- Books, Literature, and Writing
The Canterbury Tales
Chaucer's attitude towards his characters in The Canterbury Tales
Characters are an important part of any interesting story. Some stories have a lot, and some only have a few, but all the characters have a connection of some type with the person who created them. In the book, The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, a satire from the fourteenth century, there are many different characters. Chaucer employs the voice of the narrator to illustrate how he feels about each of his characters. With the remarkable use of word and language, Geoffrey Chaucer creates the many diverse personalities of his different characters, and then shows us how he feels about each one. The connotation, double meanings, and physiognomic definitions of each word he chooses to put in a description, helps the reader learn more about how Chaucer feels about the woman from Bath, the Plowman, the Miller, and the Pardoner.
This is one of the essays I have written for English class as a junior in high school.
Canterbury Tales on Amazon
Woman of Bath
The woman from Bath is one of two female characters introduced in the prologue, both negative from Chaucer's point of view. In the description, the narrator says, "She had gap-teeth, set widely, truth to say...large hips."(l. 482) Both qualities signify being well-suited for love. The gapped-teeth also signify her boldness, which is not an admirable quality of a woman from the fourteenth century. Like the Prioress from earlier in the prologue, the Woman of Bath is very proper and expensively dressed. By wearing "[kerchiefs] on Sunday on her head" and "Her hose were of the finest scarlet red/ And gartered tight; her shoes were soft and new."(l.456), the Woman of Bath displays her self-conceit. By wearing scarlet red and gartered tights, she shows that she doesn't care as much about church as she does her own appearance, which in the fourteenth century is not acceptable. Chaucer has an overall negative attitude towards the woman from Bath.
Chaucer’s attitude towards the Plowman is the opposite of what he felt towards the Bath woman. Chaucer believes the Plowman is a harmless good humored peasant. The narrator uses the words ‘honest worker, good and true’ (l. 540) to describe the plowman. The narrator depicts the plowman as a religious person who “would help the poor/ For the love of Christ and never take a penny.”(l. 548) Not only is he religious, but he is hardworking too. “At no misfortune, slacked for no content, / For steadily about his work he went.”Over all, Chaucer has a positive attitude towards the Plowman.
After the plowman, the narrator describes the Miller with deprecating language. Chaucer shows his negative attitude towards him by using a lot of physiognomic references. The narrator says “His beard, like any sow or fox, was red” The interpretation of being sow-like is dirtiness and fox-like is slyness, so obviously Chaucer does not like the Miller. Another indication of his dislike is when the narrator says, “A wart on which there stood a tuft of hair/Red as the bristles in an old sow’s ear.” This derogatory remark again has the reference to the sow and has negative connotations of the ‘wart’ and the old sow’s ear. The Miller has a negative effect on Chaucer.
If you like a lens, don't forget to give it a good rating.
Half-way through the prologue the narrator introduces the Pardoner, for who Chaucer has strong derogatory feelings. One quote out of the narrator’s description starts off, “Just back from visiting the Court of Rome. / He loudly sang ‘Come hither, love, come home!’” As a member of the church, he should not be singing about worldly things like love. The Pardoner’s physical appearance says he has “hair as yellow as wax, /…Thinly they fell, like rat-tails, one by one.”(l. 693) The Pardoner’s sparse yellow hair, as stated by the physiognomic interpretation, represents effeminacy, cunning, and deceptiveness. Soon after, there is a reference to the Pardoner’s hairless face which refers to effeminacy again. Later in the description, the narrator mentions that the Pardoner also has “bulging-eyeballs, like a hare.”(l. 703) not only do bulging eyes have bad connotation, but in physiognomic interpretation it represents gluttony, drunkenness, and shameless boldness. Chaucer uses the words with negative connotation and negative physiognomic interpretation to show his dislike towards the Pardoner.