"A heavily satirical portrait" Discuss with reference to the description of the Prioress in "The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales."

Authors Avatar

“A heavily satirical portrait” Discuss with reference to the description of the Prioress in “The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales.”

The Prioress is the first of Chaucer’s female characters, as well as being the first pilgrim whose life should have been dedicated to the church. She paves the way for the Monk and the Friar, her portrait, like theirs, shows religious deviance, although hers is to a lesser extent.

Chaucer beings the portrait with a compliment on her smile referring to it as “ful simple and coy.” The adjective themselves lend an air of naivety to her description but nuns should not smile and the adjective most suiting her should have been solemn and sober. He then informs us that “hir greeteste oath was but by seint Loy.” Another sin as far as nuns are concerned but this may have been overlooked in its ironic gesture, swearing by a saint who never swore himself.  Chaucer gives the Prioress a name, “Egletine” and once again presents us with the antithetical nature of this nun. Egletine is not a the name of a saint but that of both a wild rose and the name of a heroine in a romance story. The name itself connotes the whimsical nature of the prioress as well as highlighting just how ill-suited she is to ecclesiastical life.

Join now!

Chaucer, in his apparently artless way, compliments her singing, “entuned in hir nose ful semely.” The word “semely” has a double meaning here, the first being attractive but the second being fitting or acceptable. The irony here is that none of her behaviour so far is either fitting or acceptable for a nun.

When referring to the “Frenssh she spak” Chaucer would appear to be admiring her linguistic ability, a great accomplishment for a lady of the court, but both a useless and irrelevant attribute for a nun who spends most of her life in the cloister. This ...

This is a preview of the whole essay