The Old Man
- The Old man is the first and only person the three men meet, "Whan they han goon nat fully half a mile".
- We learn that he is old and "povre" - poor - and that he greets them "fully mekely".
- Throughout his appearance, he speaks simply and humbly but with wisdom tinged with an air of mystery and melancholy.
- The Old Man is the only character, apart from the three young men, who speaks for any length or to any purpose in the Tale.
- He is a mysterious figure and has been the subject of much critical speculation.
- Is he in league with death, or death himself in disguise?
- The tale of which he is so vital a part is Chaucer's version of a folk story that had existed in different forms for centuries. In neither these nor Chaucer's version is it clear exactly who the man is.
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The Old Man
- This engimatic old man does have human dimensions and ualities, however, and these are revealed in his speeches between lines 429-81.
- He greets the three men politely when they first meet.
- They in return, suggest he has lived too long to be so old.
- This is almost a threat, certainly an insult, but the only man appears not be nervous or taken aback.
- As their meeting progresses we sense what the trio appear not to notice: that for a frail old man accosted by three probably drunk and certainly aggressive young men, he is in no way afraid of anything they say.
- This suggests to us that he may have hidden powers that lend him a confidence the young men don't apparently see.
- If, for example, the old man is Death personified, then he has no need to fear them.
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The Old Man
- If the three young men were less focused on their plan to murder the theif called Death, they might have paused to consider that much of what the old man says is rather odd.
- He has travelled as far as 'Indie' (India) looking for any young man who would swap his youth for the old man's age - not an attractive or likely exchange.
- The old man paints a pitiful picture of himself wandering about knocking on the earth, Mother Earth, asking to be taken in.
- He says, mysteriously and somewhat eerily, that now not even Death will take my life - "Ne Deeth, allas, ne wol nat han my lyf".
- This is suggesting that he has in some way become immortal, been singled out not to be allowed to die, perhaps by Death: or that he has become Death himself.
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