Gentilesse for the Masses in General Prologue and The Canterbury Tales

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In the 14th century, class distinction was of great importance. The class to which one belonged determined the clothes one was allowed to wear, the color of that clothing and even behavior. In Geoffrey Chaucer's General Prologue and The Canterbury Tales , we can find any number of characters with these behavior distinctions if we examine them. The Knight, for example, is described as a worthy man of "trouthe and honour, freedom and curtesie" (I, 46). He is of a noble rank, and therefore his behavior is one of good reputation (honour). Conversely, Both the descriptions of the Reeve and the Miller in the General Prologue are quite unflattering; their verbal cutting into each other's tales demonstrates the stereotypical "churlish" behavior of the lower class. The word gentilesse, which comes up several times in the Canterbury Tales, is most often defined as descriptive of nobility -- so those from noble class are "gentil man" and "gentil woman." The Knight as a member of the noble class is gentil because of his title. Members of the clergy can also fit into the gentilesse category. Though the Reeve and the Miller being crude and churlish would not fit into this category, Chaucer does not limit gentilesse to the noble class alone. He instead broadens the definition to include those characters who are patient, steadfast and able to endure great hardship and who will give their will over to the will of God. The hag in the Wife of Bath's Tale and Griselda in the Clerk's Tale are both perfect illustrations of Chaucer's view of non-nobility gentilesse. The hag and Griselda exhibit gentilesse because they are virtuous, dedicated to God and positive forces of change for those around them. In the Wife of Bath's Tale, the hag... ... middle of paper ... ...d them to a higher spiritual gentilesse. Bibliography Brewer, Derek. Tradition and Innovation in Chaucer. London: Macmillan, 1982. Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. Pp. 3-328. In the Riverside Chaucer. Larry D. Benson, ed. Boston: Houghton, 1987. Cooper, Helen. "The Shape-shiftings of the Wife of Bath, 1395-1670." Pp. 168-184. In Chaucer Traditions: Studies in Honour of Derek Brewer. Ruth Morse and Barry Windeatt, eds. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1990. Delasanta, Rodney. "Nominalism and the 'Clerk's Tale' Revisited." Chaucer Review 31.3 (1997), 209-231. Hallissy, Margaret. Clean Maids, True Wives, Steadfast Widows: Chaucer's Women and Medieval Codes of Conduct. Connecticut: Greenwood, 1993. Saul, Nigel. "Chaucer and Gentility." Pp. 41-58. In Chaucer's England. Barbara A. Hanawalt, ed. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1992.

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