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Chaucer’s the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales

Criticism of the portraits in Chaucer’s General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales has taken various directions : some critics have praised the portraits especially for their realism, sharp individuality, adroit psychology and vividness of felt life; others, working in the genetic direction have pointed out actual historical persons who might have sat for portraits; others appealing to the light of medieval sciences, have shown the portraits to be filled with the lore of Chaucer’s days and to have some typical identities like case histories.

Resemblance to the Tales of Decameron

According to W.H.Clowson, The Canterbury Tales resembles to Boccacio’s Decameron in 4 ways:

• The tales are told in succession by the members of an organized group.

• This group is brought together by special external circumstances.

• There is narrative and conversational links between the tales.

• There is a preceding officer.

‘The general tone of the framing narrative and the general topics of its tales are very similar to those of Chaucer’s. […] and in Boccaccio’s apology for the impropriety of some of his stories he makes the same defense as that offered by Chaucer for the same fault — that he must tell what happened, that the reader may skip any tale he wishes, and that such stories are purely for entertainment and are not to be taken too seriously.’

But the majority of the scholars of Chaucer believed that this link is not established properly. More over there is no evidence that Chaucer met Bocaccio in 1373 — during his brief vist to Florence.

Unity in diversion in Prologue

Chaucer in his Prologue, tried to present portraits of all the ‘strata’ of life, but this variety is only the interior frame work which functions with the exterior circle which gives unity to all the characters. Such a unity, it may be argued, is fulfilled only due to the reason ( in A.W. Hoffman’s words) that ‘ all the portraits are portraits of pilgrims’: “and pilgrims were they alle”

Treatment of ‘Love” in Prologue

Love has been treated in the prologue from the beginning as a character, a matter of the body and spirit.

The note of love that is sounded in different keys ball through the portraits, such as :

The Knight : “… he loved chivalrie…”

The prioress : “… Amor vincit omnia …”

Wife of Bath : “… of remedies of love she knew perchance, For she koude of that art the olde daunce”

The Pardoner : “… com hider, love, to me!”

The pilgrims were represented as affected by a variety of destructive and restorative kinds of love. Their characters and movements can be described by the mixture of love that drives them and love that calls and summons.

Character sketches in Prologue

According to William J. Long, ‘In the famous “ Prologue” the poet makes us acquainted with the various characters of his drama. Until Chaucer’s day popular literature had been busy chiefly with the

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