Chaucer’s Vivid Characters

Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is so poignant that it almost single-handedly defines a whole epoch in history. It is the people living in the time period who define the era, and it was Chaucer who described the people living in the Middle Ages. Just describing a few people in an offhand way would not have had a profound impact.

Chaucer’s writings did have impact because he characterized every social class using very vivid characters. Describing his characters with much vividness is key for that is what defines the way the reader feels about the character and the degree of power of association the reader makes with the character. Hence, the vividness of the character is directly proportional to how pointed his work is which creates the tone.

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Themes and proportions are tools Chaucer uses to create his tone. The more vivid the character is, the more pointed the message. For example, his writing is very vivid as to how ugly the Summoner is. Thus indicating Chaucer’s extreme dislike for what the Summoner represents. Through the use of literary tone, the characters of the Wife of Bath and the Summoner are described very vividly.

Through The Wife of Bath, Chaucer gives an example of a freethinking individual. In regards to virginity, the Wife of Bath said, “advice is not commandment, no; He left the thing to our own judgment so.” This statement was very extraordinary for it’s time as it questioned the sanctimonious state of virginity. Moreover, the Wife of Bath is attributed with reasoning powers, which was probably not a common practice when portraying women in those times.

The Wife of Bath gives an example of a character that is an independent thinker very much like Chaucer himself. Chaucer’s tone when describing the Wife of Bath was sensuous. Her face being fair with red hue and her buttocks large as she sat upon an ambler gives vivid impression of a tactile and visual nature. She had a bold face that coincides with her strong character. Not only does the tone conjure up pleasure; it also expresses mental thoughtfulness. It questions the church’s foundation of St. Peter’s ideas about virginity.

Chaucer uses the Wife of Bath to indirectly express the church’s inconsistency in regards to the natural propagation of the human race and virginity. The Wife of Bath is honest. She feels no shame in ‘dancing the old dance of love’. Chaucer’s tone seems sympathetic to her yet realistic. She is not perfect. She is gapped toothed and can cause her husband strife. Yet he is saying with his vivid imagery; this is reality, not hypocrisy.

On the other hand, the vivid description of the Summoner is disgusting. His skin is full of pimples and boils. He smells of garlic and wine. Chaucer writes, “No borax, ceruse, tartar, could discharge, Nor ointment that could cleanse enough.” The tone is vivid as to how unclean the Summoner was. He was unclean in body and mind. He lied and was sanctimonious. He was suppose to be a man of God and he was very much full of pride and of the purse.

The Summoner’s bad nature could bring harm to others as illustrated by Chaucer’s statement, “he brought duress on any young fellow in the diocese. Chaucer’s writes vividly about the Summoner, “who had a fiery-red, cherubic face.” In other words he is not what he seems. Fiery-red is incongruent with a cherub. The impact on the reader is heightened by the dissonance of terms. The hypocrisy is highlighted by the tone of the language.

The tone of Chaucer’s writings used vivid descriptions to heighten the impact of the themes and messages he was expressing. The contrast between The Summoner and The Wife of Bath is striking. The disgust for hypocrisy could be seen, smelled and understood vividly in the characterization of the Summoner. Whereas, the attraction to the Wife of Bath was a tribute to honest thinking.


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Chaucer’s Vivid Characters. (2019, Jan 14). Retrieved from