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Essay on Human Nature and The Canterbury Tales

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Human Nature and The Canterbury Tales  


    When Geoffrey Chaucer undertook the writing of The Canterbury Tales, he had a long road ahead of him. He intended to tell two stories from each of thirty pilgrims on the way to Canterbury, and then two more from each pilgrim on the way back from Canterbury. Of these, he completed only twenty-four. However, in these tales, Chaucer depicts both the pilgrims and their stories with striking realism. In "The Nun's Priest's Tale," "The Canon's Yeoman's Tale," "The Friar's Tale," "The Reeve's Tale," and "The Cleric's Tale," Chaucer demonstrates his remarkable insight into human nature. By comparing and contrasting these tales, one can see the universality of human nature as shown by Chaucer.

One human trait apparent in these selections is greed. Avarice drives the hearts of many men, whether they may be a common miller or a summoner or a supposedly religious canon, and Chaucer was aware of this. In the tales which contain these three characters, Chaucer depicts the greed of these characters. The Reeve tells his fellow pilgrims in his tale of a miller who "was a thief ... of corn and meal, and sly at that; his habit was to steal" (Chaucer 125). The summoner in "The Friar's Tale" "drew large profits to himself thereby," and as the devil observes of him in this tale, "You're out for wealth, acquired no matter how" (Chaucer 312, 315). The canon in Part 1 of "The Canon's Yeoman's Tale," as well as the Yeoman himself, had been driven by the goal of converting base metals into gold, and "though we never realized the wished conclusion we still went on raving in our illusion" (Chaucer 478). The second canon of which the Yeoman speaks is many times worse than his own canon and master, using h...


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.... Works Cited

Balliet, Gay L. "The Wife in Chaucer's Reeves's Tale: Siren of Sweet Vengeance." English Language Notes 28.1 (1990): 1-5.

Baylor, Jeffrey. "The Failure of the Intellect in Chaucer's Reeve's Tale." English Language Notes 28.1 (1990): 17-19.

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. Trans. Nevill Coghill. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1960.

Dictionary of Literary Biography: Old and Middle English. Ed. Jeffrey Helteman and Jerome Mitchell. Detroit: Sale Research, Inc., 1994.

Edden, Valerie. "Sacred and Secular in the Clerk's Tale." The Chaucer Review 26.4 (1992): 369-376.

Fehrenbacher, Richard W. "'A Yeerd Enclosed Al About': Literature and History in the Nun's Priest's Tale." The Chaucer Review 29.2 (1994): 134-148.

Whittock, Trevor. A Reading of The Canterbury Tales. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 1970.

 

 


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