Use Of Satire In Chaucer

’s The Canterbury Tales Essay, Research Paper

“The Canterbury Tales” was a novel written by Geoffery Chaucer in 1386. In the prologue to Chaucer’s work, he describes certain characters using the literary device known as satire. His descriptions of the characters do a few different things. First, they give the reader an accurate vision of the time period that the novel takes place, fourteenth-century England, through the context of the character descriptions such as their dress. Second, his characterizations reflect Chaucer’s own personality, one of wit and humor, but also of seriousness. Chaucer’s own personality diffuses from his pen and onto the paper, allowing readers take notice of the satire in his work. If Chaucer does not feel that the life style of a character is one of great morality, one can tell through his use of satiric humor. He seems to know exactly how to get his point across about his feelings of a character, but without being bitter. He shows certain characters phoniness, conceitedness, etc. To prove my above thesis, I will give three examples of characters that Chaucer has described, using satire, in the prologue to the “Canterbury Tales”.

One of the characters that Chaucer describes with great use of satire is the Monk. As we all know, monks devote their life to God and seek to follow his example of unconditional love. Chaucer’s Monk, however, is not a typical monk. You would think that a monk would be a loving, peaceful person. However, Chaucer’s monk is a hunter, an animal killer who finds it enjoyable to murder God’s creatures. Hunting is a worldly persuit of which monks are not supposed to take active interest in. Monks are also supposed to take a vow of poverty, but he spared not expense in buying the most expensive and exquisite hunting equipment and apparel. Another ironic thing about the monk is that there is a set of regulations and rules for monks to abide by, which was set by Saint Benedict and Saint Maur, but he did not comply with these rules. The monk was also very lazy.

Another character that Chaucer describes with great use of satire is the Prioress, or the Nun. Nuns are supposed to live plain and simple lives, but Chaucer’s nun is characterized by her excessive concern about her appearance, mainly her cleanliness. She did not let a morsel from her lips fall, kept the smallest drop of food from falling upon her breast, would wipe her upper lip so clean that not even a trace of grease could be seen. Nuns are also not supposed to attract wide attention to themselves, but Chaucer’s nun sang very loudly at all the masses, through her nose. She also spoke in French to try to impress others. She smiled a phony smile, just to make it seem like she was a pleasant, compassionate person. But the truth was, that she cared for animals more than humans. She would cry if a mouse got trapped or killed, but didn’t care if anything happened to people. She wore lots of religious trinkets, such as her rosary, to make it seem as if she was whole-heartedly into her religion, when she really was not.

Lastly, the third character that I will describe that Chaucer characterizes with great use of satire is the wife of Bath. The wife of Bath would use church as a “runway” to show off her fashionable clothes and money. She wore the finest clothes, as she was a great cloth maker who traveled worldly to purchase the finest wool and material. Clad in layer upon layer of clothing, she would scurry and push over parishioners to reach the altar in church first, as the first people to receive communion were the highest people in social status. Also, she would marry old men to gain her riches, and then they would die and she would gain all the inheritance. All in all, she had five husbands who she took full advantage of.

Through the understanding of the satirical characterization that Chaucer uses in the prologue of “The Canterbury Tales,” it is obvious that he has a comical wit about himself, and is a skilled in using the literary device of satire. By using satire, Chaucer depicts certain characters in a much more interesting manner than that of other writers, and this is an asset that has probably attributed to the wide success of his works.


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