Wednesday, April 25, 2012


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How and what Techniques does Chaucer use to criticize the charectors in their portraits During ‘The General Prologue’?

Chaucer is political and subtly a comical writer who evidently uses different techniques to criticize certain characters during the General Prologue by mostly satirising them. Some of the pilgrims mentioned are presented entirely by listing, describing and possibly exaggerating visual details and features. For example with the monk especially in satirical portraits, Chaucer mentions these characteristics and describes them ironically with admiration and enthusiasm which the pilgrims themselves are particularly proud of. Because Chaucer did not respect or admire these pilgrims he regularly commends them on attributes they do not deserve to be commended on which then allows the foolish pilgrims to give themselves away.

Probably the best example of this is during ‘The Monk’ whose macho ness, fine horses, healthy diet and who loved hunting which is quite obviously very wrong and hypocritical for a monk especially of his stature. This technique is also evident during ‘the prioress’ where Chaucer also describes the women’s fashionable features “entuned in hir nose ful seemly.” which describes the way in which the nun sings fashionably for the present time. Which for an ecclesiastical figure was quite wrong as they should not be concentrating in the goings on of other secular people but should just be basing there entire life devoted to their god and religion.

However, Chaucer criticisms become less obvious as he uses more satirical techniques talking about the prioress. As Chaucer talks as if he is impressed by the glamorous looks of the nun and even noticing her outstanding breasts. This is hardly the impression a prioress should have on a man. Now this is were Chaucer leaves it open for the reader to make up their own mind on the opinionated characteristics of the prioress which is the beauty of satire. However it is cleverly and quite strongly hinted towards the possibility that this is exactly the impression that the prioress wants to give to the opposite sex, and quite possibly flaunts her body to be noticed in maybe sexual manner. Which again would completely against the way of life for a nun. A similar connection with love is given away in ‘the monk’ toward the end but in this case as more of an obvious way and easier for the reader to assume this as a very negative attribute of the monk “A love-knot in the gretter ende ther was.” Which quite strongly suggests that there is some kind of connection with love outside the church, which is prohibited for a man of his ecclesiastical position. However this brings me back to talk about Chaucer’s technique of a strong satire, all these things we have concluded about these pilgrims have only been given to us based on hints based on facts. So therefore Chaucer quite cleverly and very purposely does not actually criticize the pilgrims directly himself but just gives the facts and the knowledge to draw our own conclusions which are however hinted at, to say the least.

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Chaucer also continues this technique throughout The General Prologue. Another pilgrim that requires a close observation is ‘the Wife of Bath’. This section is mixed with some obvious and some less obvious satirical suggestions. A good example of an obvious one would be “in al the parisshe wif ne was ther noon that to the offrynge before hire sholde goon;” which is quite simply stating that no one would receive communion before herself, which leads to the suggestion that maybe she considers herself to socially exceed the importance of others in the church. Which we all know that there is no reason that this should be the case. A less obvious example would be a connection from the wife to the word scarlet “hir hosen weren of fyn scarlet reed”. Chaucer only speaks of the link between her and the colour scarlet only by her tights but however, the word scarlet also can be an adjective describing someone that is quite sexually active and again the conclusion is up to the audience. This linking with the word scarlet is quite significant as the mention of the word scarlet would be irrelevant without the possibility of the conclusion hinted at as there are other words that could substitute the word if it was just referring to a colour i.e. crimson. The other statement of this type is just after “Housbndes at chirche dore she hadde fyve” now at this time it was incredibly difficult to get a single divorce let alone four or five. This sort of thing would have generally been frowned apon but there is no evidence shown of this happening and in fact quite the opposite. She is appeared to be quite well respected amongst the church community.

One of the points that Chaucer quite strongly emphasises isthe pilgrims strong connection with fashion. Which again could arguably suggest that these ecclesiastical people have too much connection with the secular world and not enough devotion to their religion and in the monk and prioress’s case their community. Another point made by Chaucer is the vast amount of possessions owned by the monk which contradicts with their lifestyle. Again Chaucer only comments on these as facts and does generally not comment on them but leaves us to make our own conclusions and accusations. “Ful many a deyntee hors hadde he in stable” a monk should not be allowed any possessions whatsoever apart form their bible and the clothes they stand in, so therefore to own several fine horses would be quite criminal. The list of possessions goes on. “he hadde of gold ywrogte a ful curious pin” this is all Chaucer has to state to impose an opinion on us. However, there is another technique used by Chaucer when he does use a personal opinion. This technique comes as a part of satire and is irony.

Chaucer’s irony takes place as he places a personal opinion or agreement on one of the pilgrims attributes and he in fact means the opposite. In the case of The General Prologue, Chaucer will seem as if he is complementing or agreeing with the pilgrim under scrutiny but is actually doing the opposite. This may sound slightly like sarcasm but in the case of irony the victim him/herself would not actually know the comment is false and probably accept it kindly as a complement. So throughout the general prologue the audience should approach all of Chaucer’s complements and even opinions with caution, as they are not likely to portray the initial meaning you may think. An example of this in ‘The Monk’ is; “and I seyde his opinion was good” where Chaucer is talking about the monk’s opinion on ‘his book’. The Monk himself would probably take this as a compliment as Chaucer would seem to clearly agree with him but from the observer it would be apparent that he Is actually continuing to criticize the monk and his mislead, flamboyant lifestyle.

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