two men at odds, but Harry jokes and teases them into calming down. He also does this with the Cook and Manciple. Ultimately, the Host’s goal is to have fun, and to make sure the group also has fun, much like at his inn. He seems to take this as a responsibility even on the road, which puts him in between many of the disputes between the pilgrims.
He also explains the morals of the stories as he sees them after a few of the tales, even if they are wrong. Yet, he still gets into some conflicts with a few of the people in the group. He gets very upset with the Pardoner and how he tries to sell fake relics to the group. He becomes so impassioned that the Knight has to come in to mitigate the issue, showing that the Host was no without fault.
Harry Bailly is the Host of the Tabard Inn and the journey to Canterbury. The reasons for the tales being told on the way to Canterbury is due to his suggestion of a wager during the pilgrimage. His tends to be a happy fellow that helps mitigate between the company and teases and jokes to keep everyone in a good mood. However, at times he shows he can also be angry, especially at the crookedness of the religious figures in the company.