General Prologue: Chaucer's Travels

1046 Words5 Pages
Regardless of era, travel has always been a key theme, or plot driver, throughout much of the world’s literature. Geoffrey Chaucer’s General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales is no exception. In the General Prologue, Chaucer uses the travelling history of some of the key pilgrims on the pilgrimage to characterize the pilgrims and help the audience understand more about the character, simply through grasping their experiences in different places throughout their lives. The noble Knight, whose crusades from Prussia to Morrocco (and near everywhere in between), had shaped him into the very “worthy” aristocrat that Chaucer describes him as is heavily reliant on his travels to describe his character. The Squire had also travelled to many foreign lands which helped to build his character, however, Chaucer draws contrasts between the holy crusades of the Knight and the warring Squire. The theme of travel through place and time is also central to the General Prologue as a whole, and indeed, the setting for the tales would not be possible, were it not for the travelers making their journey to Canterbury, which is the crucial plot driver that makes the tale-telling competition possible. Chaucer’s Knight has been shaped, not only by the battles he has fought in, but also the places his crusades have taken him. The Knight is characterized as a very “worthy” man in his portrait. Chaucer initially informs the audience explicitly that the Knight is worthy, by repeating the word four times throughout the Knight’s portrait. The over-repetition of the word, to some scholars1, has suggested irony, but it is the travels that Chaucer alludes to in the portrait that show the audience that the Knight was indeed worthy of his title as a Knight, and wort... ... middle of paper ... ...n, which is eventually how the full characterisation of the pilgrims occurs throughout the tales. Chaucer achieves something quite extraordinary in the General Prologue, in the sense that in only a handful of lines per pilgrim, he builds vivid portraits of each character. As discussed, one of the key techniques Chaucer uses to characterise the pilgrims so briefly is recounting the travelling history of the pilgrims, in both a literal and metaphorical sense. For the Knight and the Squire, their travelling histories through time and place, not only show their respective characters, but also contrast to each other to build each pilgrim’s personality, without Chaucer explicitly telling the audience. Chaucer mastered the use of travel throughout the General Prologue to drive the plot, and foster character development, making the text even more successful in the process.
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