Chaucer’s Narrative Art in The General Prologue To The Canterbury Tales

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The General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales is a notable literary work by Geoffrey Chaucer. A complete discussion of this literary work is given, which will help you enhance your literary skills and prepare for the exam. Read the main text, key info, Summary, Themes, Characters, Literary Devices, Quotations, Notes, to various questions of The General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales.


Evaluate Chaucer’s Narrative Art in The General Prologue To The Canterbury Tales

“The General Prologue To The Canterbury Tales” is one of the most critical works in English literature by Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400). It is the introduction to his masterpiece, “The Canterbury Tales.” 

Chaucer is regarded as the greatest narrative artist. In this general prologue, Chaucer provides a vivid and detailed description of each of the 30 pilgrims about to journey to the shrine of St. Thomas Becket in Canterbury. The way Chaucer presents each character and their story is a testament to his masterful use of narrative art.

Art of Characterization: Chaucer uses various techniques to create vivid and memorable characters. He describes each pilgrim’s physical appearance, clothing, behaviour, and speech. He also reveals their personality traits and social status through occupation, education, and relationships. The Knight, The Square, The Prioress, The Yeoman, The Host and the other characters are described perfectly by Chaucer. For example, Chaucer relates about the Knight,

“A KNyght ther was, and that a worthy man,
That fro the tyme that he first bigan”

These lines create a rich and diverse cast of characters representing various aspects of medieval society.

Vast use of Satire: Chaucer uses satire to expose the hypocrisies of the characters and the society they represent. He makes fun of their vanity, greed, and moral corruption. Chaucer uses humour to highlight their absurdities. For example, he describes the Prioress’ attempts to speak French despite her limited language knowledge. Again, the Friar’s use of his position to take advantage of vulnerable women is also satirized by Chaucer.

Use of Irony: Chaucer uses irony to contrast what the characters say and what they do. He also uses irony to highlight the difference between appearance and reality. For example, in The General Prologue,” the Monk, supposed to be a religious figure, is described as a lover of hunting and fine clothing. Chaucer says about him,

“And on his hood, to fasten it at his chin,
He had a wrought-gold, cunningly fashioned pin”

On the other hand, The Parson, who is a genuinely pious man, is not concerned with material possessions.

Foreshadowing: Chaucer uses foreshadowing to hint at the events that will occur later in the tales. He also uses foreshadowing to create tension and suspense. For example, the description of Miller’s physical appearance and behaviour foreshadows his role in Miller’s Tale, which involves deceit and trickery.

Humorous Tone: Chaucer’s use of tone is another essential aspect of his narrative art in “The General Prologue”. The tone of the poem is humorous. Chaucer pokes fun at some of the pilgrims and their foibles. However, the tone is also respectful when describing some of the more pious pilgrims. This balance of humour and respect is one of the hallmarks of Chaucer’s narrative style. It helps to make the poem accessible to a broad audience.

Vivid Picture of The Place Setting: Chaucer’s use of setting is another critical element of his narrative art in “The General Prologue.” The poem’s setting is the Tabard Inn in Southwark, a suburb of London. Chaucer describes the inn in detail, including its architecture, decor, and atmosphere. This attention to detail creates a vivid sense of place and helps to immerse the reader in the poem’s world.

The “General Prologue” is a masterful illustration of narrative art and remains one of the most beloved works of English literature. Chaucer’s narrative art in “The General Prologue” is characterized by his masterful use of characterization, satire, irony, setting and foreshadowing. Through these techniques, he creates a striking and memorable picture of medieval society and its diverse occupants.