The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales introduces the reader to the whole work, setting the scene and establishing the characters who make up the party. It is clear that not all characters have strictly religious motives for their participation; in some ways one can view this as a medieval version of the coach tour, a chance to see the country, meet interesting people, enjoy oneself, but have some kind of purpose. The Knight, who has spent his life fighting for Christianity in the Crusades, clearly has a high-minded religious purpose, but it is debatable whether religious figures such as the Prioress, the Monk and the Friar share his feeling. They in turn can be contrasted with the Parson, a far less elevated churchman. The Pardoner and the Summoner are also connected with the Church, though the Summoner is a layman. The other characters range from the humble Ploughman to the wealthy Franklin. There are other characters who are particularly medieval; while the jobs done by the Manciple and Reeve still exist, the terms for these professions have fallen out of use. The Summoner too has disappeared with the disappearance of ecclesiastical courts. Other characters, such as the Doctor and the Miller, are still with us, both in terms of their professions and their characters.
Below are students’ discussions of Chaucer’s presentation of a number of the characters in The Prologue. Follow the links for individual characters described within it.
|The Knight||The Prioress||The Franklin||The Friar||The Monk||The Shipman||The Wife of Bath||The Reeve|
The fact that the Knight is situated at the start of the catalogue of characters appears to be reflective of him being the most senior person described, socially, and of how Chaucer describes him. He is used as a point of reference for the other characters, setting an ideal standard for others to look up to. Chaucer describes him to be not just the stereotypical Knight for his son, the Squire, to follow, but also for the other medieval characters to follow. Chaucer portrays him as the perfect Christian Englishman making it particularly relevant for those who work in the church, the Prioress, the Monk and the Friar, to look up to him.
Chaucer sets the tone for the description of the Knight in the first four lines, describing him as,
‘…a worthy man,
That fro the time he first bigan
To riden out, he loved chivalrie,
Trouthe and honour, fredom and curtisie.’
This suggests that these characteristics that the Knight possesses have not been learnt for show but were with him when he first became a Knight and are just part of his character. We can tell that Chaucer is being truthful and not ironic, as he is with other characters, in saying that he is ‘worthy’ because of the list of qualities that the Knight has which follow. These qualities are those traditionally associated with what a Knight should aspire to be. Chaucer, not only presents him as the perfect gentleman, but also a good fighter,
‘And therto hadde he riden, no man ferre.’
Here he says how no man has travelled further with a list of all the places the Knight has fought for Christianity against other faiths to follow. The perception of the reader that the Knight is fighting for Christianity is enhanced when the places that he has fought are considered. They are all on the path of a Christian Crusade in which he ‘At mortal batailles hadde he been fiftene.’
Chaucer adds a bragging element here with the use of the number of battles he has fought in, which continues as he explains:
‘And foughten for oure feith at Tramissene
In listes thries, and ay slain his foo.’
The fact that the Knight always kills his opponent in his one-on-one combats suggests further that he is a good fighter. In Chaucer’s time this would have been seen as a good quality but today we would not necessarily think someone who is easily able to kill, is a good man. To a modern-day reader, therefore, the character of a Knight, on the one hand worthy and respectful of the laws and on the other hand able to kill easily, seems ambiguous. The fact that he has fought in an alliance, ‘Sometime with the Lord of Palatie,’ gives the reputation of the Knight a slight dent; the very fact that he has fought alongside a non-Christian without killing him may well have been surprising to Chaucer’s readers. This is overcome, however, when Chaucer reveals, ‘And evermoore he hadde a sovereyn prys,’ which encourages the reader to think of his qualities again. This is promoted by Chaucer’s reference to the Knight being humble, in the next lines:
‘And though that he were worthy, he was wys,
And of his port as meeke as is a maide.’
Even though he was worthy he was humble and pretended that he wasn’t. The picture of him being perfect, that is presented by Chaucer, is then substantiated by the direct statement,
‘He was verray, parfit gentil knight.’
The Knight doesn’t have any wish to have a good appearance or to make an impression upon the other pilgrims,
‘Of fustian he wered a gipon
All bismotered with his hebergeon.’
He has obviously come straight from battle with a blood-stained tunic and has not yet changed his clothes, showing his devotion to God that he is so willing to go straight on a pilgrimage, but also backs up the image created by Chaucer of someone who is concerned with morals not appearance. The previous thought that the reader may have had about the Knight being ambiguous because he kills so easily, is lost when it becomes clear that he has come on the pilgrimage to seek forgiveness from the battle he has just fought in and the inevitable killings.
Chaucer presents a very ambiguous account of the Prioress. He goes into great detail about the good aspects of her character, saying many approving things. However, although Chaucer never states that the Prioress is a bad nun, he uses language which suggests that her religious commitment is dubious. The Prioress makes a show of being a lady as well as a nun. The very first words Chaucer uses to describe her, ‘simple and coy’, contrast with each other. Being ‘coy’ and teasing is not appropriate behaviour for a religious figure. This disparity suggests to the reader that perhaps the Prioress’ religious dedication is doubtful. There is ambiguity in her name also. When nuns enter the convent they are required to choose a name. The Prioress chose Eglentyne, a French word meaning sweetbriar which was common in courtly romances of that time. Romance is not suitable for a devout nun who is supposed to feel only spiritual love. This idea is emphasised later on in the text. The brooch she wears bears the words ‘Amor vincit omnia’ which means “Love Conquers All’. This refers to carnal rather than spiritual love. Carnal love contrasts with spiritual love and it was felt at the time that the conflict meant it was impossible to have both. This evidence of the Prioress’ wish to remodel herself on characters from courtly romances presents to the reader the ambiguity that lies at the heart of the Prioress’ description. This is supported by Chaucer’s physical description of the Prioress. Much of the description is presented in a popular style for courtly romances. The description of her from the top downwards with her mouth small and red and her nose eyes as grey as glass was common for courtly romances at the time:
‘Hir nose tretis, hir eyen greye as glas
Her mouth ful small, and therto softe and reed.’
Chaucer’s detailed list of her talents show the Prioress to be concerned greatly with appearance. She sings through her nose an ability which at the time was considered at to be very ‘ful seemly’ and attractive rather than singing devoutly. She speaks fashionable impractical French, which was associated with courtly romances further evidence that she models herself on characters from these texts. Her chosen vocation and the way she is described by Chaucer do not fit together. By the ironic gap between what she is and should be allows Chaucer to imply a nature of hypocrisy in the Prioress’ actions. Although this is never directly mentioned Chaucer includes descriptions that convey her ambiguous nature. At first she is seen to have all the qualities of a dedicated nun, she is kind, charitable and polite. She is generous to animals, crying if she found a mouse caught in a trap and feeding her dogs the finest food. However when the text is examined carefully we recognise the ambiguous nature of the Prioress. Her dogs are fed much better than most people were at the time suggesting that she has the finest delicacies to spare. That she lives in this manner conveys to the reader that she is breaking her oath as a nun to live in poverty and not only that but rather than give to others she wastes vital food on dogs. Although she is charitable to animals she is wasteful and there is a suggestion that she is unconcerned with the poverty that was abundant at this time. Chaucer also describes her as wearing jewellery, which breaks another oath of nun hood, the oath of poverty. She wears a pinched wimple to show off her attractive forehead thinking more about her appearance rather than the wimple being a sign of her nun hood. As the head of a nunnery she is responsible for others and not only live by her vows but should set an example for those below her. By conveying to the reader how many of her vows the Prioress breaks Chaucer is suggesting that as the head of a nunnery perhaps this corruption runs right through many religious institutions. This is supported by Chaucer’s descriptions of other religious figures. Although Chaucer uses direct and positive statements to describe the Prioress so many of the descriptions although attractive are not suitable for a nun whose life should be devoted to worship. Without line 118 ‘Ther was also a Nonne, a Prioresse’, there would be no indication from Chaucer’s description to suggest that she has a religious vocation.
The Friar was a ‘limitour’, meaning that he had exclusive rights to live on the gifts that people gave him, in other words begging (mendicant). The ‘orders foure’ (four orders) of the mendicant friars were Francisians, Dominicans, Carmelites and Augustinian’s (incidentally we are told that none of these friars are his equal in terms of gossip). He is even less a man of god than the Monk . He has become the best in the friary because of some special skills; personal charm; a good singing voice; an attractive little lisp; a talent for mending quarrels and having the right little gift for the ladies; and a forgiving way in the confessional, especially when he gets a generous donation. He can find good economic reasons to cultivate the company of the rich rather than the poor. So, Chaucer makes the rise of deep corruption clear in the clerical program.
In Chaucer’s portrayal of the Prioress and Monk there seems to be something rather innocent about their human weaknesses; but with Chaucer’s efforts to maintain a positive attitude with the Friar, the portrait suggests a much deeper level of moral failure or corruption.
For example, the word ‘wantowne’ could mean jovial and ‘daliaunce’ might mean sociability, but with the gradual accumulation of indications that the friar is a little too ‘famulier’ with women, the reader is encouraged to give these words the sexual implications that they have nowadays. (wanton — immoral/unchaste dalliance — playful flirtation).
The suggestion in line’s 212-217 are often felt to imply that the young women in question needed a husband quickly thanks to the Friar’s attentions — in other words he would sleep with them and married them off to other men. The ‘post’ may be a double entendre with sexual connotations. Although, funnily enough, providing a dowry to enable the girls from poor families to find a husband was recognised and encouraged as a form of charity. Chaucer leaves both these options open for the reader to deduce what he will.
This was the wide scope of power that the friars had. There were simple sins which an ordinary parish priest was not allowed to absolve without the bishop’s permission. But this friar is ‘licenciat’ meaning he is authorised to hear confessions and give absolution. (‘For at confessing he’d more power in the gown’). The following lines suggest the depth of the ensuing corruption. Instead of reforming people’s lives by demanding true repentance, and imposing severe punishments (penance), the Friar treats them gently in return for ‘donations’.
Running hand in hand with the idea of bribery, (line 232) Chaucer makes reference to the wealth of the orders; this was, generally, pretty well known. Giving alms to the poor was a work of charity. But in the circumstances, giving charity to the friar in penance seems somewhat dubious. Also, by adding the final ‘freres’ to the text suggests further perversion of the gospel by his order in his monetary greed.
In line 233, the ‘tipet’, and all its contents, refer to friars who carry such trinkets to tempt women. Further to this in line 238, a white neck was said to be a sign of lecherousness/excessive indulgence in sexual activity:
‘He knew the tavernes wel in every toun
And everich hostiler and tappestere
Bet than a lazar or a beggestere.’
The contrast between his social options and those of Christ is obvious to the reader, yet the narrator seems quite unconscious of it, making the satire more effective by his apparent praise of the Friar’s ‘virtu’ (251). His skill at getting money from the very poor is similar to the skills boasted in the Pardoner’s Prologue. The line ‘So pleasant was his ‘In Pricipio’’ probably means that he got far more than he would have done if he had used officially approved methods.
In lines 257-258 it seems that Chaucer is slowing picking apart the composition of his portraits, to heighten their impact. Love-days were special days when people who had disputes were encouraged to settle them peacefully outside the law-courts, but it is not clear why the Friar had a role, or why his romping and expensive clothes had any special impact on them. This could well be deliberate ambiguity about the Friars character, indicating similar elements of ambiguity within the character himself. Either way, the comparison with the pope only adds to the contradictions.
Finally, in the last line, it is not clear why his gives the friar a name. Apart from the Prioress, no other pilgrim is mentioned in the General Prologue.
Chaucer’s Monk would have taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and would have occupied a religious position in society. However, from the beginning of the description of the Monk he is portrayed to readers as someone who does not behave appropriately for someone in his position, breaking his vows. The narrator tells us that the Monk has ‘many a dayntee hors’. The fact that the Monk has ‘many’ horses and that they are excellent (‘dayntee’) clearly shows readers that the Monk is not living a life of poverty, but rather one of wealth as only the privileged few would have been able to afford many horses.
Chaucer also reminds readers of where the Monk should be by using a simile to compare the ‘ginglen in whistlinge’ sound (jingling and whistling) to the sound of the ‘chapel belle’ of his monastery. The narrator is drawing attention to the corruption of the Monk by making clear that he is riding his horses when he should be in his monastery by using the comparison outlined above. However, the onomatopoeic ‘ginglen and whistlinge’ sounds far more welcoming than the sullen sound of a ‘chapel bell’ so perhaps readers would be able to understand why the Monk stays away from his monastery.
Chaucer makes the Monk’s complete corruption clear when the narrator uses the following phrases, echoing the Monk himself:
‘What sholde he studie and make himselven wood,
Upon a book in cloistre alwey to poure’
Here the Monk is telling readers that he sees no reason to make himself mad (‘make himselven wood) through studying too hard in a monastery. This comment shows readers, explicitly, that the Monk dislikes the rules of the monastery and the code of behaviour, and work, that he must follow as he is clearly questioning the way of life that he should be leading. But again a reader may understand why he doesn’t want ‘alwey to poure’ over books in a cloister.
Later, however, readers see that the Monk not only questions the rules he should be following but he also ignores them. Readers learn from the narrator that he has a ‘curious pin’ made ‘of gold’. The fact that this pin or broach is made of precious gold clearly suggests that the Monk is living a life of wealth rather than poverty. We also learn that the pin has a ‘love-knotte’ (love token) perhaps suggesting that he is not chaste. Although this would not have been particularly immoral for a normal person, the Monk is a religious person who has sworn to live in chastity and poverty. Therefore by not being chaste and not living in poverty the Monk is living a highly immoral and corrupt lifestyle and suggests that he is not fit to hold the position of a monk.
The fact that the Monk is ‘ful fat’ also shows readers that he perhaps drinks and eats excessively, when he should be living a life of moderation. The alliteration in the above quotation also draws attention to and emphasises this point. The narrator tells us that the Monk’s favourite food is ‘a fat swan’ also would have shown readers from this period that he led a life of inappropriate luxury as swans were luxury foods that normally only the nobility could afford. The Monk’s sleeves are ‘purfiled at the hond’ (finished with fur), showing us that he is wearing very fashionable, extravagant clothing. This would have been against the Rule of Saint Benedict and the Monk is being corrupt, clearly breaking his vow to live in poverty. All of this again demonstrates to readers how immoral the Monk is. However, the narrator tells us that Monk is capable of becoming ‘an abbot able’. This is a very ironic statement because a man as corrupt as this would not make an ideal abbot (a monk of very high rank).
Chaucer presents the Shipman physically as a man without possessions or finesse, wearing a woollen gown reaching to the knee. Comparing this image to characters like the Merchant who dresses with expensive hats and glamorous garments makes the reader notice straight away that the Shipman does not have much money and that his job isn’t as well paid as the others, but he carries on regardless. The Shipman is a commercial sailor living in the far west of England although as Chaucer says, ‘He rood upon a rouncy, as he kouthe,’ suggesting that he is not at home on land and certainly not a horse. He is also described to have a beard and a brown tan which would have been got after many days at sea.
Chaucer then goes on to say that the Shipman has a dagger concealed under his arm but ready for instant use. Here, it is suggested that the Shipman is in fact a pirate and this idea is carried on throughout. Chaucer almost tells us casually of the Shipman’s activities when clear of land and describes his taking wine on the journey from Bordeaux whilst the other merchants slept and also, ‘of nice conscience took he no keep,’ showing that the Shipman would do this without having a conscience afterwards, possibly carrying on the idea of him being a pirate, or just a petty thief. Nevertheless, Chaucer says that he was certainly a good fellow. Here, Chaucer could mean that the Shipman was good at sailing but it would seem a contradiction to say that he’s a good man whilst describing him stealing wine from his ship.
Chaucer then goes on to describe the Shipman as a very ruthless man. When sailing, the Shipman would get into fights and if he won these, ‘by water he sente hem hoom to every lond,’ meaning that the Shipman would throw the prisoners overboard and quite literally, send them home by water to every country. It would be difficult up to this point therefore to understand what Chaucer means to call the Shipman a good fellow as he has been described as a ruthless and malevolent man, and this idea of him being a pirate has built up.
Chaucer then however goes on to talk about the Shipman’s strengths. ‘His herberwe, and his monne, his lodemenage, ther nas noon swich from Hulle to Cartage.’ Here Chaucer says that there was no-one to match him when it came to his knowledge of the moon, its influence on tides, and navigation. This is more what Chaucer means when saying he’s a good fellow as his knowledge is so great. The Shipman had a vast experience of coasts, harbours, tides and navigation and his knowledge encompasses the North Sea, the coasts of France and Spain and some parts of the Mediterranean.
Finally Chaucer says ‘His barge ycleped was the Maudelaine,’ showing that the Shipman does have some sort of religious belief to call his boat the St Mary Magdelene. Although it would not seem it from his description of drowning prisoners, it would seem that the Shipman does believe in God and that’s why he is in fact on this pilgrimage to Canterbury.
The second female character in Chaucer’s Prologue to the Canterbury Tales is quite a character indeed. Along with the Merchant and Physician, The Wife of Bath belongs to the middle class sector of the Prologue. Apart from a few relatively rare comments we generally have to rely on Chaucer’s descriptions and clues to get a proper picture of the personality of each character and the Wife of Bath is not exception to this rule.
On the second line of his description, Chaucer describes how the Wife of Bath was ‘somdel deef’ adding one of his rare direct comments ‘and that was scathe’. It does seem from the tone of the rest of the description that this line is somewhat sarcastic. It is possible that the narrator is showing genuine pity but this is unlikely. It is more likely that Chaucer is making the point that it was a shame (scathe) that she was only partially deaf, maybe it would be better if she could not hear anything at all.
Chaucer then goes on to describe her skill at weaving: ‘She passed hem of Ypres and of Gaunt’. It is possible that here we are actually hearing The Wife of Bath’s view of herself. After all, it seems unlikely that the narrator would have enough knowledge of weaving to pass this kind of judgement.
We get a very good insight into the personality of the Wife of Bath in lines 451-454: ‘That to the offringe bifore hire should goon; and if ther dide, certyn so wroth was she that she was out of alle charity’. If someone goes before her (people approached the altar with their offering at Mass according to rank) it annoys her so much that all her charitable offerings are out of the window. This implies someone who likes to have pride of place and the most attention possible. This idea is supported in the following lines which describe how she wears ‘hosen’ that ‘weren of fyn scarlet reed’. She is out to make an impression as her use of bold colours shows. The ‘fyn scarlet reed’ is matched with her face which is ‘reed of hewe’. The colour red seems to be Chaucer’s metaphor for immorality or other negative values (later on in the prologue, the Summoner is described as having a ‘fyr-reed cherubinne’s face’).
Chaucer paradoxically describes in line 460 how ‘she was a worthy womman al hir live: housbondes at chirche dore she hadde five’. It is difficult to see how someone like the Wife of Bath can be so worthy after having five husbands (incidentally, Chaucer is deliberately unclear whether they actually her own husbands or just sexual relationships with married men). Chaucer could be making the point that she does attract me but he also could be pointing out that she can also drive them away.
After mentioning her five husbands, Chaucer goes even further saying ‘withouten oother compaignye in youthe, but thereof needeth nat to speke as nowthe’. Even before these five husbands, the Wife of Bath had a string of relationships. The narrator is keen not t o go into the details of all her relationships perhaps because the list is so long that he would have to rename the book ‘The Conquests of the Wife of Bath and Other Stories’.
Chaucer juxtaposes her conquests in love with her conquests in religion: ‘thries hadde she been at Jerusalem, at Boloigne, in Galice at Seint-Jame, and at Coloigne’. She has clearly been on a lot of pilgrimages but is not clear as to whether she went on these for purely religious reasons. Again, Chaucer juxtaposes all her religious conquests with the line ‘Gat-toothed was she’ (gaps between the teeth were thought to suggest a wanton or immoral character) which really does question her purposes on the aforementioned pilgrimages. Chaucer again paints the picture of someone who really does like to be noticed, with the line ‘And on her feet a paire of spores sharpe’. These would seem rather odd on an ‘amblere’ (an easy-paced horse) and so they were probably just there for show.
Chaucer ends the description with the line ‘Of remedies of love she knew per chaunce, for she koude of that olde daunce’. Chaucer claims that she that she might know the remedies of love [aphrodisiacs and seduction techniques] which would not be at all surprising given the amount of experience she has in this particular field (and when not in this particular field she seems to be gaining experience at the ‘chirche doore’).
Chaucer presents Franklin as a warm, extreme lover of food, hospitable landowner and a wealthy man who is unaware of his self-indulgent life being a touch less perfect than he would like to believe. The Franklin is portrayed as a direct contrast to the scholar. From the opening line of ‘Frankeleyn was in his compaignie’ (333), Chaucer perhaps hints that Franklin is only known through association and perhaps is unimportant without his generosity and thus has no real friends of his own. With the Franklin’s ‘berd’ being ‘whit’ (334), a sign of wisdom, perhaps Chaucer is suggesting a studier of philosophy, the quest for wisdom.
‘Of his complexioun he was sangwin.’ (335)
Chaucer creates ambiguity whether ‘sangwin’ is referring to his physical or spiritual attributes. One may interpret that Chaucer is referring to the four humours in the human body, and ‘sangwin’ (from the Latin sanguis, meaning blood) is perhaps making a comment that he is merry and similar to blood through association, is bold. Or one may interpret his ‘sangwin’ ‘complexioun’ as meaning his physicality, like blood, being red. Chaucer perhaps places the Franklin’s love of ‘wyn’(336) in a new sentence and after his ‘sangwin’ ‘complexioun’, to hint that the Franklin does not need the ‘wyn’ to be merry and make him red in the face, suggesting drinking out of enjoyment and no other reasons, creating a genuine character.
‘To liven in delite as evere his wone, (337)
For he was Epicurus owene sone’ (338)
Chaucer hints that his intentions in life are good as true happiness is his aspiration, hinting a self-indulgent life. Chaucer mentions that the Franklin is the son of ‘Epicurus’ (a Greek philosopher, associated with the enjoyment of bodily pleasures), for another hint that Franklin is a philosopher of high morals (morality being a main raised point of the pilgrimage being undertaken). Chaucer uses a direct rhyming iambic couplet here to create happiness on the listeners’ minds, emphasising Franklin’s desires for this, being the hospitable man he is, which is perhaps why the narrator mentions as a ‘housholdere’ ‘Seint Julian he was’, because Saint Julian was the saint of hospitable acts. Chaucer presents the Franklin as an extremely hospitable and generous man. Chaucer also hints this and that he has a lot of visitors and friends (for whom he caters), and being particularly cynical, perhaps they are only visiting him for his ‘after oon’ (consistently good) ‘breed’ and ‘ale’.
‘A better envied man was nowher noon.’
Chaucer is perhaps being a bit dark here, and is hinting that his visitors do not actually like him, but envy him, which coincides my analysis of the opening statement, regarding the Franklin not having any ‘compaignie’ of his own. This is never written of course, because Chaucer saves the suspense and tension through darker interpretations of his real intentions of cynical implications. Perhaps they only visited him because ‘It snewed in his hous of mete and drinke’. Note how Chaucer uses the verb ‘snewed’ as if those little snow drops, that fall more heavily upon the circumstance (more chums = more supper (‘mete’ and ‘drinke’), like more condensation = more snow), refers to the resemblance of his ‘friends’ flocking like sheep (resemblance to snow). Perhaps Chaucer uses a pun on the word ‘fleesh’, under different interpretation meaning equally meat to eat, and meat (people) to greet. Chaucer perhaps finds it comic how ‘plenteous’ was the ‘fleesh’ because of the sheep coming to eat flesh, plentiful foof not for friends but just hungry people. If so, then Chaucer uses flesh as ‘fleesh’ to draw attention to the pun and to extend the joke.
‘Of alle deyntees that men koude think’
Perhaps Chaucer inserts ‘thinke’, (conveniently placed at the end to draw attention to Chaucer’s implications), to imply that the ‘flesh’ were unhappy with the previous ‘deyntees’ and had thought of suggestions (and the Franklin automatically altered this) or perhaps ‘think’ suggests the only subject on their minds, all they were thinking of. This is perhaps why he ‘changed’ his ‘mete’ in all ‘sesons’, and supplied lots of fish (‘luce’), because they would always be fresh. The Franklin lived very well because he could afford ‘many a fat partrich’, and with all his wealth (spent on food), he could have his food done in any form to try and please his guests, so he rebuked the ‘cook’ if done wrong.
The phrase, ‘His table dormant in his halle always’ tells us that he had a ready-made table and in his hallway. Perhaps Chaucer is hinting that that is all the Franklin is necessary and needed for, and so is placed near the door for convenience as to not go any further when entering, and for making a brief exit.
He had a ‘gipser al of silk’, meaning he had a silk purse, perhaps how easily his purse (and content of money) can be easily destroyed, because it is made of a weak substance for show, like silk, and equally like himself.
No religious aspects or inclinations are present and he is generally directly described as a ‘worthy’ and generous man, but one may interpret Chaucer’s content as being ironic in the former statement through hyperboles of self-indulgence. Morality, a key theme throughout the pilgrimages to judge the characters for the ultimate prize, is perhaps hinted here. Perhaps Chaucer hints the immorality of the Franklin’s actions in being generous to the extreme. Perhaps because of his occupation he selfishly inclines to take advantage of the food and drink (perhaps he does go red because of wine after all which is a grotesque image of Chaucer). Chaucer perhaps hints that the Franklin is an immoral character as Chaucer acknowledges the food could be sent elsewhere, to the poor and people in poverty perhaps, being the moral action to undergo.
Chaucer begins the section about the Reeve with a physical description, he describes him as a ‘sclendre colerik man.’ The word ‘colerik’ describes the Reeves angry personality; Chaucer immediately creates a negative image for the reader. This negative imagery then continues, the Reeves description is not an attractive one, ‘His berd was shave as ny as ever he can; His heer was by his eris ful round yshorn; His top was dokked lyk a preest biforn.’ We are given an image of a thin angry man with cropped hair and a scruffy beard. ‘Ful longe were his legges and ful lene, Ylik a staf, ther was no calf ysene’ : his legs were so thin that they seemed like staffs. Chaucer uses alliteration in the first line to add to the slimy image of this man: ‘longe,’ ‘legges,’ ‘lene.’
Chaucer then moves on to talk about the Reeves other attributes and characteristics. The Reeves job was to manage a landowner’s estates, tenants and workers. Chaucer says that he is good at this job, ‘Ther was noon auditour koude on him winne.’ No one could catch him out. Chaucer is showing that the Reeve was a crafty and clever man not to be messed about, he could not be tricked. He is very good at keeping track of all the comings and goings at the estate, Chaucer writs that every part of the estate ‘Was hoolly in this Reves governinge.’ The emphasis is then again put on the fact that the Reeve cannot be tricked, ‘Ther nas baillif, ne hierde, nor oother hine, That he ne knew his slieghte and his covine.’ By repeating this Chaucer is highlighting the point to the reader, it is an important characteristic of the Reeve. Chaucer then grabs the readers attention with an extremely strong simile, ‘They were adrad of him as of the death.’ People were not just afraid of the Reeve but terrified, as of death. This strong simile shows the reader that it is not only his appearance that may seem frightening, he really is a frightening character.
The Reeve, despite having a relatively ‘low’ job appears to live a life of luxury. The description of his house is aimed to show this to the reader, ‘His woning was ful faire upon an heeth; With grene trees yshadwed was his place.’ This doesn’t quite seem to add up. Chaucer is creating suspicions in his reader’s mind that the Reeve may not be ‘on the level.’ These suspicions seem to be confirmed as Chaucer goes on, ‘He koude bettre than his lord purchace’; it appears that the Reeve may be quicker off the mark and have his wits about him more than his lord. It would therefore be easy to trick his lord when it came to money and suchlike. This theme is continued as Chaucer writes, ‘His lord wel koude he plesen subtilly.’ This implies to the reader that he uses flattery to rip off his lord. He even lends his lord money on occasions, ‘To yeve and lene him of his owene good.’ This shows the power the Reeve had over his own master; he is a crafty man that knows how to influence people and to use them. If he is better off than his master than that definitely implies that he is corrupt and has been stealing from him, unless it is his quality in finance that has kept him so well off. Chaucer again reminds the reader of the Reeves apparent wealth, ‘This Reve sat upon a ful good stot, That was al pomely grey and highte Scot.’ His horse is a fine grey one, such a fine horse would of course have been expensive
The Reeve is a practical man. He is not interested in show and face like other characters such as the monk. Chaucer shows his readers this through his description of the Reeve’s sword or knife that he wears by his side. He writes, ‘And by his side he baar a rusty blade.’ The word ‘rusty’ shows that the Reeve sees his weapon as a tool with a purpose. This description seems more menacing than if it had been a shiny new knife. Chaucer then leaves the reader with one last final image of the Reeve, ‘And evere he rood the hindreste of oure route.’ The Reeve rides at the back of the party. He is antisocial and keeps himself to himself, it seems that the Reeve is not prepared to trust anyone.