The Relatable Characters In Chaucer's Canterbury Tales

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Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales was very influential in its time. It was one of the very first books to be put on the printing press and published. This was most likely because people felt connected to its relatable characters. Chaucer based his character descriptions off of the then popular Medieval Estates Theory, which divided people into three categories: the workers, the warriors, and the worshippers. Society’s idea of how people should act was based off which “estate” they were in. By using this in his Canterbury Tales, Chaucer set up a conflict between how people were supposed to act according to this theory and the reality of how they actually behaved. This can be seen in the differences between the Parson and the Prioress. Both are in the…show more content…
Her traveling attire included a very elegant cloak (157), a “peire of bedes, gauded al with grene” (159), and a golden brooch with a Latin inscription which said, “Amor vincit omnia” (162), which means, “Love conquers all” (432n9). As someone with a high station in the church, her lavish attire could be useful to command respect and show her authority, which would represent the church in a favorable light. However, her fancy attire could also be seen as vain and as a worldly distraction from her life of faith. Unlike the Prioress, the Parson is a very poor man, who did not have fancy things to wear. His parish was poor, and he cared more about the health of their souls than the material things of this world. This necessity forced him to find sufficiency in his few possessions (490). However, though he was poor in worldly goods, he was rich in “hooly thoght and werk” (479). In this way, the Parson upholds the ideal of the worshipper estate better than the Prioress, though he is mentioned long after…show more content…
In fact, she acted so courtly and sweet, that she was called “Madame Eglentyne” (121), which was also the name of a rare flower, which was commonly called the sweet briar (432n3). “This was not a common name in the Middle Ages” (432n3), therefore, the Prioress must have been the epitome of sweetness and grace in order to have such a name. In fact, she was so compassionate that she would cry if she saw a mouse caught in a trap (143-145). She took great pains in all other matters as well to exhibit a courtly manner (139-140). Through her noble actions, she brought much respect to the church and demonstrated a great example of how the people should aspire to act. In contrast, the Parson did not put on any airs with his actions or in how he conducted himself. His philosophy on how to act was simply that a priest should be the example of the purity that he asks his flock to demonstrate (505-506). However, unlike the Prioress, he did not do this through courtly manner. He instead demonstrated mercy and kindness towards others and was not scornful, even to sinners (516). Instead, the way he commanded the respect of his flock was through relating to them and accepting even the worst of sinners. By acting this way and teaching his congregation that the integrity of their souls is more important than their outward appearance, the Parson again upholds the values of his estate better than the
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