The Prioress: Madame Eglantine Essay, Research Paper
The Prioress, Madame Eglantine
In the “General Prologue” of The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer introduces the readers to pilgrims he meets in the town of Southwerk as he begins his pilgrimage to Canterbury. The pilgrim I found to be most interesting was the Prioress. Chaucer tells the reader that she is a nun and her name is Madame Eglantine. Due to the power of the church at this time in England, much is to be expected of the Prioress as a nun.
Chaucer goes into detail in explaining her “simple and coy” (6) smile and her ability to “leet no morsel from hir lippes falle” (8). In doing this, Chaucer shows great reverence for her beauty and etiquette. From his description of her, one understands the importance of her position in society as a member of the church at a time in history when the church was so powerful. It is also believable that she would be making the pilgrimage to Canterbury, the place where St. Thomas a Beckett became a martyr, due to the religious implications of his death.
Also giving more life and truth to her character is the mentioning of her name. Chaucer tells the reader that her name is Madame Eglantine. This is a way in which Chaucer illustrates the importance of her character, as he neglects to mention the actual names of the other pilgrims. Chaucer’s revelation of her name is also a way for the reader to believe that she was an individual that may very well have lived and been present at the start of Chaucer’s pilgrimage to Canterbury, if it actually occurred. Also, by revealing her name, Chaucer shows more respect towards her status as a nun and the church. Another way he does this is by telling the reader that her name is “Madame,” a title that includes thoughts of respect and properness.
“And al was conscience and tendre herte” (8). In this line of the story, Chaucer shows the reader how sweet and caring the Prioress is. He uses the example of the mouse in a trap and the death of her dogs and how upset she would be by both these occurrences to reinforce his belief of “hir conscience”(8). I believe this explanation of her feelings to be a way that Chaucer tries to make the reader respect her and maybe even respect the church more. This may be due to the power the church had over the people during this era in European history or to sway the opinion of those whom were hostile towards the church or members of the hierarchy of the church.
From his physical description of her and the careful attention he pays to her proper etiquette at the dinner table, Chaucer seems to be drawing a parallel between her proper manners and her careful attitudes and ways. Another way he does this is by explaining her singing of the “service divine” (6). I believe this also ties into her proper ways that Chaucer makes a great point of reinforcing line after line.
From his discussion and description of her, it seems very probable that Madame Eglantine was a real person and it is interesting that Chaucer elevates her to such a plateau that she seems so perfect and infallible. I believe he may have depicted her this way so that the reader would get a better respect of the church or he may have done this so he would be accepted by the church and not be considered a heretic. In this respect I believe Chaucer does want the reader to evaluate her and he may be using her as a symbol of the church as a flawless institution that was compassionate, beautiful and perfect in its ways.