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AS and A Level: Geoffrey Chaucer

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Common errors when writing about 'The Canterbury Tales'

  1. 1 Failing to consider language and form as well as the content.
  2. 2 Applying modern views and standards to a 14th century text. For example, modern attitudes to gender relationships and marriage can conflict with attitudes at the time of writing.
  3. 3 Failing to demonstrate appropriate historical/contextual knowledge about:
    Religious beliefs and practices,
    Class and hierarchical structure,
    Social relationships between men and women.

Key terms to use when writing about Chaucer's verse. Ensure you know what they mean!

  1. 1 Middle English.
  2. 2 Rhythmic variety.
  3. 3 Decasyllables.
  4. 4 Caesura.
  5. 5 Rhetoric.

The best essays on 'The Canterbury Tales' are able to give a precise description of all of these kinds of humour

  1. 1 Farce.
  2. 2 Bawdy.
  3. 3 Irony.
  4. 4 Slapstick.
  5. 5 Satire.

  • Marked by Teachers essays 2
  1. 1
  2. 2
  1. Marked by a teacher

    "A shockingly cynical picture". In the light of this comment, discuss the Wife of Bath's account of her marriages to her first three husbands. In your response, you should consider:

    4 star(s)

    Moreover, the wife recalls with a boastful tone how "many a night they songen "weilawey!" She also prides herself on her ability to make them bring her "gaye things fro the faire" yet she still "chidde them spituously", highlighting a lack of respect towards her husbands. This is likewise apparent in the wife's tirade against them in which she employs a variety of offensive terms, "olde kaynard" and "olde lechour" being two examples. The relationship that the wife had with her first three husbands was clearly devoid of respect and affection on her part yet she remains firmly unapologetic throughout her account.

    • Word count: 909
  2. Marked by a teacher

    To what extent does the Pardoner manipulate his audience?

    4 star(s)

    In the Canterbury Tales, the Pardoner is the cynical but authoritative voice of truth at its most foul. If a man is clever and perceptive -- if he is not prone to self-delusion, if he has keen insight into himself, into others and into human nature -- then that man will have an ability to manipulate and exploit others -- that is, a consequent temptation to be villainous - that dimmer bulbs will lack. In blunt terms: knowledge is power, and power corrupts.

    • Word count: 1056
  3. A sinister exploration of the nature of evil Discuss Chaucers poetic methods in presenting evil in the pardoners prologue and tale in the light of this comment.

    Critics, such as Spearing, have noted that the pardoner's repellent outer appearance reflects his inner corruption. The description of his fake relics, such as the sayle that saint peter hadde and oure lady veyl are used to demonstrate his evil intentions; taking advantage of the peasants' good faith by tricking them into buying fake relics, that are nothing more than pigges bones. From the onset, Chaucer has incorporated the theme of evil within the pardoner and has maintained this throughout the prologue and tale.

    • Word count: 1300
  4. The pardoners prologue and Tale show human nature to lack any redeeming virtues people are greedy, weak and hypocritical Discuss Chaucers poetic methods and concerns in the Pardoners prologue and tale in ligh

    - this combined with the description of him riding with the summoner who 'bar to hym a stif bourdon' carries the connotations of a weak and possibly homosexual man? * Criticism: pardoner is 'parasite of parasites' and 'merely a vehicle for the substantial embodiment of the church's abusement' --> pardoner is a 2D character constructed to highlight the medieval church as greedy, weak and hypocritical. 3 rioters - greed, weak, hypocritical * From the onset they are described as sinful - drinking and blaspheming * Hypocritical as there is constant repetition of a 'brotherhood' when in reality is false as

    • Word count: 1976
  5. Courtly Love and Damyan. Chaucer uses conventions of courtly love throughout the Canterbury Tales, and The Merchants Tale is no exception.

    His squire Damian on the other hand is not of "noble birth" and therefore should not be expected or even allowed to become a courtly lover. The fact that he attempts to conform to these conventions could be seen as a satirical observation of courtly love by Chaucer, as Damian feebly attempts to win May's heart. While the typical courtly lover was supposed to be love-struck to the point of being completely overwhelmed by emotion, Chaucer has exaggerated Damian's courtly love to comic effect by describing him as "sikke".

    • Word count: 775
  6. 'Merchant's Tale - Marriage'

    Concerning an answer to the question, it is also important to address the relationship between Januarie and May, and the following 'cuckolding'. Is it more a cynical attack on adultery than that of marriage? The fundamental basis for investigating the status of marriage in The Merchant's Tale is to address the initial opinion of the merchant in the Prologue, and the subsequent irony at the beginning of the Tale. Chaucer directs the poem through the narration of the merchant, who has a clear cynical attitude towards his wife (in reaction to The Clerk's Tale and patient Griselda), though not overly

    • Word count: 1689
  7. With reference to lines 91-112 and 163-290, how are the rivals Nicholas and Absalon presented to us by Chaucer in this section? Focus on Chaucer(TM)s use of language and detail to present this contrast?

    In contrast, Absalon's looks and clothes are described in great detail to portray his vanity and flamboyancy. His 'Poules window corven on his shoes' draws focus to the intricate details of his appearance so that the reader is required to take into account Absalon's intense care for his looks. His curly blonde hair is fashioned into an extravagant fan shape; 'strouted as a fanne large and brode' that displays his desire to keep up with the fashion, and the blonde curls create a sense of childlike innocence. His clothing also supports his flamboyancy, 'Ycald he was ful smal and proprely' with red stocking, a blue tunic which was lavishly fastened.

    • Word count: 1614
  8. How does Chaucers prologue prepare us for the millers tale?

    We see him challenging those whom have power during the tale by striking out against The Church. We see the preparation for this disregard of The Church's authority in the prologue for it is in front of the monk, a member of the group, that the Miller speaks. This is showing great disrespect for as a religious figure the monk would be seen as the Miler's superior. This can relate to how the only member of the clergy in the tale is one who is thought of as inferior to everyone else. It would be thought of as disrespectful towards the monk top tell his tale, not only for the acts which take place but also because of the creation of Absolon.

    • Word count: 1294
  9. Is Absolon to be mocked or pitied?

    Absolon's biblical namesake also was proud of his hair and he to is shown to be a fool. It was because of his vanity and need to have long hair that Absolon's namesake was killed. I sense that there is a connection which can be established in the downfall of these characters and their vanity. Absolon is mocked because of his hair and attention to detail in his appearance and therefore he is not taken seriously ending in his final embarrassment at the window.

    • Word count: 1027
  10. Chaucer creates humour by satirising values in religious and courtly love. To what extent do you agree with this statement?

    The sense of competition brought about by this love causes them to hate each other. They eventually get let out of prison and fight each other to win the girl. Arcite wins the battle, but dies before he can claim Emily, so Palamon marries her. The story introduces many typical aspects of knighthood such as courtly love and ethical dilemmas. The Merchant's Tale begins with a description of Januarie who is presented, satirically, as "A worthy knight". The Merchant however attempts to display to the audience that this knight is not worthy at all. He contrasts him to the knights in The Knight's Tale.

    • Word count: 1885
  11. Chaucer's Models of Authorship and his Anxiety of Influence in the Prologue to the 'Legend of Good Women.

    It is clear that about the time Chaucer commenced to write the prologue to the Legend of Good Women, that he was beginning to feel very self-aware of his impact upon his readers and his responsibility as an author. In a time when illiteracy rates were high and his works were scantly distributed among a privileged coterie, Chaucer began to awaken to his accountability to adequately transmit the truth of a text. Chaucer saw himself as the saviour of these tales, which only for his penning would be lost to the world forever.

    • Word count: 2892
  12. To what extent are Nicholas and Absolon courtly lovers?

    Absolon uses the language of courtly love in a different way. He utilises more romantic terms of endearment than Nicholas, such as "hony-comb", "faire brid" and "sweete cinamome" and at the same time, unknowingly, uses highly unromantic imagery to describe himself. He tells Alison "for youre love I swete", creating a very unappealing image of himself sweating for her love. He then proceeds to use many more unappealing images. He declares "I moorne as dooth a lamb after the tete", likening himself to a helpless lamb, an emasculating concept, and that he "may nat ete na moore than a maide", this time likening himself to a woman.

    • Word count: 993
  13. How are the characters in The Miller(TM)s Tale(TM) punished for their actions and do they deserve this punishment?

    If his arm did heal, he would be out of work for a considerable amount of time. Not only this, but he has to suffer humiliation, as all of the neighbours "turned al his harm unto a jape", believing him to be mad. The reason that John is punished is that he has taken a wife much younger than him - "she was wilde and yong, and he was old". The Miller pokes fun at the carpenter because he does not know that "man sholde wedde his similitude". It is unnatural for a man as old as John to take such a young wife, and to keep her "narwe in cage" when she is lively and a creature of appetites that must be satisfied.

    • Word count: 825
  14. Quotes from the Miller's Tale

    his wife despite promise "his owene hand he made ladders thre" p46 Ironic brings about his own downfall "he sente his knave and eek his wenche also, upon his need to London"p47 Unsympathetic believes he is leaving his servants to die He was holde wood in al the toun"p53 Idiom destroyed his reputation Alisoun "Fair was this younge wyf and therewithal as any wezele hir body gent and small"p34 Parody of a courtly lover in a romance has a lyrical quality bathos "Ful smale ypulled were hire browes two"p34 Cynicism and satire in courtly romances a woman was perfect "She

    • Word count: 1800
  15. In what ways is The Merchant's Tale a response to The Clerk's Tale?

    This could be seen as a comment upon the perception of clerks as being far more honest than merchants in Chaucerian society - despite Walter's great deception of his wife when hiding their two children from her, he is still presented in a positive, honest light throughout the tale. This reinforces his credibility as a character, which has the effect of the Clerk being able to present his views on marriage very clearly through the protagonist. It is vitally important that both tales are set in Lombardy, though the setting is very different in both tales.

    • Word count: 1411
  16. Discuss how the concept of courtly love is represented in the Franklin's tale.

    It was, in theory, a chaste pursuit, and not for sexual purposes; Aurelius clearly sees it differently. The brave and foolhardy deeds to the whim of the lady then continue until she shows some form of concern or pity toward the young man; then, there is supposed to be a secret, painful passion between the two, and they get married unless she is already married; if this is the case, the love should be static and unrequited so as not to disrupt the marriage.

    • Word count: 1230
  17. Explore your relationship with the wife of bath

    For example, she quotes, " Oon of us two moste bowen, douteles;, And sith a man is moore reasonableThan woman is, ye moste been suffrable." (lines 440-2) She makes her husbands give in to her by saying that their "superior" male nature should make them give up the fight more easily. She therefore wins by exploiting all the stereotypes about women. Of course, this argument shows the wife at her cleverest. Like Gilbert and Gubar, my first impression of the wife is that she is a clever and independent woman, whose tricks and schemes have already got her through five marriages.

    • Word count: 1413
  18. How does his presentation compare to what is known of merchants in Chaucer's day and how do you respond to him as a reader?

    This makes him appear as a successful merchant who can afford to dress in the fashionable way. He is also described as "His reasons he spak ful solempnely", which again describes him as a respectable member of society, "solempnely" meaning "with dignity". However, the next few lines undermine this image of him being a dignified citizen as they describe him boasting about his profits, which is seen as a distasteful quality at this time. We hear that "Ther wiste no wight that he was in dette". This technically could mean that nobody knows of his debt because there wasn't any, but the line implies that there was and the fact that he harks on about his profits suggests that he is covering for his losses to make him seem more successful than he actually is.

    • Word count: 966
  19. What significance does the natural world hold in The Franklin's Tale? (From what you have read so far)

    Dorigen presents a description of the "reisly rokkes blake." This description can be seen as hyperbolic as she spends an extensive amount of time describing them and questioning God about His placement of them. Again the rocks (as well as the sea) act as an objective correlative. Dorigen's speech is very aggressive; she uses the consonance of the harsh "k" sound contrasted with the alliteration of the softer "r" sound to create a more dramatic effect. The rocks, as objects, can represent various different feelings Dorigen has.

    • Word count: 880
  20. Analysis of lines 125 - 300 of The Merchant's Tale

    they are wise possibly shows the Merchant either understanding why a man would want to marry or it could be him again being very sarcastic. Januarie the central character of the tale, calls his friends to him in line 187 onwards, in order to tell them that he has decided that, because he is 'hoor and oold', it is time for him to marry. He wants to find a girl who 'shal nat passe twenty yeer' and he wants her in order to fulfil his sexual desires.

    • Word count: 1829
  21. Themes and Ideas in The Merchant's Tale

    Chaucer makes it very clear to the reader he is anti-feminist and implies he can tell more sorrow than a stabbed bachelor, due to his unhappiness throughout marriage. The Merchant claims talking about 'myn owene soore', is too upsetting, so continues to tell a story of a 'worthy knight.. a wyflees man was he'. This worthy knight, aged sixty begins to feel the desire for a wife however before this age was used to doing what he wanted with women, 'folwed ay his bodily delit' and thinking nothing more of it.

    • Word count: 825
  22. The franklins tale raises issues about what it really means to be "noble" Consider how this tale forms an examination of the values that held medieval society together and how this is subtly questioned by Chaucer.

    Gentillesse was a code of behavior associated with the noble class. This included a number of qualities. Generosity, chivalrous or gentlemanly deeds, bravery, social graces, delicacy of feelings, integrity and many others. A man could appear to be genteel by wearing expensive clothes and possessed the qualities of the noble class. However, he would never be officially genteel or noble if he was not born into it. A man who was stupid, lazy, and poor and chose not to fight would still have been considered genteel and noble and could wear a coat of arms just from his heriditory.

    • Word count: 1753
  23. "Too weird, too ugly, too depressing"To what extent do you agree with this criticism of Carter's writing

    I think that the fact that Angela Carter mixes the idea of faity stories with sex and black humor is weird and ugly. She also is very adept at giving the reader just the right amount of clues, never being too obvious, and respecting her reader's intelligence in unraveling the webs she weaves with these stories. She constalty unsettles us and creates an atmospehere of confusion and oddness. Her writing in many ocasions is disturbing. Angela Carter is a master of symbolism: the kiss in The Company of Wolves as the conquest of men and the clothing in The Snow Child as a representation of power.

    • Word count: 567
  24. How does Chaucer reveal his attitude towards the Church through his portrayal of the Prioress, the Monk and the Friar?

    The Prioress, in particular, attempts to be fashionable and attractive in all aspects of her life. Although the prioress is wearing what is typically expected of a nun, there are some slight, subtle differences. On line 152 we are told that she has a fair forehead. At the time, a broad forehead was thought of as a mark of beauty. On line 159 Chaucer speaks of a 'piere of bedes' worn by the nun. It is common for a nun to wear rosaries but they are usually black, not the colour 'grene' as worn by Chaucer's prioress.

    • Word count: 865
  25. Is the climax of the Miller's Tale simply an example of bowdy humor or does it have a deeper message of Chaucer and his time.

    The ending and the tale show that the people of those times were not all that afraid of the kind of sexual ness that people are subjected our days. And the climax shows that a humorous society may have lived during the time and may have embraced the magnitude of the humor that Chaucer implies to the ending of the Tale The ending of the Tale is quite vivid. It figures Absalon, Nicholas and John as well as Alison. What befalls Nicholas is quite funny at first glance as a hot poker is shoved up his arse 'And he was redy with his iren hoot, And Nicholas amide the ers he smoot.'

    • Word count: 724

Conclusion analysis

Good conclusions usually refer back to the question or title and address it directly - for example by using key words from the title.
How well do you think these conclusions address the title or question? Answering these questions should help you find out.

  1. Do they use key words from the title or question?
  2. Do they answer the question directly?
  3. Can you work out the question or title just by reading the conclusion?
  • Chaucer creates humour by satirising values in religious and courtly love. To what extent do you agree with this statement?

    "In conclusion, The Merchants Tale does satirise both the genre of courtly love and religion to an extent within the narrative, and this frequently creates humour. The conventions of courtly love are satirised through characterisation and exaggerated to such an extent by imagery and tone that the silliness of the events are emphasised and mocked. In particular the 'religion of love' falls prey to the narrator's sarcasm, which serves to enhance our comical appreciation of the witty narrative and its ridiculous characters. Religion is not satirised as much, however the use of misquoting biblical authorities and figures, alongside the blessing of such an ill-fitting couple, does seem to ridicule the church. Although other elements of the narrative, such as the choice of language combined with rhythm and pace, also contribute towards creating humour, it is the over-all conclusion of all these factors which makes The Merchant's Tale a truly successful comedy. 1 J. S. P. Tatlock, "Chaucer's Merchant's Tale ," in Chaucer Criticism: The Canterbury Tales, ad. Richard Schoeck and Jerome Taylor (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1960). p. 175; Muscatine, Chaucer and the French Tradition , p. 231. 2 Francis X. Newman, ed. (1968). The Meaning of Courtly Love, vii. 3 Chaucer's ironic challenges to authority in The Merchant's Tale, John Thorne"

  • Discuss how the concept of courtly love is represented in the Franklin's tale.

    "In conclusion, courtly love is represented in the Franklin's Tale in quite a negative light; although it could be said that the love between Dorigen and Averagus is courtly and true, it is not typical of courtly love; the vows break the traditions of courtly love, and in the Franklin's tale, the focus is on the courtly love of Aurelius for Dorigen. Chaucer, speaking through the Franklin and through Dorigen, presents courtly love as a lustful, superficial, overblown concept. The Franklin's clear apathy regarding Aurelius is perhaps the best example of Chaucer's attitude; he uses the Franklin to present his own ideas regarding courtly love, which he seems to believe is a mere fa�ade for adultery and melodrama. The way the Tale is written certainly shows contempt for courtly love, as outlined in examples, and Chaucer seems cynical of the realities of courtly love. Harry Dayantis JRB"

  • A sinister exploration of the nature of evil Discuss Chaucers poetic methods in presenting evil in the pardoners prologue and tale in the light of this comment.

    "To conclude, I believe that a 'sinister exploration of evil' is truly presented in the pardoner's prologue and tale. Chaucer uses characterization of the pardoner and three rioters to present how corrupt medieval society was, as well as how readily sins were committed. The pardoner's simile of as dooth a dowve sittynge on a berne to describe how he sees himself is used as an antithesis of his own character; as a dove carries religious connotations of peace and purity; the opposite to what the pardoner is. Despite infiltrating some holy and pure characters, such as the Old man, he only further emphasises the lack of good in the other characters. Overall, Chaucer constructs the prologue and tale in such a way to present several layers of evil in the Canterbury tales."

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