Characters in the General Prologue to "The Canterbury Tales" Essay

Characters in the General Prologue to "The Canterbury Tales" Essay

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The Canterbury Tales are essentially a Chaucerian satire; the author sets out to deliberately upset the social order present at the time and proceeds to mock the faults innate in the characters. Chaucer gives a compressed view of characters such as the Knight and the Monk; in their descriptions, a preview of the kind of stories we can expect from these people is given. Take for example the Miller; his physical description alleviates him as a thick brute with a filthy mouth that was `moost of sin and harlotries', sufficed to say that his tale is one of adultery and sinful behaviour. However, Chaucer is not always as straightforward as this in presenting the pilgrims to us. His effective policy in unhinging the social hierarchy involves two fundamental characters: Chaucer the poet and Chaucer the pilgrim; the former needs no introduction whereas the latter is a device which the author uses to display an apparently indifferent account of the pilgrims. While he offers mostly positive feedback, the sarcasm of Chaucer himself is apparent, despite the mask he uses. So Chaucer's model characters in the General Prologue are not presented to us merely within this context, but rather they are shown to us more interestingly; in the progression of Chaucer's unravelling of their moral facades and noble status.

Chaucer is intentional in his positioning of the Knight; with the tales themselves, the Knight's tale is succeeded by the Miller's tale which interrupts and thus ridicules the designed order of the stories. He is presented as the glorious, valiant and truthful representation of what a knight should be. Described in terms of his commendable feats and his moderate dress and countenance, he is every inch the `worthy' man he is deemed...


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...d fro his loyal service. Though the account of the Parson is given by Chaucer the pilgrim, the sincerity of the poet is felt in establishing `the true moral standard by which the topsy-turvyness of all the rest may be measured'(Woolf, p.154).

What is presented to us in the General Prologue is a brief description of a series of characters, of these I choose the one true idealized character and the remainder were chosen due to their idealized perceptions as envisaged by society. The Knight, the Prioress, the Monk and the Frair were all expected to behave by certain standards. Through his double identity, Chaucer balances this perceived demeanour with a biting irony in order to dismantle their romantic disguises. With the Parson, Chaucer avoids sarcasm, or even a strong use of his alter ego; he remains truthful in managing societies perceptions of this figure

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