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Characters In The General Prologue To "The Canterbury Tales"

1717 words - 7 pages

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 as, possessing all the moral virtues which can only be truly applicable to a knight `chivalrie, trouthe and honour, fredom and curtesie'. This Knight could always be depended on to be at the fore of battle in his service to his lord, in fact he does this so exceptionally well that he appears to have the talent for travelling with an impressive speed! He dared never to utter a word of rudeness and behaved meekly whilst in the company of those not engaged with him on the battlefield. In keeping true to the tradition of his profession, his dress was `nat gay', while his horse was considered good, however this is permitted, as it is essential to his success.

`And thereto hadde he ridden, no man ferre, as wel in cristendom as in hethenesse' once the audience reaches these lines, Chaucer's sarcasm is in such a wholesome state that only a fool could fail to detect it. The course of the Knight's expeditions may be believable in modern times, yet on horseback in the middle ages, you'll forgive me if I scoff at its credibility. The agenda of the Knight's conquests are put into questioning. `Throughout the Prologue, one set of values is being opposed to another with the most deliberate though subtle, craft: - generosity...

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