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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. 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. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. 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
  8. "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
  9. 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
  10. 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
  11. Do you feel any sympathy for Januarie?

    Throughout the Merchant's Tale circumlocution is used to argue the case for a 'wholesome' marital lifestyle as opposed to a 'sinful' hedonistic lifestyle, the reader is so engaged by the merchant's convolutions that the obvious bypasses us. Januarie is the man who could have anything and everything, anything on a material level that is. One might question whether potentially an individual apparently contented with his lifestyle could turn around and willingly sacrifice it. Januarie, in spite of his intellectual limitations, has clearly put his life on the balance and assessed what really matters, Januarie chooses his God over everything else "And for to lyve under that hooly boond".

    • Word count: 877
  12. In Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, the element of irony is frequently used in order to enhance the moral principles of the tales and to mock the flaws in society.

    The queen then speaks upon his behalf and presents him with the challenge to find what women want most in the world. This is ironic itself considering the fact that although the knight rapes a woman, it is yet another woman who "importuned the king so long for mercy that in the end he granted him his life and gave him to the queen to dispose of" (Chaucer 241). Furthermore, the king is the one who gave all of his power into his wife's hands, allowing her to do as her will with the knight.

    • Word count: 720
  13. The Friar Portrait

    He is a "limitour" which means that he is licensed to beg within a certain area. Chaucer uses irony as he states that the Friar is a "ful solempne man" which implies that the Friar is a most impressive man. The irony of this comes out in the next lines as Chaucer states that while hearing confessions the Friar gave the best pardon to those who contributed the maximum amount of money. This indicates the Friars concern for profit and shows his moral corruptness as he uses his status in society to receive benefits rather than doing his actual job which is to preach and to be faithful and follow the Catholic religion.

    • Word count: 625
  14. The Merchant's Tale. Consider how the power balance has been subtly altered from line 843 onwards, and how Chaucer has demonstrated this.

    When Januarie becomes physically blind, this becomes a fulfilment of the metaphorical blindness of self-delusion which has afflicted him from the outset. On line 386, the audience are reminded of the proverb ?love is blind?, and Januarie?s character has been built up to this point as a demonstration of the truth of this saying.

    • Word count: 609

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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