Satire In The General Prologue Essay, Research Paper
The General Prologue of the Canterbury Tales satirizes almost every character that Chaucer introduced. Each person fits into one of four character descriptions; three of which are satires. But what are these descriptions and what characters fit into which?
One of the character descriptions is the Perfect character. These were people that excelled at what they did with little faults. They had an established reputation and were looked up to by others. The Knight is one such example. He is the epitome of Christian chivalry and a perfect nobleman, but still remains a humble person. In a period of relatively fixed social classes, he could wear plain clothing and associate with whomever he wants and would still remain noble. There was no satire whatsoever in his description as well with the Squire and the Yeoman whom he traveled with. These were Ideal characters.
People that were much like the Knight and the Squire, but had minor faults were portrayed with a gentle satire. A good example of this was the prioress who was very polite and kind, but didn t do her job as she should have. She shows much compassion for living things and especially animals. Setting her eyes upon a dead mouse she begins to shriek; a gross over-reaction to a small tragedy. Also, the money that she possesses is supposed to go to help the poor, but she uses it instead to feed her dogs quality meats. The nun is a good person with a large heart, but loses sight of what she should be doing and therefore, fails to be perfect.
Chaucer s other satirical use (the third was comical) is much more of a serious satire than with the previous pilgrims. Generally, these were religious people with power (over souls) and a few of them abused it. Instead of using their wealth and status to help the poor, they used it to enrich their own lives and gain respect from the rich. Hubert, the Friar (one of the few individuals names that Chaucer revealed) was a crooked man, indeed. He didn t waste his time helping the poor, but preferred associating with the rich. During confessions he would only pay attention to those with money and would arrange marriages for young women after impregnating them. The Monk is very similar to the Friar, but his sins are much less obvious. A monk is supposed to have a fairly confined life of study, labor, and chastity, but he would have none of it. The monk is wealthy, eats in abundance and has sex (which is signified by a gold pin with a love knot), all of which go directly against what a monk is supposed to be. While Chaucer the pilgrim admires the monk for everything he does, Chaucer the poet sees them as flaws.
Chaucer the pilgrim is fairly gullible and represents much of the common man in that period, making Chaucer the poet seem all the more insightful. It is the difference between the perceptions and opinions of these two Chaucers that creates much of the ironic tone in The Canterbury Tales.