Chaucer's Canterbury Tales - The Nun Prioress of the General Prologue


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The Canterbury Tales  - The Nun Prioress


In the reading "The Canterbury Tales" by Geoffrey Chaucer, there is a detailed description about the nun Prioress in the "General Prologue". Chaucer uses physical and spiritual relationships to show the characteristics of a person. When we see the nun in relationship to other characters, for example the Knight, Chaucer makes the reader see two types of people. On one hand, the nun who gives much importance to minor things. On the other hand, the Knight who gives much importance to things that really matter. To describe how the nun was Chaucer writes with irony the description of the nun Prioress, everything that Chaucer says about her means the opposite.

Chaucer describes a nun Prioress called Madame Eglantine. A nun should be modest, had to have poverty, and pity. Chaucer describes the nun in the opposite way to show us, how the nun Prioress had all the characteristics that a nun should not have. She was a nun modest, well educated and with good manners. She also had tender feelings, and a strong love for God and his creations. The author connects the relationship between how she sang and with her nose. He is sarcastic when relating her physical and spiritual beauty. "She sang the divine service well, entuning it in her nose in a most seemly way." (122-123) She was a well educated person, who reflects her manners in her language and with her actions. "She spoke French well and properly" in this quote properly means with good manners, not with slang words or with the popular language used in France. "For the French of Paris was unknown to her."(124) All of these characteristics show how the nun Prioress was focused on things that should not be important for a nun.

 

Among her minor things, the nun in the tale actions was cautious and splendid. Her manners were unique, and practiced with perfection. "Her table manners were admirable: she never let a morsel fall from her lips, nor wet her fingers too deeply in the sauce; daintily she carried a morsel to her lips, taking care that no drop should fall on her breast: she took much pleasure in proper etiquette." (133) The author makes us understand that her behavior with such perfection was not because she was obligated to act in this way.

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It was because having manners and being educated gave her joy, something that is wrong for a nun. Having manners for her was like giving a candy to a little boy. Also the author describes with a lot of details her manners to show us how important her behavior was for herself, an a nun's behavior should be reflected on other people not on herself.

 

All of Chaucer's nun actions as behaving and acting as nun were superb, in an ironic way. Her physical description was described with perfection nun showing the irony in these minor details. "Her nose well-shaped; her eyes bright as glass; her mouth very small, and soft and read; an indeed she had a fine forehead." (153-155) The description of her beauty reflects how she was from her inside. The author gives great importance to small things to makes us see how the nun Prioress was. One example is when he wrote about her fine forehead. To most people the forehead is not an important aspect of the physical characteristics of a person, only in some cases where the forehead is tremendously big or very small. However, the author talks about her fine forehead with sarcasm because he is telling us how this small characteristic, were reflected so well in the nun Prioress. Every small detail is what made her perfection as a whole, perfection meaning the opposite.

 

One thing the nun had that showed irony in her behavior, was her tender feelings. The author is sarcastic when he uses the example of her feelings for a mouse and that she was so charitable and full of pity. "She was so charitable and so full of pity that she would weep if she saw a mouse caught in a trap and dead or bleeding." (145) Another example that illustrates the irony and how the author was sarcastic is by showing her big actions on animals rather than to human beings. "She had a few small dogs that she fed with roast meat, or milk and fine bread; but she wept indeed if one of them died, or if someone hit it smartly with a stick-she was feeling tender heart." (150) This example illustrates how soft she was, and also that she gave great importance to little things rather than great importance to big ones. The Knight is one example of a person in the general prologue, who gave importance to great things, which fought for big reasons. In contrast the author illustrates the nun Prioress, as a person with the opposite view of the world. The knight would never give better food to some dogs rather that to the people who needed it. On the other hand the nun gave great importance and attention to her dog, or a mouse that was bleeding, rather than to people. That is why the author does not give examples of the nun helping people, or doing good

 


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