The Character of the Prioress in The Canterbury Tales
In The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer writes a prologue in which characters are given at face value. Then, he writes tales that are spoken by these characters. Perhaps Chaucer is commenting that people should not judge others by their outward appearance because the differences in the outward character of Chaucer’s travelers are often greatly different than the personality that is shown through their tales.
The Prioress is one character that appears differently than her tale reveals. The Prioress’s tale is about the brutal murder of a young Jewish boy. It is a tale of deep-seeded anti-Semitic hatred and fierce violence. In the general prologue, the narrator has a very different surface impression of the Prioress. Perhaps it is simply because the presumed male narrator is so taken by the Prioress’s beauty that he failed to see any cues given that may have led him to see the Prioress’s true identity. However, the Prioress is portrayed as being beautiful and refined, feminine and sensitive, innocent and sweet.
One of the first things that the narrator mentions in the prologue about the Prioress is that she is seemingly educated. He says, “She sang the divine service well, entuning it in her nose in a most seemly way.” This means that she was probably at least educated in the ways of the church, if not at a school. He goes on to mention that “she spoke French well and properly, after the school of Stratford-at-Bow—” She knew how to speak French but he goes on to say that “the French of Paris was unknown to her,” so while she was very book educated, she was not worldly.
In the ta...
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...ch that she may have led a much happier life in Germany in the 1940’s. What is it that has made this seemingly polite, caring woman hate a group of people she most likely has never met? We never find out in the tale or the prologue, but we can suspect that Chaucer wants us to believe that the evil church has poisoned this innocent mind with hatred towards Jews, amongst other things.
The Prioress is just one example of the many flip-flop characters in Chaucer’s tales. On the outside, the Prioress appears to be someone who your parent’s wish you were like. However, once you get to know the Prioress through her tale, you wonder if she should instead join Hell’s Angels. Her thirst for the death of the young Jewish boy makes her frightening, if not almost evil, but at least she wipes her mouth neatly with a napkin.
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