Canterbury Tales

.. ee, nor of his wif.” (55-56) and the miller pays heed to this warning, suppressing curiosity of “Goddes privetee” as regards the flood and trusting his wife so much as to leave her alone and independent while he travels on his business. This blind acceptance of ‘Goddes’ mysteries and his wife’s deceit leads to his metaphoric and literal downfall when the tale comes to it’s climax, as the miller falls from the roof, and again, literally and metaphorically waking up to find his wife having had sex with another man. The miller’s wife Alison is another character that is represented using this same process of creating a stereotypical figure and then adding flaws and perversions. Alison is presented as a pure, innocent, virginal youth in the tale, “Fair was this yonge wif and therwithal As any wesele hir body gent and smal… Ful smale ypulled were hir browes two,…

Hir mouth was sweete as bragot or the meeth,” (115-52) Other youthful descriptions are given of Alison in the passage that runs from line 115 to 162. This description seems like the stereotypical virginal newly-wed until the plot thickens and Alison becomes less and less innocent. One instance when Alison’s loyalty and morality are tested is when Nicholas accosts her, grabbing her “by the queinte”(168). Alison’s initial reaction is that of any loving wife, to protest and try and escape, but she does not take much persuading to go to bed with the clerk. Chaucer explains this by saying that he made such vigorous advances that she could not resist, but this scene seems more like rape than a lover wooing his true love. Alison is instantly exposed to have the same base and uncurbed desires as Nicholas, parodying the facade of the virginal young bride.

One character who openly reveals the facade which he hides behind is the pardoner. His description in the general prologue tells of his trickery in using false relics and his use of his position as absolver to make money. The pardoner himself, also openly admits his hypocritical practices to the other pilgrims. He tells them that he is only concerned with money, and reveals the falsehood of his relics (and even after this tries to trick them into giving him money for absolution). The pardoner is not represented as a pious, humble and holy man as you would expect of a pardoner, but as a conniving, money-grabbing hypocrite.

This character itself is almost a stereotype, though Chaucer’s description of the pardoner holds many quirky traits that take the pardoner from being a stereotype to being a believable individual. The pardoner’s sexuality is a complex issue that has had critics such as Donald Howard, G. L. Kiterridge and Paul Ruggiers debating. The pardoner is clearly not an open and shut stereotype.

What is unique about the pardoner is that he recognises his own hypocrisy. He admits that he is guilty of the “avarice” that he preaches against but separates himself from those who he condemns, “Thus can I preche that same vice Which that I use, and that is avarice. But though myself be gilty in that sine, Yit can I make other folk to twinne”(139-142) This recognition of his own hypocrisy takes the pardoner one stage further than a purely hypocritical clergyman and makes his character more complex and interesting. The pardoner recognises his own sins and fails to see this as a problem, creating a psychological profile that is much too intricate to be brushed aside as a stereotype. This use of the typical’types’ of people encountered in Chaucer’s era helps to give a vividness that the reader can relate to and, quoting a stereotype initially (and then subsequently deconstructing it) as he does with a number of the pilgrims such as Alison and the Knight, allows a lot of information to be passed from the author to the reader with minimum communication.

Quoting a stereotype saves Chaucer having to explain what the character is like. Chaucer takes advantage of this fact, but does not allow this to confine the scope his work has for realism. His genius in describing the pilgrims is that he will use a stereotype and then add individual features (that more often than not contradict the initial image), making the characters more intricate and interesting and above all ,more believable. The eye for detail that Chaucer obviously possesses is put to good use here, these characters are not broad, generalising stereotypes, rather he gives a detailed insight into the psyche of the pilgrims we encounter. I believe that the pilgrims are believable and fully developed characters, that Chaucer has created using typical stereotypes from the time and the people he saw around himself. He has combined this with individual quirks and details that give further insight into the characters.

Chaucer has not created stereotypes, but has used stereotypes (and manipulated them) in order to create intricate and realistic characters. This twinning of the typical and the atypical gives The Canterbury Tales a definite sense of realism that reaches far beyond stereotypes. Bibliography 1. J.R. Hulbert, Chaucer’s Pilgrims p23 (from Essays in Modern Criticism-see bibliography) 2.

The Black book of Carmarthen (c. latter 14th century, author unknown) Preidaeu Annun from The Book of Taliesin, poem 30 (c. 14th century author unknown) 3. C. D. Benson, “Chaucer’s Pardoner: His sexuality and modern critics” (from Luminarium medieval literature website at www.luminarium.org) Bibliography Chaucer (modern essays in criticism), edited by E.

Wagenknecht, OUP 1974 The Canterbury Tales, D. Pearsall, Unwin Critical Library 1985 Who’s Who in Chaucer, A.F. Scott, Elm Tree1974 The Canterbury Tales (casebook series), edited by J.J. Anderson, Anchor Press 1974 Chaucer’s Women, P. Martin, Macmillan 1990 Chaucer, a critical appreciation, P.F. Baum, Duke University Press 1958 Chaucer Langland and the Creative Imagination, D. Aers Critical Essays on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, edited by M.

Andrew Open University Press 1991 Chaucer, D. Aers, Harvester 1986 Geoffrey Chaucer, edited by J.A. Burrow, Penguin 1969 Editions of Canterbury Tales used: Penguin Classics 1960 edition Excerpts contained in Norton Anthology of English Literature, Sixth edition, Volume 1 Norton 1993.