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Select two or three portraits from the General Prologue and discuss Chaucer's use of variety of detail in comparing and contrasting characters.

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Introduction

Select two or three portraits from the General Prologue and discuss Chaucer's use of variety of detail in comparing and contrasting characters. It is obvious that what links the friar, prioress and the monk is that they are all members of the religious community and hence should be governed by strict rules of conduct according to their religion. But in all three characters we see their failing to do so. Hence in the General Prologue, they are presented as quite an unworthy trio, all of whom are not what they should be. Love is a key theme when comparing the trio, as love of themselves, material things and lovers are all hinted at throughout their descriptions. The Prioress's name is Elgentine, it means 'wild rose', and in Chaucer's period it was a fashionable name taken from courtly romance rather than from a saint. Therefore the name suggests sensual love already suggesting that she is not na�ve but well aware of sexual passions. By not taking a saint's name she is neglecting the ideal of a Prioress and demonstrates that her mind is not totally devoted to her faith. ...read more.

Middle

The monk's bridal which 'ginglen in a whistlinge wind als cleere and eek as loude as dooth the chapel belle' indicates two things. Firstly, his bridal acts as a grand entrance so that people know when he is coming. But also by likening his bridal to church bells which in the medieval paintings were icons for the power of reason, again highlights his assumed power and perhaps the fact that there is no reason he should be wearing the bells, as he is a monk. The Friar's vocation is likened to him being the 'best beggere in his hous' and with 'Noon of his bretheren can ther in his haunts' which makes the Frair's begging for money sound like a business where trickery, tactics and a smooth tongue i.e 'daliaunce and fair language' is everything. This 'righteous' Friar is made a mockery of and turned into a sordid salesman. It is made obvious that the Friar only cares for himself. The main priority of the trio should be to the needy, and hence it is cuttingly ironic that the Prioress is cast as the comic stereotypic female who is extremely attached to her pets. ...read more.

Conclusion

Yet Chaucer underlines all of this with 'now certeinly he was a fair prelaat' which highlights the ironic inconsistency with the supposed idea of religious monks at the time. Chaucer's most acid irony is heard in 'for unto a povre order for to yive is signe that a man is wel yshrive'. This and the following lines are highly sarcastic and it is obvious that Chaucer is trying to represent the scheme as ridiculous. Of course, this highlights the contradiction and hypocrisy of using worldly materialistic items to obtain divine and hence spiritual forgiveness in a time when this practice was looked upon as just. Yet for all his grievous faults, Chaucer insistently scatters the description with likeable traits of the Friar's humanity. For instance, he could 'sing and playenon a rote; of yeddings he bar outrely the prys,' I.e. he could bring happiness and entertainment and by giving him a name 'Huberd' (which very few people are in the General Prologue), he is humanised and made to seem less harmless. Both the prioress and the monk have food mentioned in their descriptions, for the monk 'a fat swan loved he' and of the Prioress 'rosted flessh, or milk...' yet again showing that they are used to luxury and comfort, the more tangible things in life rather than their faith. ...read more.

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