The Canterbury Tales

Chaucer's Prioress: Image Versus Idea

Chaucer's excessively overt satire of the Prioress in the General Prologue is undeniable. With so much emphasis drawn to her misplaced ideals, the words scream of something terribly amiss. A cursory examination reveals a woman severely out of touch with reality and the faith she professes to represent. Keeping this powerful depiction in mind, her ensuing tale must be interpreted with character in mind. Based on this, I will attempt to argue that Chaucer deliberately used the tale as an extension of the Prioress. Her portrait defies the basis of her religious order and her tale ultimately represents a religion that defies its own principles. The subtlety involved in discerning the latter rises because it not only challenges the beliefs of the Prioress, but also extends to question the priorities of its audience's faith.

Standing alone, The Prioress's Tale does not drastically differ from the standard miracle of the Virgin. But the reader must always be conscious of Chaucer--the author--and his attempts to expand the English language. For when her story is seen in correlation with her description, nearly every aspect of it assumes a new identity. And with graceful mockery towards her in the Prologue, Chaucer - the...

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